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3 Ways to Boost Your Student's Self-Esteem

Beth Rush


Starting college can be overwhelming for even the most confident student. Harder academics, a new environment, and living on their own for the first time can challenge their self-confidence, making the adjustment even harder.

Here are three things you can do to discreetly boost your student’s self-esteem — whether they're already in college or heading there in a year or two.

1. Foster Their Independence

Your student can build self-esteem by developing competence and independence. College is the first time many kids live on their own, and this experience can be overwhelming if they're used to relying on others for household tasks.

Life Skill Independence

You can help by having your student take on responsibilities they'll have to do for themselves in college. Make sure they know how to:

  • Wash and dry their clothes: Teach them how to use a washer and dryer as well as how to hand-wash and hang dry their laundry.
  • Hand-wash dishes: Dorms don’t typically have dishwashers, so teach them how to wash and dry their dishes by hand.
  • Manage their trash: It can be easy for teenagers to fall into the trap of leaving their garbage for later. Removing trash regularly will prevent their new home from becoming an unhealthy pigsty.
  • Dust, sweep, and vacuum: These are important basic cleaning skills. Don't assume if you buy them a broom, dustpan, and vacuum cleaner that they'll know how to use them!
  • Grocery shop: Your student needs to know how to shop for their own food and drinks. Make sure they know how to pay with cash, card, or their smartphone, and have them practice reading expiration dates and comparing prices. Find more tips to share here!
  • Prepare meals: A surprising number of college students don't know how to cook for themselves. Teach them a few basic cooking techniques and simple, healthy dishes they can make on their own, either in the dorm kitchen or in their apartment/house if they move off campus.
  • Navigate a new environment: Many college students will be going to school in a new city or state they will want to explore. Make sure they know how to look up directions on their phone, read a map, and navigate public transportation.

Cultivating these essential life skills will help your student feel more secure in their ability to navigate campus life. They'll feel more confident taking on new tasks alone, positively impacting their self-esteem.

Emotional Independence

Feeling secure in their life skills can also increase your student’s emotional independence.

Emotional independence is the ability to independently manage your stress levels in various situations. This creates resilience and can help your student feel confident that they can face any challenge.

It’s also about regulating their emotions in difficult situations. Encourage your student to express their likes and dislikes without letting their feelings take over. This is important for navigating a new environment with people from different backgrounds and lifestyles.

Other ways to encourage emotional independence include:

  • Teaching mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of clearing your mind to focus on what is happening at the moment. Focusing on their breathing and senses can help them stay mindful.
  • Encouraging self-compassion and self-validation: Self-compassion is the ability to forgive yourself for your shortcomings, and self-validation is the ability to know when you have achieved an accomplishment and feel proud of it without the approval of others.
  • Helping them let go of the things they can’t control: Dwelling on things we can’t control adds unnecessary stress to our lives, but it can be hard when you are emotionally invested. Teach your student healthy coping mechanisms, such as journaling their disappointment, practicing gratitude for what they have, and using their emotion to move forward.

Being proficient in life skills and emotionally independent will give your student a definite self-esteem boost.

2. Remind Them of Their Strengths

College students can feel immense pressure to compete with others in their classes and academic programs. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, but it can be a struggle to cope when people around you may seem to earn praise from professors and get good grades easily while you're working hard and perhaps feeling like you can barely achieve average results.

Part of building self-esteem is knowing and being proud of your strengths. It’s hard to develop this confidence when you’re surrounded by new people with various talents. Some students are the best in their hometown in a subject, sport, or club but realize others are better in college. This can be a self-esteem blow.

You can help by honoring your student's strengths and encouraging them not to compare themselves to others. No one skill defines a person; help them discover the abilities you see that they may not see in themselves.

3. Embrace Learning from Mistakes

College is an opportunity for freedom that many students have not yet experienced. College kids make mistakes, and it’s unrealistic to think your student will be an outlier.

A way to build your student’s self-esteem is to let them know you trust them to make their own decisions and encourage them to be honest with you about any questionable experiences they may have. Remind them of ways to stay safe in various situations and discuss expectations and consequences related to the student code of conduct. But don’t judge them if they end up learning a lesson or two the hard way.

Expressing confidence in your student can help them feel able to make the right choices, increasing their self-esteem.

College Is an Adventure!

Your student's experiences in college will broaden their horizons and help them discover who they want to be. Self-esteem is a key to helping them feel confident about their decisions and look forward to what their future holds.

Beth is the Managing Editor and content manager at Body+Mind. She shares knowledge on a variety of topics related to education, parenting, mental health and nutrition. In her spare time, Beth enjoys trying out new fitness trends and recipes.
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