Episode 22 –Scarlett, Age 13: Changing a bad first impression

Scarlett wants to know what to do to change someone’s first impression of her.

Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic
Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic
Episode 22 –Scarlett, Age 13: Changing a bad first impression


Think About It Questions

  • Have you ever changed your mind about what you think of someone and started to like them, even though you didn’t at first? If so, what led to that change?
  • What are some reasons why it’s hard to change a first impression?
  • Dr. Friendtastic said, “We can’t force someone to like us.” What does this statement mean to you?
  • What impression do you think most people have of you when they first meet you? Is that similar or different from how your close friends see you?


Welcome! I’m Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, also known as Dr. Friendtastic. I’m an author and clinical psychologist based in Princeton, NJ.

Let’s listen to today’s question:

My name’s Scarlett. I’m 13, and my question about friendship is: How do you change people's view of you when you already have a first impression?

Hi, Scarlett! Thank you for this interesting and complicated question.

Negative actions tend to stand out more than positive ones. So, people are more likely to notice and remember when we do something wrong than when we do something right. That’s what can lead to a bad first impression.

People also tend to see what they expect to see. They notice the things that fit their ideas, and they’re likely to overlook the things that don’t fit their ideas. So, for example, if someone thinks you’re annoying, they’re going to notice every single thing you do that’s even slightly annoying, and they probably won’t pay attention to all the things you do that aren’t annoying.

Plus, people tend to notice actions more than a lack of action. So if you do something mean, that stands out, but probably no one is going to say, at the end of a day, “Hey! I noticed Scarlett did NOT do anything mean today!”

All of this is why first impressions are so sticky. People are less likely to notice the evidence that doesn’t fit their first impression.

Does that mean it’s hopeless to change a bad first impression? Definitely not!

If you did something that you regret, you may want to start by apologizing to the person you hurt or upset. Say, “I’m sorry for…” whatever it was, and tell what you’re going to do differently, from now on.

The apology shows caring for the other person, and it highlights that you plan to move forward in a new and better direction. Acknowledging a mistake is difficult, but it’s a kind thing to do. So, sometimes a sincere apology can work to change a bad first impression–as long as you follow it up by doing better about whatever the problem was.

But sometimes you need to take a long view. Time is on your side. If you have lots and lots of interactions with someone that are positive or at least neutral, over time, those can crowd out the memory of whatever led to the bad first impression.

Think about what kind of impression you want to make.

My vote? Aim for being kind. It’s doable, and it can pay off in friendships. Wouldn’t it be great to have people think, “That Scarlett, she’s kind to everyone!”

Next, think about what actions would fit the impression you want. What actions are the opposite of whatever led to the bad first impression?

For instance, what could you do that’s friendly or helpful?

Then, think about who might be most open to the new impression.

We can’t force someone to like us. Maybe the person with the bad first impression of you isn’t going to be open to seeing a different view of you for a long time–or ever. That’s disappointing, and maybe hard to accept, but it happens.

Luckily, you don’t have to focus only on that one person. There are lots of other people who could be very open to getting to know and like you.

Maybe, over time, when they see that other people have a good impression of you, the person with the bad first impression will change their mind.

Or maybe not, and you’ll just pay attention to the people you like who like you back.

This has been Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic. If you have a question about making and keeping friends that you’d like me to answer, go to DrFriendtastic.com, and click on the podcast tab to see how to submit your question.

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