Summer is coming to an end, which means our conversations are changing: from pools to pencils, hot sun to homework and barbecues to books. Our focus, as parents, is to make sure our children are ready -- ready for a new curriculum, with new school supplies and clean clothes.
But there is one topic of readiness that seems to be skipped: Is your child socially prepared to go back to school?
From a child's immature point of view, social success can be summed up in one word: popular. Only, our society has put a negative label on the word. We tend to think that popular kids are the best dressed, best looking kids at school and therefore, they are mean, catty and self-absorbed, right? I say wrong.
Everybody knows that person who seems to make friends everywhere they go. I would describe them as popular. Having "popular" children provides a great opportunity for them to set a positive example and to gain a network that is very socially diverse. With that comes the chance to influence others for the better. So,when that moment presents itself, is your child prepared to rise to the occasion?
Here are five ways to teach your child to be popular:
Sharing is the most basic skill that we teach our children from the time they can walk. But I believe sharing goes far beyond showing your kid how to take turns, or let someone else go down the slide. Does your child know how to share a compliment? Complimenting people is a lost art and, sadly, not something that comes naturally. Our society today is all about "me, me, me." People receive their validation when the focus is turned to them. Instead of closing one eye to that self-centered behavior, we need to teach our children to immediately find something about someone, and encourage them to vocalize that praise. Encourage your child to give five compliments every day, and I assure you it will become habit.
2. Be an instigator
I have to share a personal experience that may sound silly. (My husband gets a good laugh every time I talk about it!) My mom is the best teacher I know -- both in the classroom and in life. I vividly remember getting ready to enter kindergarten and worrying out loud to my mom about not having any friends. Her reply was so simple, but so profound. She said, "All you have to do is walk up to someone and say 'Hi! My name is Lyndsi. What's your name? Do you want to be friends?" I did. And it worked! While that may seem like an unimportant, trivial conversation, she provided me with an invaluable script; a couple easy sentences that would pave the way for me to forge friendships. We need to teach our children to be the one to make the first move.
3. Shut it down
We are all guilty of gossip. We have all felt the quicksand-like effects of engaging in those conversations where we pick people apart without their knowing. It seems to be inevitable, especially amongst the tweens and teens in high school hallways. It even creeps in to our elementary school settings. Is your child prepared to handle those situations or will they simply go along with it because that is the easiest, most comfortable thing to do? It's simple to instruct our kids to say, "I am not going to gossip about so-and-so." But sometimes, especially in those teen years, it's not that easy. Teenagers want more than anything to be accepted, so it's just not practical to assume your child will make such a bold statement, and risk the resentment (or, worse, risk becoming the topic of the next gossip session) Instead, encourage your child to simply shut the conversation down by pointing out one positive about the person being talked about, and immediately changing the subject. It is a powerful practice they will surely benefit from having down the road.
4. Look for someone who needs you
This year, encourage your child to find the people who tend to get "lost" in the crowd. Help them identify those kids who are hurting and need someone to reach out to them. But don't stop there. Point out to them that sometimes, the people who are feeling lonely don't always fit the stereotypical "outcast" that we tend to think of. Encouraging them to smile and say hello to everyone is a good way to start down that path. Regardless of who that "someone" is, they need to know how to be aware of them and then act on it.
5. Root for the underdog
Again, I have my mom to thank for this life lesson. When we were growing up, she would always remind us to "root/cheer/vote for the underdog." Whether it was during student council elections, team tryouts or just a regular day, she would always say that to us as we got out of the car. Promoting this message teaches children to be aware of others. It will teach them kindness and empathy. And think of it this way: At some point in time, we will all be the underdog. How would you want to be treated?
Take some time to talk specifically about each of these things with your children. Help them identify an action plan for certain scenarios. Provide them with a script. And then hold them accountable! Teach them that these qualities and skills are not optional. Ask them for detailed examples of when they have demonstrated these things. And then remember, these are not "one and done" conversations. They need to be re-visited over and over again. These are the lessons that need to come from the most important classroom your child has, their home. And they need to come from the most important teacher, you.