Even when they’re trying to do their best, it can be hard for kids to resist peer pressure – especially in the heat of the moment when a parent or other trusting adult isn’t there to protect or advise him. Also, kids often get into trouble when they act without thinking – so thinking and talking about peer pressure can help prepare your child when he does have to face a difficult moment with friends.

So try to have regular conversations about peer pressure with your child. Talk with him about what to do when friends want your child to do something he shouldn’t. Teach him to think through his actions before acting on them: Would he feel bad if he did something he knows he shouldn’t do? What would his other friends (the ones not in the pressuring peer group) think of him if they knew? What would his family – parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters – think of him? Is doing what he’s being pressure to do something that’s going to make him feel proud of himself and good about himself?

Here are five steps you can tell your child to take when he’s dealing with pressure from friends:

  1. Take a breath first

    Teach your child the “take a breath” technique. When a friend suggests he do something he’s uncomfortable with, or knows might be bad for him or for others, tell him that he doesn’t need to answer or do anything for a moment. Instead, tell him to take a breath and think about the suggestion.

  2. Find the right words to resist peer pressure

    After your child’s taken a breath, teach him to give words to what his friend is suggesting he do. If he’s being told to, say, bully or jump off a high wall or shoplift, tell him to name the action: “That’s mean.” “That’s dangerous.” “That’s stealing.” “That’s against the rules.”

  3. Think it through

    Ask your child to take each risky behavior and list what might happen if he takes that step. For example:

    • Being mean to another child: Will make that child sad, hurt, or even become self-destructive.

    • Ganging up and bullying another child: Might make your child feel “cool” in the moment, but can make your child feel bad afterwards when other kids and teachers see him as one of the “mean” kids.

    • Breaking the rules or misbehaving in class: Your child could get sent to the principal’s office and even sent home from school. He could also lose privileges and face other consequences at home.

    • Shoplifting: He could get caught and be taken to the police station.

    • Doing something dangerous (jumping skateboards off a wall): He could get hurt or damage public property and be fined or taken to the police station.

  4. Ask, “What could we do instead?”

    Talk with your child about what to say to friends who are pressuring him. Experts suggest young kids practice saying, “What could we do instead?” Kids facing peer pressure tend to get caught in the trap of listing all the bad things that could happen (“We might be caught and have to go to jail”), but then being “Aww, we won’t get caught.”

    Instead, teach your child to suggest another activity the kids could do. This makes it easier for friends to “save face” and go along with your child who could suggest: “Why don’t we take the skateboards over to the parking lot instead?”

  5. Resisting peer pressure can mean just walking away

    If your child finds that his friend are determined to do something risky or mean, he’s going to have to learn to walk away. But, experts say, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. Instead of saying something angry (which can start a fight), the child can say “Okay, well, I’m going to go skateboard in the park. If you change your mind, come on over.” Or, instead of shoplifting say, “I’m going to go ask my mom to give me my allowance and take me to the mall. Do you want to come?”

    If the peer pressure happens in class or somewhere else at school, the child may need to move away and sit or work elsewhere (or ask a teacher or parent help him make the move). In this case, he can say “I’m going to get in trouble if I don’t finish this reading, so I’m going to go sit over there.”