A reader once wrote asking about her children, ages 2, 4, 6 and 8. The children were usually very well-behaved in situations away from home. The mom tried to expose them to different places so they would know how to behave.
A problem had arisen, however, and the children were choosing to do things they knew were wrong when they were around certain friends or cousins. Their misbehaviors included running through the church hallways, taking food from the pantry without asking, and playing in rooms that were off limits. The mom felt like they were trying to take advantage of being in a different setting and getting away with things they normally wouldn’t be able to. She felt self-conscious about dealing with her children when they weren’t at home, especially around other parents that didn’t have the same behavioral expectations for their children.
She didn’t want to ignore the bad behavior, but she was getting tired of being the only parent trying to get her children to behave properly. The mom wanted her children to enjoy playing with friends and cousins without misbehaving or being inappropriate. She wanted my advice for dealing with negative social influences.
This is a common problem for many parents. In fact, social skills comprise nearly 50% of the behaviors I teach daily. It’s wise to teach children how to behave in different social settings. Good behavior shows respect. Our society needs more children who are respectful, which means our children need to learn how to behave around different people and in different situations.
The first step is to pre-teach. Before you leave the house, pre-teach the behaviors you feel are appropriate for the place you’re going, even if you feel the children know how to behave already. Practice and make it a game. Have the children pretend they’re in a new place or situation and role play the right way to behave. This kind of simulation prepares children's minds for handling difficult social situations.
I would also make sure they know they are warriors for God, and God's way is to make right choices and be an example to others. Learning what is right and wrong is a good place to start. Empower them to stand for right! Give them vision. They want to fight for a good cause; they just don't know what that cause is until a loving parent tells them. Families are happy and strong when everyone is fighting for the same purpose. Amos 3:3 says, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”
Praise your children when they have good social behavior. Praise encourages them to seek for positive attention. If children hear good words, they try to do more good things to get positive attention. Train yourself to see the good in the people around you. Negativity is a deadly disease.
Children change at eight years old. I was unprepared for the change when my oldest turned eight. At age eight children suddenly become less aware of what’s right and wrong. I’ve noticed that when children turn eight, evil forces seem to work harder on them. At this age, my children were tempted to do all kinds of things they had previously been told were wrong. It’s almost as if eight-year-old children have to be taught right and wrong all over again. Just know this is the case and plan for it. You can give yourself permission to not take their negative behaviors personally. The behaviors still need to be handled, but you don't have to stress over them.
If your children are learning to misbehave from other children, you have two choices. You can either choose not to associate with people who have disobedient children, or you can teach your children how to discern between right and wrong choices, as well as how to be leaders. I prefer the latter. It’s much more empowering for a child to learn how to deal with a situation than to learn to run from it. If the family is truly a negative influence on my children, I won’t get together with them often. I want my children to notice the difference in behaviors when we do get together because they aren't surrounded by those behaviors all the time.
Each person parents differently. Many parents tolerate negative behavior without even realizing they’re teaching their children to misbehave. Lots of parents take a hands-off approach. They think children need to be left to find their own way in life. Personally, I haven't seen much success with this parenting method, so I choose not to teach my children this way.
We were made parents to act as a guide in our children’s lives, not to do our own thing and let them try to figure everything out on their own. It’s good to have expectations and rules for appropriate social conduct. Part of being a socially healthy person is being able to recognize what kind of situation you’re in and how to behave in that particular setting.