Seeing your child struggle with their self-esteem is hard and you will undoubtedly be keen to find ways of increasing their confidence. There may be many reasons for this lack of confidence, but if you are concerned that it may be because they are a bilingual child, there are some steps you can take to enable them to become comfortable with their fluency in two or more languages.
Try not to worry too much. Generally bilingual children become more confident than their monolingual peers and their abilities in the school language can meet or even outstrip those for whom it is their only language.
Check the reasons for lack of confidence
If you have had some reservations about raising your child to be bilingual, it is easy to assume that this is the reason for the lack of confidence. However, many other factors can cause this, such as a change of circumstances, a physical or learning difficulty or simply a problem with friends.
Children often dislike being marked out as different in some way but being bilingual is common worldwide. If your child is at an Australian international school in Singapore, they are very unlikely to be the only bilingual child, so encourage them to get to know other bilingual children, while you get to know their parents. This can help normalize their abilities in both your minds.
Five tips to increase confidence in your bilingual child
Do not over praise. If you are continually praising your child’s bilingual abilities, you may be making them more self-conscious about them. This can be hard as parents will often think that by praising frequently, they will be building their self-esteem. However it has been shown that it has the opposite effect, detracting from those times when your child genuinely deserves the praise.
Do not over criticize. Like over praising, criticizing can also make your child self-conscious and cause them to lose confidence in their abilities. Bilingual children will sometimes make mistakes, where they mix up their languages, but do not draw attention to it. This will simply make them more nervous in their conversation. By modelling the language yourself, they will learn to navigate their two languages naturally as they grow older.
Do not dismiss their fears. The fear of looking stupid is a very common one in children and adults alike, and if they are upset about an aspect of their communication, it does not help to simply dismiss their feelings. Instead, acknowledge that they are upset, but help them put it into perspective. Everyone makes mistakes and you can demonstrate this to them by pointing out when you too make a mistake.
Let them talk. It is hard to see your child struggling with communication and as your protective instincts kicks in, you may want to take over. However, try not to do this. By trying to communicate, your child will be learning key skills which will enable them to improve. You may also be implying to your child that you are ashamed of their bilingualism, as well as suggesting that it’s best not to even try, than try and make mistakes. It is fine to join in the conversation, helping to keep it flowing naturally.
Boost confidence in other areas. Confidence, or lack of it, is rarely confined to one aspect of a child’s development, so find ways to boost confidence in their life as a whole. Help them develop their strengths and passions whether it is in sport, music, craft or any other subject. Being able to excel at something will encourage them in all areas of their development and this will include their bilingualism.
Seek help if necessary
International schools in Singapore have a large number of bilingual students and will be accustomed to boosting confidence in those children. If you are concerned about your child’s confidence and how being bilingual is affecting it, their school can be a useful resource of ideas to tackle the issue.
At AIS we are proud of our bilingual students and never cease to be impressed with the confidence they gain in two or more languages and the range of skills which that enables them to take into other aspects of their education. We believe in valuing our student’s different languages and are particularly proud of our Mother Tongue program which allows our students to develop their language skills and to immerse themselves in the culture and language of their origins.