Children and School Popularity

How important is school popularity? In classrooms of children as young as six years old, it's easy to identify the popular kids. These are the few kids that the others seem to follow, hang around and interact with the most. What makes these kids so attractive, and how can you be a help and support if your child wants to be more popular?

Traits of Popular Kids
In a 2003 study conducted through the Montessori school system, several traits were identified as common to the kids defined by teachers as most popular among their peers: even tempered, avoids conflict, sensitive, independent, plays with many friends and has good verbal skills. The self-confident and easygoing kids seem to attract friends easily.

Can you help your child develop these traits? Yes and no. Some are part of a child's natural personality. Others can be nurtured through guidance and appropriate social opportunities. For example, teaching manners and how to express feelings appropriately can go a long way in helping your child express himself in positive ways.

How Important Is Popularity to Success?
Not very, according to psychologists' studies. The popular children didn't have an advantage in life over those who had a few good friends. It's more important, it seems, to have a few friends to interact with and develop healthy friendships. Parents need not worry if their child is not in the popular crowd, or the most popular child in school. The important traits to help children develop are social skills, the ability to make and maintain friendships and self esteem.

The children to worry about are the small percentage at the bottom of the social order, who are identified as "rejected." These children have difficulty making and keeping friends and often need help to restore their self esteem.

How Can Parents Help?
Parents can arrange play dates between young kids. Social interaction outside of school helps to strengthen friendships by giving children shared positive experiences together. Parents should teach their children from a young age the basic skills of sharing, using words to express feelings instead of fists and how to express caring. On a play date, parents should provide structured play time with an activity or certain toys or games. Play dates should have a starting and ending time.

Help your child join a club or extra-curricular class with children that share the same interests. Whether it's a scout troop, a sports team, an art class or a dance class, it may be easier for your child to make friends with children who share common interests.

Parents of pre-teens should let their children express feelings about fitting in. If your child is complaining that he has no friends, don't tell him he is wrong. That invalidates his feelings and makes him feel he can't talk to you. It's a parent's instinct to want to say, "That's not true! What about so-and-so? He's your friend, right?" This won't help. Instead, listen and respond with a sensitively phrased question, "What makes you feel this way?"

Try to encourage the child to keep talking. Ask him what he thinks he needs to do to help the problem. Chances are, he will suggest something. If it is reasonable, or can be adapted to be reasonable, try to do it. For instance, if all of the kids have holes in their jeans at the knee, maybe you can allow one pair of his jeans to be modified. In the adolescent years, clothing choices are a big issue for peer judgment. Making certain clothing choices may help your child to fit in. Even one or two may be enough-not necessarily an entire wardrobe.

Helping Rejected Kids
While being the most popular child is not the key to success in life, parents should take action if their child is at the bottom with no friends. Try talking to your child, problem solving together, talking to other parents, the teacher, counselor, and principal of the school and adding extra-curricular activities to broaden your child's social circle. Give a reasonable amount of time for these things to work.

Your child's attitude makes a difference too. Hopefully, she is willing to make an effort, which gets harder after rejection. Self esteem takes a blow, and self-protection modes kick into place, such as being afraid to reach out for fear of being rejected again.

If you find that your child can't break free from a shell like this, it is time to get some help. Talk to your child's pediatrician, and consider counseling sessions to help your child feel ready to try making new friends. Remember to keep lines of communication open with your child, and don't put her down for feeling helpless.

You may need to help reduce things that may be creating blocks to friendships. For example, if your adolescent isn't showering enough, you can make that change. If his clothing is strange, you can help him find some items that will be more accepted. If he is overweight, you can help him adapt a healthy diet and get some exercise to move in a healthier direction. If he has personality traits that are preventing him from making friends, help him work on them if he is willing to do so. If he isn't, get him help.

If your child is not the problem, outside activities with children from other schools could help. If things are terrible and not getting better after many months of trying everything, a large but sometimes effective change is switching schools. Only take this last step when all else has failed, and it has been determined by professionals that this will help solve the problem.

Most important, always be accepting and loving to your child. Your stability and love are needed most of all.

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