A wonderful way to play with and teach your child is to bring her into your world. Toys are great, but they are no substitute for real contributions to the grown-up world. It's in this grown-up world that children come to see themselves as players, not bench-warmers. And when they contribute what they can to that world, self-esteem gets a big boost. Children love to do "grown-up" things, and to imitate others. When you let them work and play alongside you, they get the best of both worlds.

Bring your child into the household routine. There are countless safe ways for a young child to "help" with meals, laundry, shopping, cleaning, and washing the car. He will learn skills and know that he is integral to the household's functioning. Yes, the chores will take longer as he learns the ropes, makes mistakes and works at a snail's pace, but the value to his learning and his self-regard are more than worth the extra time.

Involve your child in your work. One thing sacrificed in today's work world is children's participation in the family business. A generation or two ago, far more children stacked cans at Mom and Pop's grocery or sorted materials at the family tailor shop. Self-esteem was less of a problem for those kids. They knew the family business, in some small way, depended on them too. Many of today's kids are not involved at all in family work, and may not even know or understand what their parents do for a living. "Work" is some shadowy thing that happens when Mom and Dad aren't at home, or is even something that keeps parents from being home.

Share your interests. It's important to keep up with your own passions. You need "a life," and you won't have one if you lose yourself totally in your child's world. Continue with piano, chess, painting, hiking, whatever. Teach your child about your avocations. Let her be a part of what you love. This is one of the most intriguing, emotionally rich forms of learning children get. And you are building a common bond that will last for years.

From Me, Myself and I: How Children Build Their Sense of Self — 18 to 36 Months by Kyle D. Pruett, M.D. Available wherever books are sold. Copyright © 1999 by Goddard Press, Inc.