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
-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!