Positive reinforcement a key to popularity for children

Published 2:38 am Sunday, February 24, 2013

QUESTION: What are the qualities that make some children well liked by their peers and why are other children unpopular?


ANSWER:  In studying a small group of 5 and 6 year olds, psychologist Philip Erwin of Manchester Metropolitan University in England found that the key factor that made children popular was their ability to give positive reinforcement and support to their playmates.  Children who were not well liked gave fewer kind comments and were less able to solve touchy social situations.

Email newsletter signup

The children were observed during free playtime and were asked what they would do if they were faced with four social dilemmas: 1) How would you help a friend being teased by another child? 2) How would you make friends with another child if you were starting at a new school? 3) What would you do if you were in a swing and another child asked you to get off and give him/her a turn? 4) If you were playing with a ball and another child took it away, what would you do?

Unpopular children had difficulty coming up with strategies to make friends or to help friends in a difficult situation.  Their tactics for dealing with conflict were more likely to be confrontational, and they seemed unaware that there were alternative ways of handling touchy situations.  The well-liked children offered solutions that would strengthen rather than break off relationships.  They also said they would ask for help from an adult to mediate a problem rather than resort to aggression.

The child with well-developed social skills usually: 1) approaches others positively, 2) expresses wishes and preferences clearly, 3) expresses frustration and anger appropriately, 4) takes turns fairly, 5) negotiates and compromises with others, 6) shows acceptance for peers of other ethnic groups, 7) is accepted fairly easily into ongoing activities or groups, 8) interacts nonverbally with other children with smiles and nods.

As parents and grandparents we usually think about helping our children learn academic and physical skills.  Our children depend on us to teach them social skills, too.  Remember that children learn their most important social skills lessons from observing the adults in their lives interact with each other and with them.


If you would like to talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges of raising children, call the toll free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204. Hablis gratis: Linea de Apoyo y Comprension Paterna 1-877-434-9528. For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599.  Check out www.familiesandcommunities.org