Just the other day I was asked to comment about self mutilation in normal teenagers. During the course of my research on the web I realised how little people understood the importance of self esteem and was aghast at the worthless advice given in this context on most websites! A positive self esteem will help your child take on challenges, achieve better, live happier, make friends and cope in acceptable ways with the stresses of living. Most websites I saw will have you believe that if you criticize your child you lower their self esteem and by praising them you increase it. But the truth is far from such 1 -2 -3.
Growing and maturing means constantly dealing with change. Not just changes in the surrounding but also within one's body. Keeping up can be a pain (mostly literally) for children as they cope first with crawling, then walking, running, and then taking resposibility for their own lives. A positive self esteem in such a scenario does not come automatically. It needs to be nurtured by parents who understand that they must share their pain as well as their glory with the kids they are bringing up.
Give Credit where it is due: Consistently applaud genuine EFFORTS made by your child. Help them understand how to convert efforts to results. A corollary is that you should let them feel proud of how they are shaping up, rather than keeping credit for parenting them well. Let them know it is up to them to be good or bad, happy or sad, appreciated or despised.
Do NOT Praise Excessively: Don't tell them they are the best at an activity when they are not. Kids are internally programmed to learn and will benefit much more from a realistic feedback than unbound praise. Remember the rest of the world will give them accurate feedback and you don't want to lose credibility.
Train them to Earn Their Rewards: When they ask you for a favour or even money to buy a candy, let them plan for it, work for it and "earn" it. It will give them a sense of self worth money can't buy.
Give Them Responsibilities: In keeping with their age, let them be responsible for clothing themselves, clearing the dinner table, making the beds, putting away their toys or whatever else. Let them feel useful in the household.
Let Them Fall and Rise Up: This is a tough one especially since we want to protect them from all hurt. Still don't rush to help them out of their predicaments. Help them figure out a way of getting out of their tangles.
Give Choices: In matters where you can risk it, let them make their own decisions and ask them to justify them to you. Display your trust in their judgement. Let them set their bedtime, playtime and TV time. Let them work out the effect of their choices and learn from mistakes. The best gift you can give them is to praise their judgement.
Discipline, Discipline, Discipline: Never be afraid to discipline your child. Be reasonable, be consistent and don't let your temper run away with you. Beyond that, set limits, make sure they are adhered to. Limits give kids a sense of security and also build self esteem.
Too much of love will not spoil your kid, but how you express it may well decide whether or not your child will turn out to be a fine and balanced grown up.
You will find more information of self esteem here