Most kids want to feel they fit in and have a sense of belonging in school. Their experiences vary depending on whether they are in primary or secondary school.
Engagement with peers starts each day on the bus ride and continues throughout all the classroom hours, recess, and lunch. Even in elementary school by about third grade, there is a sense of what it means to be ‘popular’ and kids often don’t have the confidence to feel a sense of strength in their individuality to not want to feel a part of this acclaimed group.
This is where parents come in. It helps to share the value with your kids early on that friendship involves trust and compatibility, not who is favored by a group. Mutual loyalty among peers is slow to evolve, but when it does, it gives your child the opportunity to feel comfortable in their own skin in their own school. This is the goal, not peer pressure.
Discuss with your child the term, peer pressure, and ask them if they feel burdened by demands of other kids. If so, ask them what they hope to gain from their companions and buddies and teach them how to meet new kids. Let them know that listening to others and sharing is a great way to make friends. While your child may be a leader or follower or somewhere in between at different times, he or she needs to build self-confidence in order to develop their own interests that they share with others.
Parents play a big role in providing time at home for play dates, encouraging activities with others, and also prizing time spent enjoying one’s time alone. Offer your non-judgmental support for your child to make friends in his or her own way, without succumbing to the pressures of their peers to conform in certain ways. Your loving support anchors your child and you can encourage them to share their peer experiences with you, so they know they are not alone.
Once in middle and high school peer pressure can be a whole new ball of wax. Drugs and sex can take center stage for some kids. Some kids hang out in groups while others begin to date one on one. Our role as parents is to support our kids values—that is help them form their own value system rather than succumb to a ‘popular’ crowd’s view of how to get along with others.
Help your child know they are important within themselves, not based on who they hang out with. Finding one’s own interests and sharing them with trusted companions is by far more satisfying and comfortable than trying to be part of some specific circle or group of kids. Let your child know you support them and be available to discuss their social life when they wish. Knowing you are their ally no matter what successes and mistakes they make socially makes a big difference for both awkward and comfortable kids.
Building a strong parent-child bond early on paves the way for a strong parent-teen connection that helps kids negotiate peer pressure because they know they have you to depend on when they get confused or feel like an outsider. Respect your child and let them know you have faith in them. This goes a long way towards pleasant peer relations.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior found on Amazon and wherever books are sold. Visit her website for more insight and guidance: http://lauriehollmanphd.com