Dr Judith Locke is a Clinical Psychologist and child wellbeing specialist who presents sessions for parents and teachers at schools around Australia. She will be presenting to parents of Northside Christian College on Monday 30 May from 6:30pm – 8:30pm.

"While most of the work in making friends has to be your child’s efforts, you can help them become more capable in social situations.

Likeability is a key factor in getting along in life and it’s no wonder that many parents become very concerned about their child’s social skills. While some parents put a lot of effort into encouraging their child’s playground success, I’m not sure that their energies are always helpfully directed.

That’s because to help children become popular, many parents put most of their energy into building their child’s confidence. That kind of makes sense – get your child feeling as wonderfully about themselves as they possibly can in your home, and that will translate into others feeling the same way about them.

But the trouble is, it depends on the ways your build your child’s confidence. If you make them feel good about themselves through contriving an environment where they are perfectly happy and successful all the time, you might be building the wrong feelings and expectations in your child.  This can have the risk of making children less likeable.

For example, parents ensuring that their child is always happy, doesn’t really prepare children for the feelings that occur when things don’t work out. Children who have not learnt to cope with these feelings tend to take a long time to get over things. These children might end up as ‘dobbers’ who cry to the nearest adult about all of their perceived injustices, which are minor bumps for most, but huge discriminations to them.

Another way some parents build confidence in their child is by manipulating situations to ensure that their child wins every family game or always getting their choice of activity. Trouble is, their ongoing confidence becomes highly dependent on them always having their say or winning. That’s going to make your child a bad sport when they don’t get their choice of activity, lose the handball game, or will risk them choosing to cheat.

Similarly, parents making their child the centre of attention and effort all of the time will make the child expect to be the most important person in the room and not easily fit in to groups where everyone’s opinions and feelings matter. These children won’t go with the flow as easily and will want to always be the lead character in any imaginative play scenarios or dominate their peers.

To make your child more prepared for the playground teach them much more useful skills. Help them practice taking turns, playing fairly and not always expecting to get their way. When they do experience a little frustration don’t always fix it for them or tend to agree with them how outrageous it is that things haven’t worked out.

You have to let them know, through your actions, that not always winning is normal. Avoid overdoing sympathy when their sibling is better at things than they are, or allowed to do more because they are older.

Teach your child how to solve social dilemmas. Get them to brainstorm a solution to the current argument over TV channels or have them suggest ways to involve everyone in the game.

Role model an appropriate relationship to them. If they are rude to you, then always give an effective consequence. You don’t want them to think it is ok to treat people badly, particularly people they care about.

Make your child feel loved and accepted in their family and special to you - but out in the world no more special that anyone else. Increase their empathy skills by being aware of others’ feelings and actively trying to improve the lives of people around them. You know how wonderful your child is, so help them to be able to show their best qualities when socialising, so that others feel the same way about them.

Takeaway for parents

Got a sore loser? Try these techniques

  • Be a little nonchalant when they complain about how unfair things are.
  • If they don’t stop bellyaching, then give them a clear instruction to stop.
  • Remove them from the game if they don’t stop complaining, by either standing with them for a few minutes while the others play on or making them miss a turn of the board game.
  • Don’t go over the top with your praise when they do win, nor over commiserate when they lose.
  • When others do well, give them admiration in the presence of your child, and encourage your child to do similarly."

© Judith Locke