Inside: Help your kids with these 9 strategies so they can successfully stand up to peer pressure and make kinder choices towards others.
Once upon a time, a little girl picked her nose at school.
Ew, that’s so gross.
She’s so gross.
Look how gross she is.
Oh my God, she’s so gross.
Ew. I don’t want to be friends with someone who picks her nose.
I’m not going to sit next to her. She’s going to put her boogers on me.
Oh she put her booger on you.
You guys shouldn’t be friends with her. She’s a nose picker.
Nose picker! She’s so disgusting.
I’m not going to be her friend.
Oh, me either. She’s so nasty.
One girl saw another girl pick her nose.
And she then convinced everyone else this one act was so grievous, no one should be friends with “the nose picker.”
And it worked.
She had the social power and popularity to convince enough girls to go along with it in a matter of minutes.
And maybe a few of other kids thought, “Sure, that’s gross. But she’s a kind girl. I still want to be friends with her after she washes her hands.”
But they didn’t dare say that.
They didn’t stand up for their friend.
They didn’t go against this one girl who was so vocal against anyone being near this other little girl.
And that was it. The nose picker was sitting all alone in tears.
This kind of social situation happens often and our kids are faced with tough decisions every day.
Do they go with the crowd and bend to peer pressure or do they stand up and do what they know is kind or right?
How can we help our kids who are kind stand up to peer pressure so they can make kinder choices?
What is Peer Pressure?
Peer pressure is defined as a strong influence from people in your peer group and feeling as if you need to do or say something in order to fit in or be liked by this group.
Our kids’ peers can be their teammates, classmates, siblings, neighborhood kids, and their friends.
It’s verbal or non-verbal pressure from friends or “friends” to change our actions to blend in with the group.
And this pressure can have both positive or negative consequences.
If your child is surrounded by adventurous kids, they may be encouraged to be more adventurous themselves and try something new, like try out for the school play or talent show or to sign up for a new sport.
If your child is surrounded by kind kids, they may be influenced to show more kindness to those around them.
If your child is surrounded by kids who love to read and love school, they may be more inclined to pick up a new series and meet friends in the library.
But often, peer pressure is associated with the negative consequences because too often, peer pressure leads our kids to actions they don’t feel comfortable making or wouldn’t make if their peers didn’t push them to do it.
And as we all know, peer pressure is powerful and can get kids to do stupid, dangerous things ranging from going along with a dare, to being mean to others, to drinking and drugs for our older kids.
Navigating the social structure of the playground and groups of friends is not easy.
So we have to teach our kids the difference between positive and negative peer pressure.
We have to teach our kids no matter what anyone says to them, they are the only ones in control of their actions and words.
So we have to remind our kids they must decide for themselves if what they’re being pressured to do, like unfriend a nose picker, is the right choice for them… before they act or speak.
And we have to help them stand up to peer pressure.
9 Ways to Help Kids Stand Up to Peer Pressure
Standing up to peer pressure can be particularly challenging for our kids.
So we have to intentionally help them and set them up for success by prepping them.
And there are 9 ways we can do this as parents:
1. Know who their friends are
We have to know who our kids’ friends are and what kind of people they are.
We have to know who is influencing our kids…for better or worse.
Are these kids challenging our kids to be better people? Or are they lowering the bar for our kids?
Not sure if your kids have good friends?
Invite their friends over and be the place to hang out. Listen to how they interact and how they speak to one another, especially when they don’t think anyone is listening or watching.
Don’t be sneaky or spy on them or you’ll lose your kids’ trust. But be aware and pay attention.
2. Teach your kids what a good friend is…and isn’t
Our kids are going to be around a lot of kids…and sometimes you can’t control who they’re hanging out with it. You get what you get when it comes to the kids on their sports team or in their classroom or in your neighborhood.
So we can encourage them to spend more time with kind kids who don’t pressure them to do unkind or dangerous things.
And we teach them how to know if the kids they’re spending time with are kind.
Good friends like you for you.
They don’t pressure you to do things you know aren’t kind or safe or right.
And true friends don’t use phrases like “I’ll only be your friend if...” and “You can’t play with me unless you…”
Good friends are good friends even if they’re in a bad mood or mad at you or don’t want to play what you’re playing right now.
Help your children find good friends who are kind and make kind choices.
Help them find friends who like them for them so they don’t have to change who they are to fit in.
Not sure how to help them find a good friend?
Ask their teacher for suggestions. Teachers will almost always tell you who the kindhearted kids are to befriend.
3. They don’t have to be friends with everyone
We’re intentionally raising our kids to be kind.
But I don’t want them to a doormat and take unkindness from other kids.
So we teach our kids that while they do have to be friendly and kind to everyone, they don’t have to be friends with everyone.
Preschool teachers cringe with this statement, but since this goes against our social norm, let me say it again: kids don’t have to be friends with everyone.
Forcing kids to be friends with someone who is unkind to them or with someone they have nothing in common with sets them up for failure and peer pressure situations.
4. Talk about peer pressure
One common mistake parents make is talking about peer pressure only once.
If we want to impress upon our children the importance of anything…from being kind, to making the right choices, to not leaving their wet towel on the floor, we have to be consistent and repetitive.
As parents we have to explain what peer pressure is and talk about it often.
And then we have to let them know that when we’re not with them to guide them, they are empowered to decide for themselves what is right for them and right for our family.
We tell our kids we trust them to make a choice that matches up with who they are on the inside.
We tell them they can come talk to us when they’re in a tricky situation so we can help them.
And we tell them them they’re going to make mistakes because being a kid is hard. But we’ll help them figure out how to fix their mistakes so they don’t make the same mistake again.
5. Read about peer pressure
It can sometimes be hard to know how to talk to your kids when it comes to peer pressure.
When we have to discuss hard topics, I often turn to books.
We can read together and then naturally jump into conversations about how they would have dealt with the situation. And we come up with other ways to handle peer pressure.
Books also have this magical way of opening up kids’ memories to talk about moments they’ve experienced…one time, at recess, I saw this kid who… Or one time, my friend said this to me and I didn’t know what to do.
Here are a few great peer pressure books to read with your kids:
One (My absolute favorite book about standing up to a bully in a kind way)
Related: Books to Help Prevent Bullying
6. Talk about your family values often
Our kids also have to know what our family believes in and stands for.
So we also talk about our family values and what we feel is important and valuable and moral.
In our family, we talk about how we expect kindness (it’s one of our only two family rules). And how we do the right thing even if everyone else is doing the wrong thing.
And we remind them they are kind kids.
This way, when they’re faced with a decision, they’ll make a choice that aligns with the core values of who we are as a family: kind people who act and speak with kindness.
I often tell my kids, “Every family does things differently.” And then depending on the situation we dive into the conversation with “In our family…
- we treat our siblings with kindness
- we don’t use those words
- we listen to the words “no” and “stop”
- we treat everyone fairly and with respect
- we make choices that are safe for our bodies
- we decide for ourselves if a choice is right or wrong and then we act
- we stand up for others when someone is being unkind to them
- we help someone who needs it
- we help people who are hurt rather than laughing at their misfortune
- we include others who are alone or who are lonely
- we only speak to others the way we want to be spoken to.
- we speak and act with kindness even if no is looking.
Related: The Golden Rule eposter
7. Give them the words they need and practice with role playing
Our kids are going to face tough situations where they might want to say “no,” because they know it’s right to say “no,” but they don’t have the confidence or courage to say it.
It’s often easier to go with the herd mentality and do what the crowd is doing rather than stand up for what is right or kind (or safe.)
So we have to practice.
We need to role play situations they will most likely encounter and give them the words they’re going to need.
- “You can’t treat me that way”
- “Good friends don’t make friends do things they don’t want to do”
- “That’s not a good choice for me”
- “I don’t want to do that”
- “No thank you”
Our kids can also practice walking away or getting adult help if they need it.
Role playing a few different ways they could respond during a tricky peer situation is essential so they feel empowered to stand up to mean kids and bullies.
But it’s absolutely imperative to practice this ahead of time so they’ll have the courage to stand up to their friends or peer group.
8. Encourage them to pause and THINK
In our family, we use the THINK method to help us evaluate the words we say to others so we can be more thoughtful and kind.
But the THINK method also works to determine if the choice they’re about to make is the right choice for them.
It gives them a second to decide if the choice they’re about to make lines up with our family values.
And it lets them ask themselves, would I do this or say this if my peer group didn’t tell me to do it?
Here’s how the THINK method works…Before you act, ask yourself if it what you’re about to do or say follows ALL the criteria:
T-Is it True? Is what they’re going to say to someone or about someone true? Is it not true? Or do we not know if it’s true or just a rumor?
H- Is it Helpful? Does it help people to do this or say this? Does it escalate a situation and make it worse or does it deescalate the situation and make it better?
I- Is it Inspiring? Does this lift people up and make the world a little better or does it make people feel worse?
N- Is it Necessary? Does this need to happen?
K- Is it Kind? Or is this thoughtless, mean-spiritied or bullying behavior?
You can get a THINK ePoster here to reinforce the concept.
9. Give your kids a last resort exit strategy
Even when kids practice role playing and we talk to them often, they will find themselves in hard to manage peer situations.
So we have to give them an easy way out if they don’t feel safe to stand up to a peer or don’t feel like they can.
We have to let them blame us.
I tell my kids they can say, “I would get into huge trouble with my parents if I did that” as an easier way to say no.
And it works for our older kids too when they’re faced with social situations where they feel uncomfortable saying “no” but want to.
Tween and teen phrases to blame their parents sounds over the top (and of course, isn’t true in real life,) but works well for these situations:
- My parents would ground me for life,
- My parents would kill me,
- I’d never be able to leave the house again,
- My parents would take away my phone/car keys/everything I own.
Because at the end of the day, we want our kids to have the courage and confidence to stand up for themselves, for their friends and to make kind and safe choices.
But we’re not always going to be with our kids. We can’t always guide them through tricky peer situations.
So we can prep them so they have the tools they’ll need to handle these social situations and negative peer pressure.
Then our kids will feel empowered to make kinder choices more often, even if their peers aren’t.
They’ll make more and more decisions that line up with our family values and help them be the best versions of themselves.
They’ll stand up to the girl who announced no one is allowed to be friends with a nose picker.
And hopefully, our kids will then be able to use positive peer influence to get more kids to follow their lead.