9.1 Social Interaction in Early Childhood: Do you know the characteristics of popular children, neglected children & intervention strategies?

Chapter 9


9.1 Define the terms, popularity, rejection and neglect in peer interaction


After discussing friendship in the previous Chapter, one may ask the question, “Can one have friends and still be unpopular?” The answer is “YES.” Friendship and popularity are not synonyms. For this reason we are now going to focus on levels of popularity that include acceptance, rejected and neglected children.



Popularity may be defined as the degree to which one is valued by the peer group. The  main components of popularity are:

    1. Sociability. This refers to one’s ability to relate with others
    2. Social status; what one is in matters concerning position held or economic ability of her or his family.

A child can be at the popularity level of being accepted , neglected or rejected.  The level of popularity is basically dependent on a child’s ability to effectively participate in peer interaction.  The accepted children are commonly referred to as popular children. Neglected children are practically “invisible” that is they are practically ignored by peers. The rejected ones are those who are strongly disliked. Rejected and neglected children are generally branded as unpopular children.


To assess the degree of children’s popularity, one uses techniques known as sociometry. This technique involves asking children in social set-ups questions about aspects of interactions with each other. These are later analysed to identify who the accepted, neglected or rejected children are. The assessment is necessary in order to involve any necessary intervention measures promptly.


Carry out a sociometric exercise to compare the degree of popularity among children in a Standard One class


9.2 Describe characteristics of popular children


Everyone has a need to be accepted by others and especially peers. Popularity makes a child develop self worth.  A popular child feels comfortable social interaction. Popularity also plays some role in optimal performance. Hartup ( 1989) established characteristics of popular children. According to the view popular children:

  1. Are cooperative
  2. Are positive in interaction
  3. Are capable of initiating interaction
  4. Readily adapt and conform to what is agreed upon
  5. Understand emotional expression of others
  6. Are able to communicate effectively
  7. Are dependable
  8. Are affectionate
  9. Are considerate (not egocentric)
  10. Are generous with praise
  11. Are intelligent
  12. Have self confidence but not conceited


9.3 Explain how you could promote children’s popularity

Parents can promote children’s popularity by equipping them with pleasant interaction skills. According to Hartup (1989) popular children come from families in which:

  • Aggression and antisocial behaviour are discouraged
  • There is little use of punishment if any. Such families try not to frustrate the child.
  • The child is liked and praised. The child is likely to behave similarly as he or she interacts with peers. A child raised in such a family becomes generous with praise, an attribute that leads to popularity.
  • The child is provided with opportunities to play with peers. It is particularly necessary to provide children with play material that foster interaction This is important for the development of social skills.
  • There is a warm and strong father figure especially in the case of boys.
  • There is good communication. Children in families like these learn to take turns in conversation.
  • Members are interested in others. This involves trying to know others’ names.


9.4 Discuss intervention strategies for rejected children


Serious unpopularity in early childhood has some great impact on a child’s life. Generally when a addition, once a negative reputation is developed in a social group, it somehow spills over to the other groups that the child might interact with. Hence, unpopular children often become victims of low self-esteem, a condition that habitually persists into adulthood.


While popular children are quick to read peers’ emotions and to react accordingly, unpopular children often misinterpret others’ emotions.  Failing to get the proper interpretation of others’ emotions may prompt weird responses that are likely to lead to difficult interactions and consequential unpopularity.


There are children who become unpopular due to their physical characteristics. For example, a child may be teased due to her or his height, weight or complexion. A child could also be teased due to exemplary or poor academic performance. Other causes of unpopularity include:

  • Aggression: This could be verbal or physical. Aggression could be as a result of inability to communicate feelings.
  • Lack of respect for authority: Children hate to be associated with colleagues who appear difficult to authority.
  • Impulsivity: Those children who act without taking  reasonable consideration.
  • Inattention: Children who fail to pay attention due to conditions such as hyperactivity respond to others inappropriately.

It is necessary for parents and teachers to be able to assess a child’s popularity status in order to institute proper intervention measures.  During early childhood, the unpopular child is never invited to other children’s special occasions. They do not invite other children either. Unpopular children will even fake illnesses such as stomachache to avoid social situations.


Though some children could be extremely affected by unpopularity, they may not communicate their problems to their parents. This depends on the age. For instance, a young child may mention having been locked out in a game. Some will even become reluctant to go to school or show obsessive hate for their current school and demand to be transferred. There are others who get sleep disorders such as spending all their leisure time sleeping or spending sleepless nights.


In middle childhood, unpopularity may lead to inexplicable drop in school performance. This can lead to failure in main examinations if the unpopularity is not addressed. At adolescence the unpopular child may show signs of self-hate or attempting intentional harm to self. Such a teenager may become suicidal.  The individual may all of a sudden show signs of extremely increased or decreased appetite. This often leads to further ridicule from the peers. Often, an affected teenager displays strange behaviour such as living in isolation even in the family setting.


An unpopular child may go into depression if the appropriate intervention is not instituted. Though it is not possible to reverse the situation instantly, deliberate effort pays. The intervention varies with age.


At early childhood, the teacher can assist the unpopular child by ensuring that the child is welcomed into the others’ games. The child should be encouraged to engage in complex pretend play. Through the participation, the child is likely to acquire acceptable codes of behaviour and social competence.


Parents can assist a child by ensuring that he or she learns how to understand others’ responses by using benefit of doubt when they seem not to comply, as opposed to condemning and ditching them. Parents and teachers must be alert to identify signs of unpopularity in their children. The earlier the intervention, the less the harm and effort required for remedy and the better the results.

It is advisable for the parent of an affected child to consult the teacher. The school counselor can also be consulted.


Berns, R.M. (1997). Child, Family, School, Community: Socialisation and Support.        USA:     Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Kate W. & Gardener, R. (1993). Caring for Children. England: Longman

Kostelnik, Stein, Whiren and Soderman(1993). Guiding Children’s Social Development. USA:     South-Western Publishing Company

McCandless B.R. & Evans D. E. (1973). Children and youth: psychosocial development. Atlanta:     Dryden Press.


Testing exercise 9

  1. Define the following: popularity, rejected children, neglected children
  2. List ten characteristics of popular children.
  3. State five characteristics of families from which popular children are likely to come.
  4. Discuss five reasons why some children become unpopular
  5. What do you understand by the sociometry
  6. Explain five ways in which parents can promote their child’s acceptability among peers.



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