Everyone wants to feel accepted, especially young people. Childhood friendships influence the way kids will interact with others as an adult, and also contribute greatly to their self-esteem.
The dynamics of friendship groups, especially in our highly-connected society, can present real challenges such as peer pressure and conflict. Kids might feel they have to change to conform to the group’s rules, even if they don’t agree.
Being able to identify the difference between belonging to a group, as opposed to trying to fit in to be popular, is vital for kids to understand.
When we belong somewhere we are accepted for who we are. We don’t need to change to be worthy of being included. Being part of this type of friendship group makes us feel good about ourselves and reinforces our self-worth.
In contrast, fitting in often requires us to modify ourselves to fit the mould of the group. Kids may strive to be more sporty, academic, popular or cool to fit in to a particular clique.
So how do we encourage our children to make positive friendships and to understand the dynamics of groups?
Here’s a few tips:
- Teach children the value of individual friendships, rather than focusing on the group. The ‘group mentality’ reinforces unhealthy thinking patterns like stereotyping and discrimination. Children should be encouraged to focus on what works in their individual friendships.
- Encourage them to keep their own personal values and interests in mind when choosing who they associate with, and to ask themselves whether they are compromising those values just to fit in.
- Remind them that friendships are often fluid; they change with time and circumstances. Sharing some of your own experiences can be very helpful.
- Encourage diversification and openness in their friendship groups. Not only can they learn from differences, but it will also discourage stereotyping and conformity within the group.
- Reinforce your child’s sense of belonging to the family unit, friendship groups outside of school and in the community, by encouraging open communication and consistency with routines. This will help protect their self-esteem from any adverse interactions with groups at school.
Sam Jockel is the Founder and CEO of Parent TV, a go-to platform for on demand video resources aimed at supporting parents, schools, childcare centre professionals and organisations.
For more information visit parenttv.com.