When Peers Influence Your Child…for good and bad

11 comments

My older son is five, and attends half day preschool every day. He also has playdates, spends loads of time at our local children’s museum (where I work), and is suddenly acutely aware of what the other kids are doing, saying, and thinking. He’s been around other children pretty regularly since he was a year old, but suddenly, what they do seems to matter to him…and this has been a mixed bag.

When he was a toddler and even as a younger preschooler, everything was very parallel. At these ages, children might play with the same materials near each other, but there’s not much interaction. Everyone is nice and self-absorbed, so there tends to be very little “picking up” of words, actions, and behaviors. Five, however, has been different. There have been fantastic benefits to this. Most notably, he’s starting to develop a sense of privacy and self-sufficiency. Bathroom doors are finally closing, he insists on dressing himself, and he even showers– yes, showers!– like a real person, with a loofah and body wash. He now has his own hair gel, and he’s asking for cologne (not happening buddy). It’s very much like this lately:

However, it hasn’t all been loofahs and manly scented body washes. My husband and I are fairly calm, quiet people. We don’t scream at each other, and while we do have disagreements on things, we never get into name-calling fights. And we’ve never fake-karate fought each other, not even once! In the past month, however, my older son has added the following to his repertoire:

-Trying fake karate moves on his brother (and even us a few times!)

-Stamping around when he’s mad

-Slamming doors

-Saying “Shut up”, telling his brother “I will beat you up”, and a few instances of “I hate you!”

-Telling me he’d like to trade me in for a “more fun mom who will let me do whatever I want”

Now, of course each of these things was met with a swift consequence, and he’s well aware that none of these things are going to fly in our home, but YIKES! I had really underestimated the whole “peer influence” thing. I know this sounds silly, coming from teaching, but when it’s your own kids, it becomes apparent how much they pick up from people who don’t live in their house. His teachers are fantastic at encouraging the class to use kind words, and I understand that this will happen for many years to come, but the phrase “We do not allow that in our house” is starting to sound like a broken record around here.

We have also started talking about how you are in charge of your own behavior; a.k.a. “If all your friends jumped off a bridge would you?!” Just because half the kids might think it’s funny to make fake burping noises (I kid you not…actual conversation), you can decide to do what you know is right and not join in. As my son put it “When the other kids are doing something wrong, you have to make your powers for good behavior even stronger to fight off all that bad behavior.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

I’m not expecting this kind of thing to end for a very long time, but I somehow never realized this was such a big part of parenting school-aged kids!

11 comments on “When Peers Influence Your Child…for good and bad”

  1. This is starting to happen at our house too since our daughter is in a classroom (Montessori) with kids that are 3-6 years old (she’s 3). She’s been asking about some interesting things like surgery and what happens when your finger gets cut off. She’s also been asking about “getting dead.” Awesome. As for behavior stuff, the head of her school mentioned a phrase she likes – “In our family, we . . .” so you’re not saying what the other kids are doing is wrong, you’re just saying in our family we do it this way or that way, or don’t do it that way.

  2. Ugh this kind of stuff scares me. You can only teach your kids so much and hope they take those values with them and aren’t too influenced by negative outside forces…

  3. Co-parenting our children with countless others is definitely one of our most profound struggles. Naive me underestimated the power of the “other influences” as well. I guess we need to step up our powers in the face of it all!

    1. Yes, yes…I have really underestimated it, too! I do want them to hang out with lots of different sorts of people– even if I don’t agree with everything everyone else does– but I want them to have a strong enough sense of what our family believes in so that they won’t feel they have to jump on every bandwagon. Not easy!!

  4. We are encountering this now, too. Most of it is harmless but stuff that I just don’t want them to get into the habit of – such as making “silly faces” (you know – sticking their fingers in their noses and pulling down on their eyes and stuff), but some of it has been not-so-harmless including pretend play with weapons (using sticks as swords and pretend guns), and just some pretty vulgar language.

    The thing that I find the hardest to deal with are things that are not harmful to other people but are not things that I believe in. Two girls in our preschool have brought in “gaming systems” (I think they are like ipads or something like that) and I have no intention of introducing my kids to that as a possession of theirs (they use our touchpad when we go on vacation for movies and stuff, but that’s a “special occasion”) until they need to use it in school…and yet they ask for one constantly because the “big girls” have them.

    1. I am with you on the gaming systems. So many kids his age (and younger) have them…but I don’t agree with them for my kids at this stage. We have a Wii and an Xbox 360, but they are my husband’s and never on when the kids are up. It will be yeaaaars before I get anything like that. When we travel though, I do definitely bring out the old iPods for movies because I would not survive otherwise!!

  5. Oh yes, it does last quite a long time. But you seem to be nipping it in the bud, which is important. One thing I learned from my kids is that they try on different personalities to see what they can get away with. I visualize the sound check at a concert: “Testing, testing…” because they ALWAYS are! I would hear other kids’ voices coming out of my own — very eerie! “No, we are not going to whine like Melinda, because that hurts my ears and I can’t understand your words.” Had to say that only 1000 times until it worked.

    The term “shut up” sets my teeth on edge and I would not allow it. My older son turned it into “Shush up,” which changed EVERYTHING! That’s so gentle but still gets the point across and allows that alpha child to feel like he’s in charge of the omega kid (they were not allowed to say it to ME, of course!).

    All the rest of the stuff your 5-year-old is trying out is so normal. There are SO many influences in their lives — TV, movies, other families they observe when at the museum, etc. We can’t control that, nor do we want to — it’s enlightening and important to see those differences — but we can explain about the good choices, which your son seems to understand perfectly, with his “powers for good behavior”!!!

    1. I am with you on the dislike for “shut up”. Uggggh. And the worst part was, I of course said “We do NOT use that phrase at this house!” which only taught the 2 year old that saying “shut up” gets a nice, big reaction from Mommy…so he was then saying it all. the. time. It’s 99.9% gone from both of them now, but perhaps I’ll try “shush up”– much less sharp sounding. Ohhhhhhh the testing…exhausting…

  6. Ugh. This is such a scary thing to think of. You all seem to be handling it appropriately, though. I think I need to start reading more books!

    1. Ugh is right! It’s weird to think of other people having such an influence– both good and bad. Thanks– it’s all trial and error over here…

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