Parents: You Hold The Power Of Your Child's Popularity In Your Hands
Although for many of us our school days are long behind us, we can usually remember what it was like to be our childhood and teenage selves with unnerving precision. We remember the acute sense of insecurity that seemed to loom over us each and every day. We recall the yearning that we once felt to feel accepted, respected and looked up to by our peers. In short, we all longed to be popular. Although popularity is far less useful to our developing psyches than self esteem it can very often be a fundamental building block for our emerging sense of self worth. Popularity is a holy grail that kids will always chase. It affords them influence over their peers, buoys their confidence and helps to ensure that school is as enjoyable and edifying as it should be rather than seeing it as a prospect so horrendous that they will feign illness to avoid it.
Broaching the prospect of popularity with your kids can be problematic. We don’t want to teach our children to chase popularity for its own sake. We know that this will lead them to become someone who we don’t want them to be (and who, if they’re honest to themselves, they wouldn’t want to be either). Nonetheless, we want our children to be well liked and respected by their peers so that they can serve as positive role models to other kids around them and model the values that we have instilled in them. Many parents, however, are unaware of just how profoundly they influence their children’s popularity from the day they’re born. Every decision we make from what we dress them in before dropping them off at school to where we host their birthday parties can have an effect on our kids’ popularity and therefore the way they perceive themselves.
But putting popularity before self esteem may be a little like the tail wagging the dog. Sure, popularity can help build self esteem, but then again, self esteem has a tendency to drive popularity. Here we’ll look at some responsible and healthy ways in which we can teach kids to build positive relationships with themselves and others so that popularity will come as a natural product of their behaviors…
Encourage positive body image
Research shows that kids are developing body issues from a younger and younger age, so it’s never the wrong time to start laying the foundations for a positive body image. As many as 24% of childcare professionals have reported children as young as 3-5 express unhappiness about the way they look. Both boys and girls can have their self esteem flattened if they feel that they are too tall or too short, too fat or too thin. Besides ensuring that they live a healthy and active lifestyle, making sure that they show up to school well dressed- this doesn’t have to break your budget by the way, just check out these cardigans- we can help ourselves by modelling positive body image ourselves. If our kids see that we’re okay with the way we look (perfect imperfections and all), they will be much more likely to feel positive about their own appearance. While we’re on this subject, it’s also a good idea to teach them that neither Barbie dolls nor GI Joes are realistic role models to which they can aspire.
Guard against gossip
Gossip is a fairly common behavior amongst teens and tweens and it’s not hard to see why. Developing young minds crave acceptance and if they have to trample all over the reputation of someone else they can consider this a price worth paying. Your child needs to see gossip for the toxic and damaging practice that it is and be encouraged to shut it down as soon as it rears its ugly head. Encourage your children not to condemn gossip on the spot but merely to refuse to participate. Or, better yet, encourage them to counter gossip with one positive comment about the person being talked about. Of course, in order for this to work, your own behavior must be unimpeachable. If there’s one thing kids are savvy to, it’s parental hypocrisy. Thus, no matter how tempting, you must refrain from workplace gossip yourself, especially when your kids are within earshot.
They say that sharing is caring, but it also encourages non-selfish behaviors and allows kids to see the gratification in helping others while ingratiating themselves to their peers. Being able to give validation to one’s peers isn’t just a useful life skill and the trait of a decent human being, it can also be extremely empowering for your son or daughter. Of course there are many different ways in which they can do this. Sure, encouraging them to share their candy or let others take a turn on the slide is a part of it, but it goes much deeper than that. Sharing also means being forthcoming with their emotions. This means being open and honest with their peers (honesty is something that’s notable by its absence in most playgrounds) and encouraging them to give compliments. A compliment is worth a whole lot to an insecure and developing young mind, and teaching your kids to demonstrate that they value others will not only help to make them well liked but will hopefully counter the narcissism epidemic that our culture has been in the thrall of for some time.
Teach them to regulate their emotions
Kids, especially teens, seem to value nothing more than “cool”. That vaunted and unflappable state wherein everything is greeted by a glacial and noncommittal “meh!”. Of course, we don’t want to encourage our kids to join the cult of cool, but we do want to encourage them to regulate their emotions. The way we raise our kids plays a huge part in this. Playing games with them gets them used to winning and losing and the fact that life is not always fair. Letting them fall and scrape their knees every now and then gets them used to suffering the temporary pain and indignity of failing as well as teaching them how to get up again. This builds character and prevents them from having embarrassing outbursts in front of their peers.