By Cheryl Coleman
I remember when my daughter was in third grade and she came home one day with tears in her eyes. The other girls at school had been teasing her that day about her new hair bow that my daughter absolutely loved and couldn’t wait to wear to school. The excited-to-show-off-her-new-adornment child that I dropped off at school that morning was not who I picked up that afternoon. This new child was broken. Her feelings were hurt. She had been teased and she felt the pressure of her peers to do something different. Something that would please them rather than herself. She was conflicted and I knew I had to step in and help guide her through this moment as her parent.
I did some research and found a very helpful article at parents.com. I’ve summarized it for you below. However, if you get a chance, read the article. It lists great resources you can share with your children to help explain and grow through peer pressure.
Peer pressure can start early in life. For students, sometimes it starts as early as pre-kindergarten. I believe it’s because once children become freer with their opinions, they will say things like I don’t like your lunch box or your coat and they will try and convince their peers to like the same things they like or they won’t be their friend. Friendship may be based on material things like who has the coolest notebook or backpacks or what is the coolest game to play at recess.
So how can you help your child stand up for his or her own preferences in life and still have a lot of friends? Some children may not even recognize peer pressure when it is happening. Just like everything else in life we have to teach our children what peer pressure is at an early age so they know how to handle it. For example, tell them it’s okay for someone to say I like the new board games we have at school. It’s not okay to say “You can’t play with us because you don’t like the new games.” Or if someone comes to school with a new backpack. Of course, complimenting the backpack is completely acceptable; however, teasing the person and saying they should have gotten another type of bag is not.
What happens when children are faced with peer pressure?
Most children give in to peer pressure because they feel they have no choice if they want to have friends or want to fit in or they worry about other children making fun of them. There are some kids that leave their common sense behind and follow along out of curiosity because everyone else is doing it. We have to talk to our children and suggest ways to handle certain situations.
Teasing is never fun. One way to deal with it is if your child is getting laughed at for something like eating Sponge Bob fruit snacks at lunchtime and comes home and asks for a new type of fruit snack because the kids at school are laughing at him or her, consider doing a little role-playing in order to develop great responses. If the other students tell your child that Sponge Bob fruit snacks are for babies, maybe your son or daughter could say “I like them. They are delicious to me. You should try them!” Or if they are being forced to play a certain game at recess and they want to play another, they can say something like “I will collect rocks with you today if you play jump rope with me tomorrow.” Eventually, they will be able to come up with their own “comebacks” and will be able to negotiate on their own.
Psychologists suggest that we need to teach our children phrases like “I need to think about that” or “I’m not comfortable with that.” That lets the other child know that your child is not just giving in to the other child’s demands.
The article states that “confident children are less likely to give in to their classmates’ pushiness or second-guess their own opinions.” It is important to help your child feel good about their decisions. Spend some time with them and let them talk freely to you about their likes and dislikes. Listen without being judgmental. If they say Brussel sprouts and okra are the nastiest vegetables on the planet or pink and purple is the prettiest colors in the world, listen. Don’t judge. It will give them the confidence to speak their mind around their friends and hold onto what they like or dislike. It can be tough to say “no” but they can do it. Teaching them to pay attention to their own beliefs and feelings, teaching them self-confidence and teaching them to walk away because they know right from wrong can help them decide the right thing to do in the future.
And last, but not least, we all remember that one sentence we heard as children “choose your friends wisely.”