COMPARISONS: Self-Esteem in the College Student – It’s an inside job!

Life has taught most of us that thinking you can accomplish a task or reach a goal is half the battle.   There is little doubt that a strong self esteem and realistic self confidence can be a key to success in many of life’s endeavors.  Success at college is no exception.

c@c_whole_you_blog_comparisonsThe new demands that college presents to our kids require a significant degree of self confidence to successfully meet.  Academic challenges that are far beyond anything they have experienced before, meeting and establishing relationships with all types of new people from roommates to professors, advocating for themselves, remaining resolute and acting on their values, and being honest with themselves and us about how they are really doing  are a few of the biggies that require a strong self esteem.

It’s no wonder that as parents, we often go to great lengths to boost our child’s self esteem when it comes to college.  Encouraging her to “reach” for a prestigious school that will look good on the resume even though it stretches her capabilities or our finances too far.  Outfitting our child’s wardrobe and room with only the best in an attempt to ensure that he will fit in when he  arrives on campus.  Setting up bank accounts so that she always has plenty of spending money without ever establishing a budget.  Subtly promoting permissive attitudes about indulging in drinking so he fits in socially (i.e., “we know you’re going to do it so . . .”)

During the high school years ramping up to college, we (and teachers) may cut our kids breaks through easy grading or opportunities for “extra credit” to cover up an inadequate performance.  As a result, our child never has to face failure and come to grips with her strengths and weaknesses, thereby, limiting her ability to develop coping and compensating strategies.  The lack of coping strategies is compounded by many of us excessively structuring our child’s life, providing repeated reminders and hovering over them to foster success.  Accountability and its rewards are replaced with endless pep talks . . . “You’re the greatest… you can do it if you put your mind to it!”

These kinds of parental efforts provide short-term “feel goods” at best.  They fail to recognize self esteem and self confidence don’t come from pats on the back and external circumstances but are cultivated from within . . . when our child independently works hard, faces and overcomes barriers, meets a realistic expectation, and is able to proclaim, “I did it!”

So how can we promote the development of self esteem and self confidence in our college student?  Here are some simple steps:

  1. As early as possible, help our child to truly understand himself…to know his strengths as well as his weaknesses.  This involves staying tuned into our child’s academic and social life, and communicating regularly and honestly.
  2. Based upon an understanding of who our child is, help her to set realistic expectations academically, socially, and behaviorally.  This means setting expectations that are not too high or too low, but “just right” . . . ones that stretch her, maybe even involve taking a bit of a risk, but in the end are attainable with effort and hard work.
  3. Ensure that our child has a plan to meet the realistic expectations including the structure and unique supports he needs to succeed.
  4. Don’t expect perfection from the start.  Let go and allow for “practice” that might involve stumbling and falling some.  Be there to help her get back on her feet.  Debrief what happened and what went wrong.  We all learn the most about ourselves and what it takes to succeed when we are picking ourselves back up as compared to when we are cruising along smoothly.
  5. Brainstorm compensatory strategies by asking our child what he could have done, said, or thought differently to have the performance or situation turn out more successfully.  By taking the time to help him generate his own solutions rather than lecturing or dictating what he should do, we promote the development of effective problem solving skills…a cornerstone of self esteem and self confidence.
  6. To close the loop and help our child become accountable, we need to set limits and provide effective consequences when she fails to meet realistic expectations when she has the tools (i.e., plan) to do so.  Appropriate, short-term, negative consequences promote self reflection while threats, lectures, and name calling only stir up intensity, anger, resentment, self pity and fear; all barriers to success and the development of strong self esteem and self confidence.

For more of the “How To’s” check out our recently released Accommodations for Success guidebook and workbook.  Take the “First Things First” survey to see if you have enabling behaviors that are getting in the way of your child’s success.  “Letting go” is imperative no matter how hard or scary it seems.  Enabling only postpones the inevitable, usually at a much greater cost for everyone.  If you need more guidance and support, call our office and set up an appointment.  We’ll walk along with you and help make sure you’re helping your child to be an independent, self esteem grower!

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About cblmd

medical director of the being well center, ADHD expert, speaker, and author

One thought on “COMPARISONS: Self-Esteem in the College Student – It’s an inside job!

  1. Pingback: Are You a Helicopter College Parent? | The Being Well Center

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