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5 Ways to Support an Unpopular Child

If you have a child who isn’t exactly thriving in his or her social environments, Mighty Mommy shares 5 ways you can be supportive and help them feel better among their peers.

By
Cheryl Butler,
Episode #459

image of parent supporting an unpopular kid

Every parent has their own style of raising children. Some are strict, others easygoing. There are those who set tight boundaries and those who go with the flow. We learn as we go, and ultimately we all have a common goal—to raise successful, happy young adults who will make a positive difference in this world. Whether we tend to be more of a helicopter parent or follow a more permissive parenting style, a common trait we share is that we want our kids to fit in, be accepted, and yes—perhaps even be popular.

Popularity has long been sought after by adolescents worldwide. Even as adults, we know who the popular moms and dads are within our school communities. Popular people seem to be people magnets and trendsetters. They always have someone to talk to at any social event, and even have people seemingly waiting in the wings to get their attention when they’re already engaged in conversation with another person. Loneliness does not appear to be a part of their repertoire and they make life look easy, breezy, and a constant joy ride.

In the 24 years I’ve been a mom, I’ve learned a lot more about popularity than I ever thought I would thanks to my eight kids. I’ll admit, several of them were very popular in school and still are in their young adult lives, but for others it didn’t come easy. Their individual personalities play a big part in their social interactions, but what has been fascinating for me as an involved parent, and one who considers herself pretty outgoing, is that my kids who aren’t necessarily popular at all are more happy and well-adjusted. If you have a child who isn’t exactly thriving in his or her social environments, Mighty Mommy shares a handful of ways you can be supportive and help them feel better among their peers.

5 Ways to Support an Unpopular Child

  1. Tip #1: Understand Your Child’s Social Status
  2. Tip #2: Offer Social Situations
  3. Tip #3: Teach Them to Improve Their Likability
  4. Tip #4: Strive for Friendships
  5. Tip #5: Help Your Child Grow Emotionally

Let's take a closer look at each.

Tip #1: Understand Your Child’s Social Status

We as parents know our kids better than anyone, so if your child is struggling to connect with other kids her age, or isn’t being invited to birthday parties and other social outings, do a little investigating to figure out what’s going on. If you have younger kids, observe their interactions at the community playground. Does your son know how to join in with the other kids on the play equipment or does he prefer to keep to himself on the other side of the park? When you pick your tween up after school, does your daughter walk out talking and giggling with her peers or is she often alone? Many times a child is just socially awkward and needs coaching and examples of social cues. When you leave the playground you could casually talk about the kids you saw playing on the jungle gym and offer a suggestion for next time. “Bobby, those little boys were having so much fun playing Ninja Warriors at the playground today. If we see them there tomorrow, I bet they’d love to have you join them.”  

If your child has a hard time making friends, it may have nothing to do with his personality. Trouble with forming friendships can be the result of learning and attention issues which could require intervention from your child’s school or input from your child's pediatrician.

Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a clinical psychologist and co-author of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids, says children start to worry about friendship issues around the age of seven, when they enter an extremely judgmental phase of their cognitive development, but parental anxiety about a child’s social skills can kick in much earlier.

Kennedy-Moore has a great tip for parents to help their shy children open up a bit more. She says that parents should privately help kids practice making eye contact, smiling, speaking loudly, and using the other person’s name. “You have to work with a child’s personality, rather than against her personality,” she says. “Not everyone is born a bounding-into-the-room extrovert.”

This advice was exactly what we did with three of my kids who were all speech-delayed. Because they didn’t talk for well after a year of the projected milestone (most kids start verbally communicating by age two, and three of mine were delayed until almost age four), their father and I continually role played basic social interactions with them on a daily basis. This was awkward for all of us at first, but soon it became second nature and it really brought them out of their shell and to this day they are very comfortable in social settings and can hold their own with peers and adults.

Tip #2: Create Social Settings

Children need to be around other children. Begin in the toddler years to schedule plenty of play dates for your children. Being around others allows your child to learn valuable skills such as caring, empathy, sympathy, sharing, and bonding. By interacting with others from an early age, children learn to be social.

As a parent, you can offer to arrange playdates for your younger kids or be available to drive your tweens/teens to friend’s houses or the movies. Some kids just don’t have any way to logistically get to these destinations, which limits their ability to have a better social life.

We had an advantage in our family because our kids that happened to be popular would bring their friends to our home quite often. This gave my kids who struggled with social situations the opportunity to mingle a bit with the popular crowd. Just having a few minutes to chat with kids they normally wouldn’t hang out with boosted their confidence quite a bit.

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