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Encouraging Positive Self-Esteem in Your Student

Self-esteem is a belief in one's self, or self-respect. And according to many experts, it is something that often eludes many college students. For one reason or another, many young people suffer from a lack of self-esteem, which can affect how they adjust to college life and function as students.

What are some of the signs of healthy self-esteem? People who have a healthy sense of self-esteem, generally speaking, will feel competent in their ability to cope with life's ever-changing situations. They trust their judgment in most matters and know where to get help when a particular challenge arises. They feel capable of making sound, responsible choices and can handle change when it occurs. All these characteristics lend themselves to a general state of happiness and contentedness. But healthy self-esteem is not egotism. It is never a feeling of superiority over others. In fact, if a person seems to need to remind others of his talents or skills, it could be a symptom of someone who is trying to compensate for a lack of self-esteem.

What can you expect this year? At the college level, issues of self-confidence and competence can surface for the first time as students try to adjust to an unfamiliar setting and challenging academic expectations. The good student might have to work harder to maintain the same grade point average, while the mediocre student might start off with strong concerns about being good enough to make it at all. Being away from home can also contribute to an unsettled feeling and an otherwise self-confident young adult might show signs of insecurity and emotional withdrawal for the first time in his life.

Students are adjusting to a new social scene as well. Their relationships with friends from home are changing even as new relationships are developing. It takes time for students to find their voice and identity in a different setting.

What helps? These dips in self-esteem are normal when people face new challenges. As students continue their academic and social pursuits, and begin to enjoy some degree of success, their self-esteem levels often start to rise again. Things will likely get better if they:

  • Build on pre-existing strengths. All students have competencies in various areas and often just need to be reminded of them, especially as they're being challenged right and left by new things on campus. By helping them focus on their strengths rather than weaknesses, they can grow in self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • Avoid comparisons with others. No matter what we do in life and no matter how hard we try, there is always someone who can do it better. If your student is struggling with self-esteem and begins to look around at others who have greater skills and achievements, he may back himself into a dangerous psychological corner — and quickly. It's your student's responsibility only to try his best. From that effort alone he can find personal satisfaction and a healthy sense of pride. Remind your student that he doesn't have to be the best at something in order to be a valuable asset to the campus community.
  • Try new things. Your student can never know about a hidden talent or personal strength if he never tries new things. Now is the time for healthy experimentation, whether it involves a different academic area, a new responsibility, a new interest or hobby, or even a new group of friends. Your student — and you — might be surprised to find what interests or talents are just waiting to be discovered.


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