If YOUR child was unpopular whether in elementary, junior high, and/or high school, what would YOU do? Would you accept and nurture his/her persnality as it and tell him/her that fitting in isn't as important as being his/her unique/individual self and that popularity is a totally transitory thing? Or would you tell your child that something is lacking in his/her personality and tell him/her to change his/her personality as to seem more acceptable and/or likeable by his/her peers and classmates? Why? Why not?
Tough question. No one answer. Kids do need to learn to adapt to other people, and may need direction if they are acting badly. On the other hand, lots of kids are just shy, and get bullied for that reason alone. Being shy isn't a personality defect so much as a personality type.
You can get to the point of having a few friends through technique rather than changing your basic nature. Almost everyone needs a few peer-aged friends at that age. Widespread popularity is unnecessary and probably does more harm than good.
Personally I'd try to find something the child was very interested in and see if I could find a peer group of children with the same interest to see if that could help things along. It's easier to start a conversation with someone, and eventually form a friendship, if you have something in common, particularly something you're passionate about. It could be anything from a sports team, to building robots for competition, to rocket challenges, 4-H, chess club, doesn't really matter... just try to scoot them in the right direction to at least make one friend. I would definitely teach the child to value him or herself for all their unique qualities but I also might give a tip here and there for talking to other kids if that is the underlying issue. There's a difference between shy and having fierce social anxiety. I grew up with the latter.... it was dreadfully lonely, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone else. If I saw a child struggling with the same issues I'd probably begrudgingly get psychiatric help - not because the child was innately 'flawed' but because something about them was causing them to struggle harder and suffer more than they should. Child rearing is, as always, a case by case basis that requires thinking outside of the box.
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