“I don’t want that kid near me, she’s a geek!” “He’s no fun to play with because he always cheats.” “I can’t stand that girl, she’s a real show off.” Kids like these are socially clued out. They don’t understand how to make friends, what it takes to be a friend, how to talk with other kids, and how to fit in with a group. Every kid needs to feel accepted by his peers. It’s much more important to them than getting good grades. If you think about it, kids are right. You can be smart, but if everyone thinks of you as a nerd, you won’t be happy or well-adjusted.
o Supervise younger children’s play activities. A few incidents of grabbing, face-scratching, biting, or hitting can earn children a bad reputation which may be hard for them to shake.
o Incorporate a social skills program into your curriculum. Important skills for children to learn are
(a) communicating–relating to peers and adults in a positive way, and listening
(b) making friends–saying “hello” and “good-bye,” asking for and giving information, and including peers in activities
(c) giving and getting positive and negative feedback–smiling and complimenting, helping, sharing, cooperating, accepting responsibility, complying and refusing requests, and being affectionate.
o Talk about what makes children popular or unpopular. Let children come up with their own criteria, as well as examples of how children wear their traits.
o Discuss the different types of groups that emerge among children. In some groups smartness counts, while in others athletic ability is important. Encourage children not to get upset if one group rejects them, but to look for a group which they fit in with; or learn the skills they need to fit in with the group they want to belong to. Being good at sports is usually an in with most peer groups. Outstanding athletes are seldom rejected by their peers. You can help children develop their athletic ability by exposing them to a number of sports, and encouraging them to practise the ones they have a knack for.
o Talk to children about moods and how people sometimes act in ways they don’t normally act, because they are sick, tired, or have had a disagreement with someone else. Help children recognize people’s moods, so they do not take it personally when someone is in a bad mood, and assume it’s because they did something wrong.
o Make a Feelings Thermometer to help children pinpoint what situations make them feel at ease, squirmy, or like running away. This also helps children realize that what they find uncomfortable another child might find challenging or no big deal.
o Show films of children playing well together, cooperating, respecting each other, and showing consideration for each other’s feelings. Studies have shown that watching positive peer models encourages children to act the same way.
o Watch unpopular children to pinpoint exactly what they do that bothers other children. This information helps them understand the part they play in creating negative peer interactions.
o Ask rejected children to play games with other children so they can
(a) learn proactive rather than confrontational solutions to problems
(b) try out their solutions and find out which ones work and don’t work
(c) think about what makes a game fun and not fun to play
(d) learn how to get along with other children by following rules, taking turns, asking questions, and using cooperative words like “may I?” “please,” and “thank you.”
o Build up unpopular children’s self-confidence by asking them to do important jobs such as tutoring a younger child, working audiovisual equipment, distributing snacks, or refereeing games. This gives them the courage to try making friends and face the possibility of peers saying “No” to them.
o Pair rejected children with popular peers. Popularity is contagious, and being in the company of a liked student may help other children see a rejected child with new eyes.
Sometimes it works better if you pair a rejected child with a well-adjusted child one year younger, because rejected children usually are behind in their social maturity.
o Find out about community clubs children can join. Clubs like Brownies, Boy Scouts and 4-H are good examples. Some organizations even have special chapters for learning disabled or socially immature children. Community activities give children trying to shake a bad reputation at school a second chance at making friends.