Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How can I help my children resist peer pressure?

Peer pressure is everywhere. Even young preschoolers want to feel like part of the group. As your child gets older the pressure to fit in becomes more and more dangerous. The world is full of things we want our children to resist. So how do we give our children the strength that it takes to resist doing negative things just to fit in or feel good about themselves?

Over the past 50 years or so, we as a culture have become aware that in order for our children to excel in life they need to feel a sense of accomplishment. They need to feel that they are capable of doing good things and that they should try hard. This has given rise to the term “Self-Esteem” – feeling valuable, capable and willing to try new things. In order to help children feel good about themselves, parents have begun to over-praise their children. Don’t get me wrong, praise is a good thing. But because of this “praise revolution”, I often times find myself giving over the top praise for every small thing. “Way to go, you ate all your lunch!” “That drawing is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!” “You did such a good job cleaning your room!” “I am so proud that you didn’t cry at the store!” These complements become a kind of “drug” to children. Then need the approval of their parents or they don’t even know when they do a good job. They clean their room and are not satisfied until you say they did a good job. As they grow then begin to not care about their parent’s approval and being to need approval from the other kids around them.

If the goal of parenting is to teach your children to feel a sense of accomplishment for themselves, then we need to encourage them to be proud of themselves for the accomplishment, not wait for our complement. What we need to do is change the way we word what we say to them.

Let’s take the example of cleaning your room. If you are excited that your child cleaned her room you could say, “I see that you put all your toys away. Does it feel good to have a clean room? Are you excited to know where all your toys are now.“ If your child draws a picture and you know they worked hard and did their best, you could say “Wow, you worked really hard on that picture. I saw you concentrating on it. Tell me about it. What do you like about it?” Meet your child at the energy level they come to you. If your child is excited that she put away her clean clothes, than be excited with her and say “It is so nice to be able to do things for yourself isn’t it. You are getting so big!”

By re-focusing the child on how THEY feel about their accomplishments, it will give them the taste to satisfy their own needs. They will not be relying on YOU to tell them when they have done a good job and as they grow up they will be less likely to NEED the acceptance of their peers and so less likely to do things they don’t want to or know are wrong just to fit in or feel good about themselves.

I am NOT suggesting that you never complement and praise your child. Quite the contrary. I encourage you to do it all the time but do not base it on things they DO but who they are. So the time to heap praise on them is when they have done nothing special at all. Tell them that you see all the work they do and that they try so hard. Tell them what you see that they are good at. Tell them you think they could do anything they set out to do. Tell them that you love them EVERYDAY.

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