By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington

The early years. From your baby's first steps to the learning of the alphabet, the years before kindergarten are full of challenges. Children who are generously praised for these accomplishments internalize the message that "I'm smart" and develop a sense of capability and a desire to learn and do more. So it's important to catch your son or daughter "being good" and praise that behavior. Building self-esteem in the home will instill self-confidence as he or she heads off to school.

Elementary school. As your child moves through elementary school, being well-organized, cooperating with others and doing neat and careful work will all have a direct impact on academic success. For this reason, you should nurture - and praise - your child's willingness to keep his bedroom tidy and his ability to overcome conflicts with siblings and neighborhood rivals. Carefully reviewing homework will send the message that accuracy and neatness are valued, and will help your child build the confidence that comes with well-presented work.

Middle school. In middle school, your child will face complicated academic challenges while grappling with peer pressure and a desire for independence. Middle school is also a critical academic juncture for students who are struggling - a time when many basically give up on their dreams of graduation and higher education.

For these reasons, it's important to pay special attention to self-esteem issues and academic performance during this period. Be alert to any signs that your child is being bullied or is having trouble making friends (visit to learn what to look for and how to respond). Help your child discover special talents that can boost self-esteem by taking advantage of extra-curricular opportunities through the school or your community. And pay special attention to test scores and report cards for any signs that your child is falling behind.

Secondary school. From the first romantic break-up, to not making the soccer team, the teen years can wreak havoc on your child's self-image. You can help your child get past these disappointments by continuously reinforcing the understanding that "there really is life after high school." Talk with your child about how you overcame your own setbacks, and look for frequent occasions to call attention to your child's real talents.

Once your child has a restored faith in the future, it will be easier to get back to the books and concentrate on being a good student - which will build the kind of well-deserved self-esteem that will carry over to success in college and in life.


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