As children develop, healthy peer relationships begin to have a greater impact on how they see themselves. In the elementary years, it’s no longer enough just to have parental love. The respect and acceptance of friends is almost as important. For this reason, you must develop your child’s social networks early. Start by setting up play dates and play groups during the toddler years, and then continue to encourage peer relationships straight through elementary school.
Help your child appreciate and accept differences between himself and others
Remember that your child will directly pick up from you your level of tolerance and willingness to include others. Be careful what you say in front of your child. This may seem obvious, but if you have strong negative feelings toward another person or group of people, your child will tend to pick up on that and mirror your sentiments.
Study other children
Notice their clothing and how they wear their hair. Your child does not need to be a carbon copy of your next door neighbor, but it’s important that you not set up your child to be teased, either. Highly unusual dress and hairstyles can make your child a target for teasing. In adolescence, the issues change. Your child may actively seek to look “different.”
Set clear rules for hygiene
Make sure your child bathes regularly, brushes his teeth at least twice every day, and wears clean clothes. These behaviors may need to be reinforced with positive rewards.
Be careful with sibling relationships
Although they can be a great avenue for learning social lessons, they also can be prime ground for hurtful comparisons. Don’t compare siblings, even if your children want to. If your children are fighting with each other, try to not get involved unless there is physical aggression. Listen to what they have to say, validate their feelings, check to make sure they are not hurt, and then move on.
Encourage your child to socialize with other children who have high self-esteem
Make sure your child is involved in extracurricular activities, especially during adolescence. Encourage your child to befriend children with similar interests. We often worry that when our children become adolescents that they will fall in with “the wrong crowd.” We fear our kids will succumb to peer pressure and get involved in destructive behaviors such as drugs, alcohol, and premature sexual activity. In my experience, children with high self-esteem tend to engage in healthy peer relationships. Their self-confidence gives them the ability to evaluate situations objectively and to make appropriate judgments about them.
Check back Friday for Step 8
Cathi Cohen, LCSW, CGP