How old is your child?
If you answered 2 years or beyond, holiday-time is over, it’s now time to handle the age-old problem of teenagers succumbing to peer pressure. The urge to fit-in with those around us begins in toddler-years and intensifies into teenagehood and if it persists past young-adulthood, it is the recipe for disastrous work-life, marriage-life and every other aspect of life you can think of.
If your child is at least two, you must have noticed that other children influence how he/she behaves in certain situations. I know at this stage you may be disciplining that child for misbehaviour in total disregard of where he picked it from. It is worse if you are ignoring the problem and thinking that he will learn with age, automatically, huh? Pretty soon you will realise that kids who are barely able to clean themselves are influencing how your child will dress, what he will carry for his school-snack, what cartoons to watch, and even whether to hug you or not to! If you ignore that too, you are waiting for the teenage years (or a bit earlier) where peers will be suggesting on more pertinent issues like how to attract boys or woo girls, which parties to attend, which booze to try out, which classes to take, which religion makes sense, and how much pocket money they are entitled to. I know, the nerve!
When my firstborn became of enough understanding to copy the actions of other children, I tried to tell her countlessly that we do not copy bad things from other people. Honestly, that didn’t get me very far.
I tried not to punish bad behaviour without finding out where it originated from. For instance, if she could say “jinga” (fool) even to nobody in particular, I’d try to first find out who used that word on her or within her hearing, and firmly tell her it’s a bad word and she does not have to repeat everything she hears out there and if she does, I would punish her the next time. Of course, that means I am also careful in my speech and conduct and yes, I do require everybody in my household (workers included) to mind their language in the hearing of the children (even when on phone with their peers) because I do not want to keep disciplining my children as they un-do the discipline.
However, language problems are just the easier problems. Fortunately though, as the complexity of the influence peers have on our children increases, so does their understanding. You can teach your pre-schooler to have bravery and determination to say no to peer pressure in these easy ways:
1. Show your child your family values
If you are a Christian, like I am, let your children know that they are accountable to God and therefore must be different. When your child is influenced to behave inappropriately, tell him that you are not happy and God is not happy as well. Dwell more on the God part, after all He is better than you are in guiding that child, and is way more interested in the uprightness of that child than you could ever be. Tell your child that your family is a family that pleases God. Point them to an authority greater than yourself, an authority that will out-live you and an authority that will be with them when they are in a situation far from you. This must be done in very simple terms; God is everywhere, His word is not at home but in our hearts and in our minds and in our Bibles, and can be applied in every situation in every place.
2. Seek opportunities to model outstanding behaviour
You are driving in traffic, and your child is with you. Some drivers are overlapping and creating a worse problem, you could point that out to your child and let them know that even you do not like sitting in traffic and are also tempted to cut a few corners but you are determined to do the right thing. Take that opportunity to show that daddy/mummy does not do the wrong thing just because others are doing it. You can talk about a situation that you have faced a choice at your work-place. They will understand.
3. Stop telling your child to be like so and so, even if so and so is excellent
“Why can’t you be like your brother?”
“See how the other mummies are happy because their children all got prizes!”
It is okey to speak well of the differences of children, to be happy for them, and to even let your child hear prayers full of thanksgiving to God because of His blessings upon other people, but resist the urge to ask your child to be like them. Because every child is unique, every child has their strengths and their weaknesses. I know there is positive peer pressure, but if other children are going to influence yours to behave well, let it not come from you. If speaking to your child in this way will not influence him to copy the behaviour of others, it will get your child jealous of them, and it could distort their self-image. That too is unhelpful. Prod your child to do better, for his own sake, not so as to be like anyone.
4. Strengthen your relationship with your child
I do not mean you become bff’s with your children, no, you are their parent. Your relationship, as close and friendly as it should be, must have the parent-figure, and the child-figure. Be a friend that is looking forward to hearing how their day was, a friend looking forward to spending time with them, one they can open up to and tell of the choices they have made, silly choices and big choices. One they can trust with their secrets, silly secrets and big secrets. A friend that also opens up to them and admits when wrong. Create a friendship that you can sustain through to the teenage years, and when the bigger peer-influences come, you will talk about them just as you talked about the choices on which is faster between taking the lift or taking the escalator.
5. Search for or create stories about peer pressure and making choices.
Children love stories. They especially love stories that are repeated to them often because that way they can participate in completing the sentences for the story teller and making the sound expressions and gestures.
There is a story I love to give my 3 year old daughter although she always distorts it midway. I however hope one day I will complete it the right way and give the moral lesson. It is about when the Israelites turned against their leader Moses.
The people of Israel were complaining,
“Why is it that only Moses has to be the leader, why does God only speak through Moses?”
Moses’ sister and brother began to talk about him, complaining.
Then God heard from heaven…You know God hears when we are speaking with each other?
God was not happy with Moses’ sister and brother. So He called them,
“Miriam, COME HERE”
(I usually stress that part, then my daughter gets so excited and chips in…)
“COME, COME…” Then God did this ….”pom pom pom”
(At that point she spanks her behind and rolls over in laughter, making it completely impossible for me to finish the story because she always insists their behinds were spanked and says she will tell their mummy, etc etc.)
Ey, it is a true Bible story, in Numbers chapter 12, I hope to finish it some day and teach her about people doing mistakes together and individual punishments.
You too, can tell your own story. It does not have to be biblical, although you would profit twice if it were.
Enjoy your parenting journey.