A teacher explains why being the popular kid isn't everything.


It’s important to get in touch with your child about bullying, friends and social hierarchies.

It takes all of about five minutes to gauge the social standings of the classroom at the beginning of the school year. Easily identifiable are the extroverts, the teacher pleasers, the class clowns and the introverts.  Next I can spot the best friends and the trios, and those who love to hate each other. Finally, and only on the odd occasion when they’re allowed to pick their own partners, does it become obvious who the queen (or king) bees are. These are the children who are spoilt for choice when it comes to partners for games and activities, and who haven’t ever had to look for someone to play with on the playground.

Rose Pennington. image supplied

I want to give a teacher’s perspective to a problem that you may not think you even have: being popular. Or rather, your child using their popularity for the wrong reasons. Parents are often worried about bullying, which is valid, but just as important is to guide your child to develop the most essential of qualities: kindness. Sounds obvious? Correct. But as with most lessons it is important to teach it explicitly. This means having conversations and making your kids aware of how their actions can affect others.

This is an enviable position to be in. However, it is easy for them to live their lives without any consideration of others. These are kids! This is the time in their lives when they’re allowed to be more selfish and as such they haven’t had to practise a great deal of empathy.  They haven’t yet had the life experiences that show them that it is important, so, they need to be told.

Parents come to speak to me whose kids are feeling excluded from games, jokes and conversations. I can see that in some cases the offending students are aware of what they’re doing and enjoy the drama that ensues, but I also see those who take their blessed social status for granted and seem to travel through blithely unaware of what they’re doing.

Popularity isn't everything.

Indeed, there are many adults who seem to travel through life unaware of what is happening around them - from what is going on in their rear view mirror while driving to ignoring the devastation their work colleague is facing during a divorce. But these are not the types of people we want our children to grow into.

Regardless of where your child falls on the social scale, they must be guided through how to develop empathy and compassion, step by step. Starting with “how did Emily feel at lunch today do you think?” will signal for them to take another’s perspective. Having a conversation about how people perceive things differently will show them that there is not always one account of a given situation and that more than one person can be ‘right.’ Discussing the fact that by asking someone to play who might not have otherwise had a friend at lunch is a kind thing to do is a good way to introduce the age old concept of do for others what you would have them do for you.

Finally, the concept of walking in another’s shoes is so important. Ask, how they would feel if they started at a new school and had to wander around alone? How would they feel if their two best friends ran away to have a private chat? How would they feel if someone spoke in a mean way about their favourite toy? Simple reflections such as these, repeated in a casual manner will train your children to think about others and to refocus their attention away from themselves, occasionally.

Image via iStock.

Even if they are lucky enough to be the one who calls the shots in the playground this week, it doesn’t mean it will always be the case. Encouraging compassion and empathy will help them to forge deeper and more meaningful friendships with people who won’t drop them, even if they’re not the flavour of the month. Ultimately, they will exercise kindness, a quality that will positively influence how they treat each other, themselves and the world around them.

What would you do if your child was bullying others?