Handling the Squeeze
It is never too early to start helping children be confident about their uniqueness, according to Erika Karres, Ed.D, peer pressure expert and author of the books Make Your Kids Smarter and Mean Chicks, Cliques, and Dirty Tricks.
"Parents need to be clear with their children that they do not want them to be in the 'kids' squeeze'," she says. Dr. Karres illustrates her point in an example, such as when the neighborhood children have a certain toy or clothing item that the child feels "squeezed" into liking or wanting. "Parents need to come out right from the beginning and say, 'We are the [last name here] family and no one squeezes us. No one pushes us around or makes us do anything we don't want to do because we are the [last name here] family. We have our traditions and we have our plans'."
She then recommends parents reinforce the message by reminding the children that they are indeed special. "Parents can tell the children that if anyone starts a trend it should be them," she said, noting that the most important trend is not following along with others.
She suggests parents sit down with children and make a list, cut out pictures from a catalog or draw some of the items that are causing problems, such as not having name brand shoes or particular games. "They can make a list, post it on the refrigerator and the parent can say that those are things we will never worry about again," she said. "Explain that while these items are nice to have the family has other plans."
Dr. Karres also recommends discussing money, comparative shopping, and long-term plans, including saving money for a vacation to Disney World or a trip to the beach. "Teach them to look at the big picture. Children are smart. They understand. They can be taught to separate their allowance or monetary gifts three ways for savings, spending, and gifts or charity. Explain to the child that as a family they make the rules," she emphasized. "If the child wants to save for a certain object that is also his (or her) choice as well."
Dr. Karres points out that this approach makes the child strong and not as susceptible to bullying. "If someone were to bully this strong child, he would be more likely to confidently stand up for himself with a strong statement, witty comment, or with getting help if help is needed," she says. "Children should be taught from childhood that people don't make them run or jump because they are not puppets." Dr. Karres adds that parents can use a puppet as an illustration. "You can show the children the strings and say, 'You are a human being and no one will pull your strings'."
Lastly she recommends reinforcing to children that to be unique is the most wonderful thing. "Parents should try and be flexible while giving their children strong values."