Promote Problem Solving
"Kids are confident when they're able to negotiate getting what they want," says Myrna Shure, PhD, author of Raising a Thinking Child. Her research has found that you can teach even a young child how to solve problems herself. The key is to bite your tongue. If your child comes to you and complains that a kid took her truck at the playground, ask what she thinks would be a good way to get it back. Even if her first idea is to grab the truck, ask her what she thinks might happen if she did. Then ask, "Can you think of other ways to get it back so that doesn't happen?" In one of Dr. Shure's studies of this situation, 4-year-olds came up with surprisingly mature ideas, like telling the truck-grabber, "You'll have more fun if you play with me than if you play by yourself."
Look for Ways to Help Others
When children feel like they're making a difference -- whether it's passing out cups at preschool or taking cookies to a nursing home -- they feel more confident, says Dr. Brooks. It's good for kids to have their own household responsibilities, but it may be even more empowering for a young child to assist you with a project ("I could really use your help!"). He'll see firsthand that grown-up tasks require effort, and he'll be easier on himself when he has to work at things in the future, says Dr. Hirsh-Pasek.
Find Opportunities for Her to Spend More Time with Adults
Kids like to hang out with their friends, but it's also important for them to be around a variety of grown-ups. Spending time with older people expands your child's world, forces her to talk to adults besides you, and gives her different ways of thinking. Research has also shown that having a close relationship with a particular grown-up -- a teacher, an uncle, a babysitter, or a friend's parent -- makes children more resilient.
Fantasize About the Future
If kids can envision themselves doing something important or fulfilling when they grow up, they're bound to feel more confident now. Talk to your child about how you, your spouse, and other adults he knows chose careers. Your child may dream of being a pop singer or an astronaut, but don't try to lower his expectations. Even if he changes his mind, the important thing is that he's thinking about his goals.
Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the May 2008 issue of Parents magazine.