The Power of Words
Young children believe everything you tell them. If you tell your daughter she's a princess, it's a done deal. If you tell your child they are smart, they'll go out of their way to show you how smart. If you tell them they're dumb, they'll believe the lie, hook, line and sinker.
One of the greatest gateways to peer pressure vulnerability is a low self-worth and some of the greatest tools against it are words of affirmation.
Affirmation is the act of appreciating people by confirming who they are. When you give compliments or words of encouragement you empower children to value themselves. When children value themselves they can usually determine what is good peer pressure and what is bad peer pressure.
Challenge your class this week, to pay careful attention to the words they use with their classmates and they say them.
A game you can play to help illustrate this uses garage sale stickers. Give everyone an even number of sticker to be used during an activity of your choosing. Every time a compliment, or word of affirmation, is given, the complimentor gets to put a round sticker on the person they complimented. The goal is to give away all your stickers by the end of the day (or activity).
The rule is everyone has five stickers to give away, and every child will receive five stickers by the end of the activity so all students receive the same amount of compliments. Children can and should continue to give additional compliments to children who have already received all five of their stickers. They just can't give them another sticker with it.
You may also need to re-define what a compliment is and how they are to be given. This can be a vulnerable exercise that must only take place in a safe environment. If you do not feel like each child would receive sincere compliments from some of your less empathetic students don't play with stickers, just yet anyway, but instead, just encourage compliments. Only after you see students giving sincere compliments to all members of the class add the stickers in to change it up.
Another option for older students is to play the Pat On The Back game by taping a blank piece of paper to each student's back. Have students mingle around the room writing one word, or a short phrase, that describes a wonderful quality that student has.
As you can imagine these activities are very vulnerable for those students who do not feel readily accepted by their peers. Practice compliments and words of affirmation in class so students learn the art of edification. Make it a class value, then once your students get the hang of sincere compliments, introduce the one-on-one personal activities that require a bit of skill in delivery. Most little guys are excellent at encouraging each other in these forms of games, it's the older students who tend to be more critical of their peers.
... and I might add, older students can have a temporary absence of empathy for others while they try to define where they fit into the social order of the world. Part of our survival instinct is to gravitate toward the popular and reject the less popular. It's not right but it is part of the developmental process we need to understand. You can help ease your students through this process by creating a culture in your classroom where empathy, compliments and encouragment are practiced often through fun activities and games. This gives permission to even your coolest kids to be kind to those preceived as less cool by making acceptance and encouragement itself a cool thing to do.
Together, we can do this,
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