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How to help your child become more popular

by Andrew Maisel
image of friends

We all want our children to be popular. Heck, we want to be popular. What's the secret?

A meta-study (study of studies) published in Child Development looked at 20 studies covering more than 2000 children between 2 and 10, and concluded that the secret is the ability to put yourself in someone else's position. Children able to exercise this so-called "theory of mind" were significantly more popular. The effect did not vary with age, however was stronger in girls than boys.

If others perceive that you understand and/or appreciate their beliefs, desires, and needs, it makes sense that they could see you as a kindred spirit, someone they could associate with and confide in -- which are strong bases for friendship.

But like many tools, this one can be used for good or evil. It turns out that some children (and their future, older selves) learn to use this skill for manipulation, rather than friendship. This type of perceived popularity is epitomized by the stereotype portrayed in the 2004 hit movie, "Mean Girls".

Bottom-line: Help your children learn the theory of mind, by asking them how they would feel if they were the other person. They can exercise this skill in their daily interactions with people, by reading books and projecting themselves into the roles of the various characters, and even by playing board games like checkers and chess, that require the player to think about their opponent's next moves.



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