From lying and cheating to stealing and ditching class, negative influences and tough choices surround your child on a daily basis. Sitting back and hoping that your child makes the right choices isn’t enough when peer pressure can overwhelm children at any age.
“Many parents acknowledge and worry that their children are subject to bad influences from other kids,” says Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child.” “Confronting the influences doesn’t begin when the problems arise -- it should start much younger.” Parents can help their kids stay sturdy and wholesome by offering support and teaching strategies to deal with bad influences.
Model Good Character Traits
Your children look to you when they are faced with tough choices. What would mom do in this situation? Teaching your child to deal with bad influences begins with modeling good character traits and behavior. Show them right from wrong through your daily actions.
“If you are given extra change on a purchase, hopefully your child saw you tell the salesperson and return the additional cash,” says Walfish. “When you err, hopefully your child has observed you owning up to your mistake and gently forgiving yourself.”
Even though your child or teenager may not be eager to talk through his feelings about peer pressure and bad influences, it’s important for parents to discuss potential scenarios he may encounter. “Ask your kids how they would handle dealing with a loaded situation,” says Walfish. “Make it a one-on-one or a family discussion and play the game of ‘what ifs.’ ”
Ask your child: “What if your friends are all cheating on a math exam?” and follow up with “Do you join this behavior or tell on your friends?” Encourage open, vigorous discussion with your children before they are faced with bad influences. “Talking is the glue that holds relationships together,” says Walfish. And when your child is coping with difficult decisions and influences, he needs the support and a strong, open relationship with you.
Avoid Pressing Too Hard
Encouraging open discussions will help your child think through potentially dangerous situations, but pressing too hard with your personal opinions could backfire. “When teaching good character traits to kids, it is best to not force or press too hard on your personal point of view,” says Walfish. “If you do, you risk your child rebelling against you and doing the wrong thing.”
Rigidity is an unhealthy approach, says Walfish. Make your position clear, but present it with an open, understanding mind. “If your kids feel you are immovable, they will not feel comfortable talking with you,” adds Walfish.
When your child is coping with bad influences, a parent’s nurturing instinct takes over. You may want to blame other children or judge your child’s friends right away, but this will not teach your child to take responsibility for his own actions. Phrases such as “I knew Jenny was a bad kid” or “You are forbidden from being friends with her,” will only confuse your child and create distance between the two of you. “Don’t judge, blame or take sides,” warns Walfish. “Rather, listen, acknowledge, validate and then state your ideas.”