Mirror-Images: How Parents Influence Their Children’s Sociability

How well-liked your children are has a lot to do with your own personality and parenting style. For one thing popularity runs in the family. Parents who are well-liked amongst their peers tend to have popular children. Warm and supportive parents who teach their children to follow the rules of social etiquette are likely to raise well-adjusted children who relate well to both adults and peers. By contrast, permissive parents who set few standards and have little control over their children tend to raise children who are aggressive and unpopular with peers.

Overprotective mothers are more likely to have sons who are anxious and inhibited around their peers, but okay around adults. It could be that overprotective mothers unwittingly turn their sons into sissies, which causes other children to poke fun at them. These boys then steer clear of their peers and look for company from friendlier adults.

Controlling, dictatorial parents typically have children with poor social skills. Authoritarian parents seldom let their children figure out problems for themselves, and their bossiness sets a bad example for their children. Finally, children who are insecurely attached to one or more unresponsive parents may be anxious and inhibited in the presence of others, and less sociable than children securely attached.(end of insert box)

Popular children are smart in school and have well-developed role-taking skills. They are good at inferring their friend’s needs and responding the right way. According to developmental psychologist, Robert Selman, children get better at understanding themselves and other people as they acquire the ability to take another person’s viewpoint and understand his thoughts, feelings, motives, and intentions. Otherwise children are forced to rely on external attributes such as appearances, activities, and possessions. Selman breaks children’s development of social perspective taking into four stages:

Stage 0–Egocentric (3 to 6 years)–children can only see the world from their own point of view.

Stage 1–Social-informational role-taking (6 to 8 years)–children realize people can think differently from them, but they think this is only because people have received different information from them.

Stage 2–Self-reflective (8 to 10 years)–children know their own and other’s points of view may differ, and yes, everyone received the same information. At this point children can consider other people’s points of view, and they also realize another person can put himself in their shoes, so children can anticipate another person’s reactions to their behavior.

Stage 3–Mutual role-taking (10 to 12 years)–children can consider their own as well as another person’s point of view, and recognize that other people can do the same. They can also assume the perspective of a third disinterested party.

Stage 4–Social and conventional system (12 to 15 and older)–teenagers or adults try to understand another person’s point of view by comparing it to the social system they live in.

Piaget was a big proponent of children’s play as an important contributor to their social perspective taking and interpersonal growth. By assuming different roles while playing together young children become aware of discrepancies between their own perspectives and those of their playmates. When disagreements arise in play, children learn how to integrate their own point’s of view with those of their friends. Also, the more children play with each other, the more they learn about other kids, and the better they get at understanding other children’s behavior.

Children with well-developed role-taking skills are also more altruistic than poor role takers. Their concern for the welfare of others is expressed in prosocial acts such as sharing, cooperating, and helping. The single most consistent predictor of altruism in children is their parents’ altruistic values. Warm and compassionate parents who practice what they preach are the best at eliciting prosocial responses from their children. Rational discipline heavy on reasoning also inspires altruism in children, because it helps them take other people’s perspectives and appreciate their distress. This style of parenting teaches children how to take responsibility for their actions, and perform some helpful or comforting act to make both themselves and people in distress feel better. you can’t shove altruism down your children’s throats. Forcing your kids to share and be helpful may lead to oppositional behavior, easily forgotten compliance, or being good just for appearances sake.