Each morning when the buses line up in front of the elementary, middle and high school buildings, an extraordinary social drama unfolds not on the streets but in the minds of our children. Most of us miss the importance of this opening act of the school day because for adults it is a daily routine, apparently so predictable that we are not alert to its intensity. But our children get off the bus with their minds geared not to the arithmetic problems, grammar exercises, history essays or computer classes, but to seeing their friends. They are prepared for the curtain to rise on the action of the day-for the conflict and connection of the social life.

The social troubles children face is so predictable and inevitable that it is hard to call them traumas. Nevertheless, they do hurt and they do reduce a child’s confidence level. Losing a friend, having a secret betrayal, getting into infatuations, over indulgence in friendships, peer pressure, rejection, bullying, teasing are just few examples. As parents we desperately want our children to escape these hard lessons of life, or at least master them when they do happen. We know that lectures don’t really work but we keep giving them anyway, just in case it helps. We are not sure what else to do. We also know that our endless worrying doesn’t help but we have a hard time turning it off.

Children suffer when they are teased, excluded, rejected or bullied and we as parents suffer empathically right along with them. I personally feel our job is to bear that pain and put it into the right perspective for our children. After all, we lived through heartaches and betrayals and our children will also have to. Of course there are things which we can do to ease the pain-theirs and ours- but, in my opinion our first job is to take a deep breath and trust in our children’s resilience and in the process of human development.

Today’s article focuses on helping parents understand factors such as temperament, group dynamics and child development which I hope will provide some perspective, a dose of optimism and a little relief from the anxiety.

Friends obviously do play an enormous role in our children’s lives. We also know the ability to make friends is not inherited, but involves a number of skills which can all be learnt. That means we as parents can make a big difference on their social lives. Our real parenting goal should not be to try and produce popular children, but to help them gain the confidence they’ll need to deal successfully with any social situation. After all, that’s a major part of what life is all about. Here are some of the biggest friendship concerns parents ask about, and simple suggestions to handle them. 

Teasing:

Teasing is one of those unpleasant aspects of growing up, but the truth is certain kids seem to get more than their fair share. While we can’t stop kids from saying nasty stuff to our children, we can do things to reduce the chances our sons and daughters will be targeted. Most kids can learn to manage teasing incidents if they have some strategies to counter the verbal abuse. Here are the few responses that discourage future teasing, I have found this out in due course of interaction with my students. Offer them to your child, and then choose the one he/she feels most comfortable trying..

  • Question it. “Why would you want to tell me I am dumb or fat or whatever and hurt my feelings?”
  • Turn it into a compliment. “Hey, thanks. I appreciate that!” “That was really nice of you to notice.”
  • Agree. “You’ve got that right.” “One hundred percent correct!” “Bingo, you win!”
  • Use sarcasm. “Like I would care?” “Give me a break.” “Oh, that’s just great.” The “look” has to match: rolling your eyes and walking away can do the trick.

 

Poor friends

Poor friends are every parent’s worst nightmare. We imagine only the worst: drugs, smoking, sex, trouble with the law. But what should parents do if they notice that their child is hanging around with a child whose values don’t seem in sync with their own?

The bottom line on this one: It’s okay to have friends who are different from your child. Exposing our children to diversity helps to broaden their horizons, learn new skills, and get along with others. Keep in mind that our children are rarely “made bad” by another child, but the friends our kids choose to be with sure can increase the odds that he/she may—or may not—get into trouble. The trick here is to figure out if the other child’s values and lifestyle are really reckless, self-destructive or totally inappropriate and can damage your child’s character, reputation, or health.

Don’t be so quick to blame “the bad friends.” Remember, your kid is the one who chose them. So the real question is, what’s going on? Why is your child inclined to be with this particular companion? The answer to that question is often a huge parent eye-opener and will also help you figure out your next move. Direct your concerns to where it really counts: how your child acts instead of how the other children behave.

school children
Image credit: Mathrubhumi Archives

 

Peer Pressure

“What were you thinking?” “But didn’t you tell your friend’s it wasn’t right?” “You did what?!!@!” Are you concerned that your children always seem to go along with the crowd? Do they have a tough time speaking up and letting their opinions be known? Have you noticed that your child can be easily swayed to do what the other children want? It’s not always easy for them to go against the crowd. Everyone wants to be liked. But for your child’s own self-confidence, independence and future success in life, it’s important he/she learns to stand up to a friend. Here are four steps you can teach your children to help them learn to assert themselves and do what they know is right without you.

  • Check your moral compass. What is your friend telling you to do? Is it something against your family rules or your gut tells you it’s just wrong? If you don’t feel comfortable doing it, or think it’s not wise or safe then get ready to assert yourself.
  • Use confident body posture. Hold your head high. Look the person right in the eye. Doing so helps your child “look” more assertive, and that’s a big factor in bucking the pressure.
  • Speak in a strong tone of voice. No yelling or whispering. Be friendly but determined.
  • Tell the friend where you stand. A simple “No” or “No, I don’t want to” is fine. You could give reasons like: “Nope, I don’t want to smoke.” Or: “No, I studied too hard to give you the answers.” It’s not your job to change your friend’s mind, but to stay true to your beliefs.

 

Bullied & Harassed

We usually think of bullying as physical aggression such as punching, hitting, shoving, but it’s way beyond that. If your kid is being bullied or harassed that means his friend or peers are hurting him intentionally. As a result, your son or daughter feels powerless, helpless, humiliated, shamed, and hopeless about the whole situation. The two biggest mistakes parents make is not taking their children’s complaints seriously and telling them to “toughen up,” and allowing it in the first place. There is no excuse for this behavior, and each and every one of us need to be on the same page to stop it. Here are a few suggestions you can use to help your child deal with crueler children.

  • Take your child seriously. Bullying is frightening and humiliating at any age, so listen to your child. Don’t say: “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” “Just toughen up.” “It’ll go away.” Instead, reassure your child that you believe him and will find a way to keep him safe.
  • Gather facts. Next, you need all the facts so you can help your kid create a plan to stop it. “What happened?” “Who did this?” “Where were you?” “Who was there?” “Were you alone?” “Has it happened before?” “How often?” “How does it start?” “What did you do?” “Did anyone help you?” “Did an adult see this?”
  • Don’t make promises. You may have to protect your child, so make no promises to keep things confidential. “I want to make sure you don’t get hurt, so I can’t guarantee I won’t tell.”
  • Offer specific tips for a plan of action. In some cases, the safest option is to tell your child to avoid the scene. “Don’t go to the park: come straight home.” “I will pick you up after swimming.” Bullying usually happens in unsupervised areas so tell your kid to be near other kids at lunch, recess, in hallways near lockers, parks, or other open areas.
  • Find one friend. Tell your child there’s safety in numbers. Kids who have even one friend to confide in can deal with the torment of bullying better than children on their own.
  • Identify a trusting adult who can help your child when you’re not around. It must be someone who’ll take this seriously, protect your kid, and, if necessary, keep this confidential.

 

As parents, we have to bear the pain that our children share with us, pain that might break our hearts and annoy us and remind us of our own horrible peer experiences but at the same time we have to keep a sense of perspective about all that pain and pace ourselves to take the long view of raising our children and growing up with them.

(The author is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Learning Arena, an e-learning company)