Written for the Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine Blog http://tampabayparenting.blogspot.com
This article was inspired by Tampa Mom, Krista Jacobs, who has some concerns about her 4 year old, who recently picked up some new behaviors at school. Krista is seeking advice on “how to handle outside influences, for example kids at school that speak or behave in ways not allowed at our home.” Whether your child is in nursery school or 5th grade, outside influences can have a large effect on his/her behavior, both at school and at home.
As parents, we work hard to raise our children with certain beliefs and morals, and have to hope that they will practice these rules in the real world, where we aren’t present to police them. Our children head to school to be educated and socialized, but in addition to being exposed to wonderful new experiences, they also get exposed to bad language, negative habits, peer pressure and unfamiliar situations.
So what are parents like Krista supposed to do to handle the new negative behaviors that have become present in their homes? Take a step back and remember that your children’s peers were not brought up by you. That means their parents may have had different rules, some perhaps more lenient and some even more strict. Have confidence in the way you have raised your child and know that he/she has a wonderful foundation because of you. If your child comes home and starts acting or speaking differently, and it starts to affect what he/she has been taught at home, have an open conversation with him/her. It’s easy to get angry and want to punish your child’s bad behavior, but instead, be patient, especially with the younger ones. Help your child understand why his/her actions are so upsetting and disappointing to you. Explain that even though his/her friends might be talking or acting a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s okay for your child. Ask him/her to stop and think for a second before he/she acts in future situations and wonder, “Would my mom and dad allow me to talk this way? Would this be acceptable in my home”? If the answer is no, then he/she needs to change gears at that moment. Help him/her understand that your family rules apply wherever he/she is, even if mommy and daddy aren’t present. Connect with your child on an emotional level and explain how his/her actions make you feel as their parent. For example, let him/her know how proud you are when he/she makes great decisions and follows your rules. More importantly, discuss how your child will be proud of him/herself when he/she makes good choices.
Some kids are born leaders and others, followers. At school, the followers can tend to make wrong decisions to fit in, feel accepted and to be liked, and for fear of standing up for themselves. You may be surprised to learn your child is a follower at school, since at home, he/she is a leader. Be involved with your child’s school habits, know who his/her friends are and take an active role in who your child is at school. This of course is easier when they are younger but if you start now, you will be providing them with the knowledge to avoid negative school situations as they get older. After you speak with your child, don’t be surprised if he/she expresses that he/she is uncomfortable about standing up for him/himself. Explain that if a friend is making you feel bad or is asking you to make decisions that don’t feel right, then he/she is probably not a true friend. Perhaps this “friend” is not even aware that his/her actions are making your child uncomfortable and if he/she knew, the issues might stop. If this “friend” is someone that you often have over for playdates, it’s a good opportunity to confront the situation and take the pressure off your child, if of course you witness this bullying, use of bad language or overall negative behavior. In a non-threatening manner, you could speak with the child, in front of your child, and let him/her know such manners are not allowed in your home and that it is making your child feel uncomfortable. If it gets to a point that is uncontrollable, confront the parent and find out what is going on. It might be a surprise for this parent to learn their child is acting a certain way and you will be thanked, or it might be behavior that is acceptable in that household. This could be a touchy subject so be sensitive and remember different families have different rules and what works for yours may not work for theirs. If problems at school continue, it’s definitely a good idea to alert the teacher and let them handle it, although he/she is probably already aware. Usually, if a specific child is making your little one act out of character, others are also experiencing the same issue.
In summary, have confidence in the way you have raised your little one and let them try and handle situations on his/her own, using the skills you taught them. Don’t get angry, but instead help your child understand that household rules apply, even when out of the house. Let your child know that it’s okay, and good, to have friends that are different than he/she is, but teach your child to be a leader, to voice his/her opinion and to always be proud of the decisions he/she makes. If these conversations are happening in your home now, you will lay down a wonderful foundation for the future.
I have experienced everything I have written about in this article and have had success in helping my little one gain confidence in who he is and what his beliefs are. The other day on the car ride home from school, my 5 year old said to me, “Mom, I stopped to think to myself today and told my brain that it was not doing the right thing, so I didn’t do it…just like you taught me”. I could not have been more proud, and as I glanced at him in the rear view mirror, I knew he was just as proud!
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Thanks for reading,
Ellie Hirsch, a.k.a. “The Mommy Master”