3 girls sitting on a grass – peer acceptance means the world to children
Growing up

Peer acceptance: When children want to belong to a group

Since nursery school, peers influence the development of a child. Their acceptance determines the whole process of a child’s growing up. To make your kids stronger people, expose them to different groups. Help them process their experiences so they could become more resilient.

Do you remember how important it was to have those shoes when you were a teenager? For my generation, you either belonged to the Nike’s or Dr. Martens’ club. Clothes and music were such a big deal. Slang made us so cool.

Peers often had a bigger influence on us than our parents. Our moms and dads seemed not interesting enough – they didn’t even try to impress anyone around them!

For kids peer acceptance is invaluable

Even in kindergarten, the group dictates the rules. At the age of 3, you can be uncool if you haven’t heard of some singer or you don’t have a Beyblade.

And a child craves to be loved, of course he would want to impress other kids.

With peers, a child learns how to communicate and negotiate. It works in a team and competes against others. It discovers the ways to solve a problem or a conflict. This is where children learn about themselves and develop principles of behavior within a group. Therefore, a child’s self-esteem, emotional and social development depend on its relationships with children of the same age.

Now let’s see what factors influence a child’s position in the group.

What defines peer acceptance?

Peer acceptance is measured by two factors:

  • the group: how much it accepts the child,
  • and the child’s friendships: how many and how strong they are with other kids.

For someone’s social competence genes are crucial. However, environmental factors are also important:

  • the parenting style. It shouldn’t be too strict, or too permissive either;
  • the quality and variety of the child’s interactions. It is best that the child develops friendships in several different environments: within the family, at school, in sports, on the playground, etc.
If your peers accept you, life is a carousel ride
If your peers accept you, life is a carousel ride

What are peer-accepted children like?

These children generally have the following qualities:

  • empathy – they understand other children’s gestures and feelings;
  • responsiveness – they respond to other children directly. They say other children’s names, keep eye contact and touch them to get attention;
  • they can explain well what they are doing and feeling;
  • flexibility – they will compromise with other children. Peer-accepted children subordinate to the group and listen to others even when they want to change the course of the action within the group.

The effects of peer-acceptance later in life

Peer acceptance in childhood makes you happier and more successful when you grow up. It may sound strange, but peers reject children who are aggressive.

As the Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development states, children who are popular have fewer problems later in school. Teenagers whose peers accept them psychologically adjust more easily when they grow up. 

“Peer-accepted children may be shy or assertive, but they often have well-developed communication skills […] By contrast, rejected children tend either towards aggressive, antisocial behavior or withdrawn, depressive behavior. Antisocial children interrupt people, dominate other children, and either verbally or physically attack them. Depressive or withdrawn children may be excessively reserved, submissive, anxious, and inhibited.

Popular children tend to have characteristics associated with both competitiveness and friendliness.“

Source – Health of children

So, the key to peer acceptance is to try to raise an amiable child with a sporting spirit.

What about children who can’t be a part of the group?

Being different can damage a child’s self-esteem if it belongs to a different race, culture, or has some physical or mental disability. To make up for the bad peer treatment, parents and teachers should give extra social support to such kids.

This is what teachers can do:

  • give these children an important part in a role play,
  • emphasize the children’s talents to decrease negative self-comparison,
  • praise the child’s every effort to reinforce its progress in social behavior.

Parents can say and do several things to comfort their child:

  • discuss and write down his special gifts,
  • talk about why it is beautiful to be yourself. Find authentic celebrities as an example,
  • explain that he won’t be happier if he changes himself to impress others,
  • tell your child: “Children tease you because they can’t understand there is someone different from them“,
  • tell him: “Stay true to yourself and be a good person. It is hard, but this way you will become the best you can be.“

Source – Inspire My Kids

A child shouldn't be embarrassed because it is different from its peers - "Kites rise high against the wind, not with it." - Winston Churchill
A child shouldn’t be embarrassed but proud to be different from its peers

Also, it is advisable to teach all children how to cooperate with and respond to little outsiders. When peers reject a child, it can feel very lonely and dissatisfied. Peer rejection can cause future problems of quitting school, substance abuse, and mental health problems.

We all need praise and approval. Give your child an opportunity to develop in various environments – encourage him to communicate. Talk about what happened to him – this will help him process his experiences. Give him support so that he becomes more resilient and grows into a stable person. Process his negative feelings together. Give him space to develop his talents. Such practical knowledge makes a person more satisfied than when he makes a profit. The world is full of miserable rich people. The happiest live in Tibet without much money.

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