Best answers from a school and developmental psychologist, preschool teacher and mom
Provide challenges in play – Challenges in play give children practice at rising to the occassion, at testing their skills and trying new things. When they are building with blocks, challenge them to build taller. When they are working on mazes, challenge them to go faster. The more opportunity to meet new goals, the more confident they become to try the next.
Support them just enough – When children struggle, give hints and suggestions rather than outright answers. Try to give them just enough to get back on track and moving forward. Avoid doing fully for them.
The goal is often independence – When you are working through with children, focus on teaching them about your thought process and decision making. Encourage them to step back, brainstorm, try new avenues to problem solve. The goal of helping children with a task is increased independence the next go around.
Check social skills – Children who struggle socially are at a disadvantage for many other tasks. It is hard to concentrate on soccer skills if you are worried you are not accepted by teammates. It is hard to focus on second grade math if you just had a miserable time at recess. Keep social skills in check.
Focus on skill building not competition – Especially under six years old (likely through eight), athletics are about learning the basics of a sport. They are about learning to throw and catch and the vocabulary of the game. Focus on skills building long before a focus on competition.
I messages not You messages in discipline – I messages target behavior; You messages target the child. Shift from blaming child to blaming behavior. Say, “I am frustrated; no one is listening,” rather than, “I am frustrated with you; you never listen.” The first child feels badly about the not listening, and the second feels badly about self.
Descriptive not evaluative praise – In praise, focus on the behavior as well. Describe the behavior and label it. Say something like, “you practiced that song all week and learned every note,” or, “you remembered they were waiting for a turn, how kind.” Avoid, “good job,” “good boy,” “that was great,” or, “I like the way you,” as it is evaluative. There are a few good examples of this difference at http://www.monkeysee.com/play/4189-what-are-some-examples-of-each-type-of-praise.
With a MA in school psychology and a PhD in developmental psychology, I founded and work as a parent educator at Parenting Playgroups. Somewhere in there I trained in the Developmental Clinic at Children's NMC and in the public schools. I have two beautiful, funny children who make me practice what I preach most everyday.
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