Parent's Guide: Kids and Friendship (cont.)

BORBA:
If she's tongue tied, help her learn topics she can talk about that she feels safe talking about, then practice those topics. These topics are called conversation starters and even adults use them when they feel tongue tied.

Suggest conversational openers like, "Hello", "How are you?", and "My name is..." These are beginners.

Each day when she walks out of the house, help her think of one topic she could talk about. It could be something in the news like, "Did you hear about the mob at the baseball game?", or "Did you see that new rock group that's coming into town?", "Did you hear Brittany Spears is pregnant?" She needs just little things already in her head to help her get started. Help her practice until she feels more comfortable.

MEMBER QUESTION:
My son is very athletic and very good at sports. He tends to be the leader on and off the field. He isn't a bully, but I'd love for him to learn to let others shine too. He's 11 and I don't want this lesson to wait. What can I do?

BORBA:
Yeah, mom! The key to this one is that as you get older, kids remember more about not how good you were on the field but what a good sport you are. The emphasis has probably been on how good an athlete he is. Now start playing up sportsmanship. Here's how:

  • Use the "two praise" rule. Each time you're on the field praise one other teammate at least twice.
  • Start praising at home so he has a model to copy.
  • Watch games together on TV and pick out the moment the good athlete shakes someone's hand, gives a high-five or cheers a teammate on and he'll get the picture it's very important to cheer on others.

Here's a hint for everybody: one of the most highly correlated traits of well-liked kids is that they encourage others. Let's start emphasizing that.

"Peer pressure can be positive as well as negative, but a key to kids who can say "no" is we tell them how to say "no" and we need to do so much more often."

MEMBER QUESTION:
My 13-year-old son will do whatever the popular kids are doing. If everyone was always doing the right thing, it might not be a problem, but I'm concerned about him falling into the wrong crowd.

BORBA:
Congratulations. Peer pressure can be positive as well as negative, but a key to kids who can say "no" is we tell them how to say "no" and we need to do so much more often. So, number one, start talking to your kid now; let him know that there will be times when he's going to be faced with some tough decisions and he'll have to say "no."

  • Let him know that saying "I don't want to" in a firm, strong voice is just fine as a response.
  • He could use an excuse. "I have to get home or my mother will ground me for five years" is a good excuse.
  • Create a code word, like "Robin Hood" or "I have the flu." When he calls you and the word comes up in the conversation, it's a clue to you he needs help and needs to be picked up. Pick him up ASAP.
  • Finally, practice "What If?" Boys have a tough time seeing what could happen in consequences. Actually that part of their brain isn't developed yet. Help him to see that "what if" could happen, and practice, practice, practice.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Economic status really divides the kids in my children's school (middle school). How can I help them? They don't get invited to parties that the kids with money have. I don't have the money or the will to get into this kind of competition. But the end result is that my kids don't feel a part of things and don't feel liked. They are pretty good with kids from church, so I know they have social skills. What can I do?

BORBA:
The bottom line to this is, well-liked kids, good kids, fit into every economic base. I could tell you so many stories on this one. Second, stick to your boundaries and find maybe one thing your child needs to fit in, just maybe the shoes or the backpack so he feels comfortable. Finally, remember, kids do not need lots of friends -- they need a few good, true buddies. This is a hard issue that honestly is more a fact of life, so ease the guilt.

MEMBER QUESTION:
How can I help my daughter (sixth grade) deal with gossip? Girls this age can be vicious! And I'm afraid it's just going to get worse!

BORBA:
You're right. It does get worse. It subsides around eighth grade and gossip is getting crueler. It's also going into cyberspace big time. So also remember that everybody gossips. You need to teach your child to listen but not spread because gossip can be hurtful, and to find kids she feels comfortable being around.

MEMBER QUESTION:
You mentioned cyberspace. Any tips on monitoring or controlling internet friendships (especially instant messaging)?

BORBA:

  • Have clear rules to your children that anything you hit that goes into cyberspace can be tracked back to you.
  • Please, parents, take this very seriously. We once were concerned about strangers as predators, but honestly, our kids are now being the predators on cyberspace. It is huge and vicious; it's intentional cruelty. I just came from a community where three middle- school children had committed suicide because of this.
  • Tell your child to print out any vicious, hateful or slanderous message. You will need those to bring sometimes to law enforcement officers.
  • Monitor your computer more closely. If your child is hiding in front of it, ask questions.
  • Keep your computer in a central location.
  • There are some spam blocks that you can use and parental controls you can use, so check with your browser.
  • Finally, talk about this with your child and keep the communication open. Don't just look at instant messengers, it's also going on pagers, cell phones and kids are setting up hate sites on each other.