4 Tips for Coping with Negative Peer Influence

kind words
Image via Katie Hurley

Few things are more frustrating than hearing your child rattle off a list of unpleasant words learned while playing at a friend’s house or during recess. Granted, all families have their own rules and behavioral expectations, but once kids enter school or begin drop-off play dates they will be exposed to other information.

The good news is that it is age-appropriate to try out new behaviors. Often, kids try these new words and behaviors at home because they are trying to make sense of them. Kids learn through play and role-play. Trying out new words and behaviors is part of growing up, and sometimes they might even pick up positive behaviors from a friend.

Try not to overreact. There is a good chance that your child doesn't even know what he or she is saying or how this behavior might affect others. Yelling or jumping to consequences doesn't make a lot of sense if your child doesn't truly understand the problem. And keep in mind, children like to shock their parents from time to time—it’s funny to them. If your immediate reaction results in laughter from your child (and possibly even repeat behavior) it’s not necessarily a sign of disrespect. Nervous energy and attention earned from a single word can trigger laughter and other inappropriate reactions. Try to remember that sometimes kids are just being kids, and they need time to process new information. 

4 tips for coping with negative peer influence:


Image via iStock
Image via iStock

Define the problem:

“Stupid” would be considered a bad word in my house if my kids ever chose to use it. It’s not that they haven’t been exposed to it—stupid shows up in books and TV shows more often than you might think. Although I am careful to replace words when reading and keep those shows out of my home, my girl is exposed to things at school. 

So we talk about it.

It’s important to be direct and honest when discussing negative behaviors. It’s not enough to simply say, “Don’t say that,” when kids are saying it at school. Talk about what the words mean and how they could potentially make other people feel. 

Whether it’s unpleasant behavior or poor word choice, make sure your kids understand the meaning of it and why it shouldn't be repeated.




Image via Flickr/
Image via Flickr/gareth1953 the original

Review house rules:

It’s important to remind your kids that all families are different, and all families have different rules. I have this conversation often when we head to the park. My expectations remain the same no matter what choices other kids are making.

Talk about your house rules often. Post them up in the kitchen and use images for pre-readers. Get your kids involved in determining your house rules. Empowering them to make good choices helps them remember to do so when out in the world.  

{ MORE: Positive Parenting Strategies for the Toddler Years }



Image via iStock
Image via iStock

Provide alternatives:

Sometimes bad words or behaviors that cause everyone to stop what they’re doing feel very powerful. Attention gained for negative behaviors might actually cause kids to repeat those behaviors. It’s important to remain calm when confronting learned negative behavior.

It’s also important to help your child come up with healthy alternatives. Maybe he or she is repeatedly using a taboo word to get let out frustration. Perhaps your child is making inappropriate faces at a little brother because that’s what gets a little space. Help your child figure out what he or she gets from the negative behavior, and what positive choices he or she can use to replace the negatives.



Image via Flickr/
Image via Flickr/kevin dooley

Praise good choices:

Kids learn a lot through trial and error. Because of that, they often hear negative feedback in response to their actions. 

Focus on the good. When we praise kids for positive choices, they are more likely to repeat those choices. Kids appreciate positive input and experience greater self-confidence when we praise them for making good choices. A little praise can go a long way toward helping your child internalize positive behaviors.  

{ MORE: If You Want Your Kids to Succeed, Tell Their Teachers Your Family Secrets }

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4 Tips for Coping with Negative Peer Influence

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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