The Path to Popularity

How you can shapeyour child's social skills.

By PT Staff, published on July 1, 1993 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015


Finally-a formula parents can use to give their kids a leg up in
the dreaded junior high popularity contest. It's just a matter of using
the right parenting style. Parents who are friendly and supportive,
rather than aloof or bossy, when their kids need help are more likely to
be the proud parents of popular kids. It's the difference between
authoritative and authoritarian.

Authoritative parents are more affectionate and pay closer
attention to kids' needs for attention and help. They treat their kids
more like equals and usually manage to maintain the upper hand without
the stern discipline of authoritarians.

If a child asks for help with a math problem, an authoritarian
parent may respond, "Figure it out yourself" or "It's obvious: the answer
is 10." This parent believes in maximum discipline, minimum help, and
fears that being too soft on kids is bad.

If The Netherlands team's research is anything to go on,
authoritarian thinking might be exactly backwards. In a study of 112
elementary kids ages 6 to 11 and their parents, psychologists Maja
Dekovic and Jan Janssens found authoritative/democratic parents produced
kids who were better liked, based on peer evaluations and teacher

The University of Nijmegen pair set their subjects to work on two
puzzles, then sat back and observed parental interest and assistance.
Authoritative parents offered more verbal and nonverbal encouragement and
freedom of choice. They smiled more often and said things like "You're
doing well," "It's difficult, isn't it?" and "Maybe you could try that

Authoritarian parents were more likely to sigh, take over
physically, and say things like "Don't do that" and "You're not trying."
They were more often dictatorial, impatient, or disinterested.

How do different parenting styles affect the puzzle-working kids?
Within their family, those children learned positive behavior patterns
that appealed to peers, explains Antonius Cillessen, who developed the
tests used in the study. Also, teachers found those kids the most
sharing, helpful, and concerned.

What about the unpopular kids? Dekovic and Janssens point out that
kids rejected by peers often have numerous negative, conflictive
relationships in their past. They suggest social-skills counseling and
help for such kids. But when push comes to shove, it's the parent/child
relationship that molds a child socially.