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What To Do When Students Lack Self-Confidence

Confidence is a feeling of trust in one's abilities, qualities, and judgment. Without it, children would struggle to develop the skills they need to embrace their full potential in and out of school. Children with self-confidence feel good about themselves and know they deserve respect from others, even their teacher. But they also can recognize their faults and overcome mistakes. 

It's all about having a balanced view of oneself and taking pride in abilities while recognizing flaws. But what do we do when our students lack self-confidence? How can we even tell?

What Low Self-Esteem Looks Like

Low self-esteem makes a child feel like their goals and dreams are impossible to reach. This makes it difficult to maintain motivation and dedication to learning. Students of any age can display low self-esteem in several ways.

  • They use phrases like, "I'm stupid" or "No one likes me."
  • They give up easily.
  • Students may experience Imposter Syndrome.
  • Academic performance may drastically fluctuate.
  • They may have a low frustration tolerance or avoid new things.
  • They may blame themselves.
  • Students may avoid activities that temporarily put them in the spotlight.

Low self-esteem may also be accompanied by problematic behavior in the classroom, projections of anger towards other people, depressive symptoms, and isolation from groups.

Why Self-Confidence is So Important

Self-confidence helps students handle setbacks easily. It builds resilience. And when a child is resilient, they are more apt to accept the normalcy of failure and take more chances. 

When your students feel confident in their own strengths, they can maintain self-worth despite setbacks or perceived weaknesses. They can actualize their full potential and develop the best version of themselves.

Self-Confidence Impacted by Bullying

If you notice that your student's self-confidence is being impacted by bullying, don't ignore it. Building a "thick skin" does not have to come at the cost of a student's confidence and safety. Stop bullying when you see it and offer support to the bullied student.

At the same time, the bully may be taking out a lack of self-confidence in an aggressive and abusive manner. Do not ignore this student as punishment for bullying. Don't let them off the hook for unacceptable behavior, but recognize there may be factors contributing to it.

What You Can Do

You may not be in full control of your student's self-confidence, but you can certainly teach behaviors that may prove helpful to them as they continue their education. As an authority figure, your impact on a student's self-confidence is stronger than you may think. This is definitely a case of, "It's not just what you say, it's also how you say it."

Let's take a look at what you can do when your students lack self-confidence.

Small Steps

Teach your students how to take small steps towards a goal. It will foster a sense of accomplishment. This will keep them moving forward even when challenges arise.


Encourage your students to observe their strengths and weaknesses through the lens of self-worth. Help to free them from the prison of self-criticism. Deconstruct the myth that worth is measured by success or failure.

Recognize Small Victories

Teach your students how to make a list of their small victories in life. Watch as their self-esteem blossoms with a sense of pride in achievement. Their personal setbacks will not have the power to derail their positive progress. 

Monitor Your Responses

A classroom environment rife with judgment and criticism affects how your students feel about themselves. Closely examine the ways you respond to your students struggling with low self-esteem. Make it your daily habit to construct thoughtful and positive affirmations. Step up your vocabulary by choosing helpful words.

The Power of Positivity

Lead by example, without cynicism or sarcasm. You can boost self-esteem by modeling the power of being upbeat and positive versus being the teacher who fills their students with hopelessness, frustration, and dread.

Reward System

Create a system that rewards your students for progress. A reward can make a challenging project seem worthwhile and add an element of enjoyment to the process. Heaping ample praise on your students is an effective self-esteem-boosting reward with instant positive results.

Recognize Learning Differences and Offer Support

Learning difficulties present themselves as a variety of specific challenges in the classroom. As a leader, you can bolster confidence in your students by recognizing these differences.

Encouraging independence and privately acknowledging the student struggling by providing the proper support will have a wonderful ripple effect. When your students are taught to value themselves, they will feel loved, respected, appreciated, and understood even though they struggle.  

Separate Behavior from Academic Performance

A child should not hear exclamations from their teacher of how "bad" they are. Rather it is the behavior that should be called into question. In this manner, the child's self-image is kept separate from the threat of feeling shamed, an incredibly destructive tool that obliterates self-esteem at any age. 

Encourage Learning From Mistakes

Allow a student to learn from their mistakes. As a teacher and mentor, do not be overly harsh when your students fail. By providing positive support when your students make a mistake, they're more motivated to try again. This reinforces in the child that they are capable of learning and growing. The student comes to understand and trust their capabilities. Your students will understand that learning is a process in and of itself and that problem solving can be its own reward.

Be Specific

When using praise as a reward, be specific and sincere. For example: "Excellent job preparing for class today." "You have been studying, and it shows. Keep up the good work!" Conversely, praise as a reward when not warranted erodes self-esteem and trust. Students are painfully aware of their shortcomings in the classroom and the lack of effort put into their work.

In Conclusion

When a child can exist in the moment, free of self-judgment and critical comparison, they are free to observe the world around them. They can better step outside of themselves and become cognizant of the needs of others. It's never too early to teach healthy self-confidence; it's part of our job as teachers.

Written by Susan Bryce

Education World Contributor

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