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

Kids are very sophisticated, particularly in middle-school years. The bullying is far less vicious in high school; it's more sexual harassment. Talk to your sons so they don't get suspended. School officials are taking this seriously, also.

"Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me , has whole chapters on sleepovers, gossip, cliques, rejection, and bullying. There are ideas on what to do and what to say that may help you."

My 8-year-old daughter seems preoccupied over what her "friends" think of her, like how she looks and how she dresses. I'm not so sure that's healthy for an 8-year-old. How do I impress upon her that what other kids think of her is not as important as having a positive self-image. I am also concerned that allowing her to watch the Disney channel, among others, is exposing her to areas of life such as dating that she should not be concerned with at such a young age. What do you think?

Number one, girls are being hit with mixed messages at a very young age, like the idea of how you look is much more important than who you are. TV and media are helping to fuel this. Here are some tips you might consider:

  • Monitor the TV and be clear about which shows are acceptable and which are not. Use your instinct. And hit the power button.
  • An 8-year-old needs healthy alternatives. Find an interest, a skill, a strength she can excel in and cultivate it.
  • Underplay "looks" in your vocabulary and play up who she is: her traits like her smile, her kindness. Right now her self-esteem is low, so boost it in healthy ways.

My child isn't getting invited to sleepovers, so I thought we would have a sleepover party. Is it better to invite just one child or more?

Good question. Start with one, watch your child and help your child learn to be a good hostess; set the sleepover up for success. You can then gradually increase the numbers. Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me , has whole chapters on sleepovers, gossip, cliques, rejection, and bullying. There are ideas on what to do and what to say that may help you.

How early can you start teaching your child friendship-building skills? My daughter is 21 months old and already has favorite friends at daycare, certain ones who she hugs goodbye at the end of the day. I am attempting to teach sharing and kindness to her (no hitting or hurting people's feelings). What else can I do, or is it too early to do much more than what I'm already doing?

You are right on the mark.

  • The first friendship skill that 2-year-olds begin to learn is sharing. And unless they learn to share, they really can't do any other friendship skill. It's the foundation for being a good friend. So keep guiding her in how to share. My turn, your turn, my turn, your turn. Role play it.
  • Second, reinforce eye contact. Look at your friend's eye color when they talk. Smile. They are the most two highly correlated traits of well-liked kids and we can reinforce it at age two.
  • Third, manners do count. Your child gets many more birthday party invitations with good manners. Reinforce "thank you," "please," and keep adding on.

The goal to teaching friendship skills is teach one at a time and keep adding until your child can get along without you.

"What will work is a few little talks about what are good friends. For instance, talking about your friends. Real friends are loyal, they stick up for one another, they don't back stab and you can count on them."

My daughter is a very sensitive 6-year-old. What is the best approach when kids make fun of her?

The best approach is to teach her how to not look upset. Easier said than done, but here's how:

First, know that this is one of the most painful topics. Nobody Likes Me has a chapter called Too Sensitive , and the trick is first teach her "switch on, switch off." Practice helping her see what an upset face looks like and a relaxed face looks like. Show her magazine pictures, your face, TV characters, and practice with her so she knows how to make her face look not so upset. Why? Because some kids pick on children who are more vulnerable.

You can also teach her things to say to a friendly teaser. For instance, a shrug of the shoulder makes her look like it doesn't bother her. An assertive "so," or a simple "thanks for sharing" said sarcastically work for kids who aren't as likely to be teased.

Being sensitive is a wonderful trait, but can sometimes get in the way of friendship making. So over the next few years, gradually help her learn how to deal with teasers so she's not as likely to be so hurt.

I can't stand the clique my daughter hangs with, but she won't listen to a word I say. I think they are snots and I suspect catty to other girls. She tells me that I just don't understand how important it is to be popular. What can I do to help her see how wrong this is?

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