Aboard the Peer Pressure Train

What just happened?

Why did my sweet kindergartner transform - no mutate - into a socially-aware first grader floundering in a pool of peer pressure that he hasn't yet learned to swim through?

I woke up one morning and wasn't aloud to lay out his clothes for him anymore. Like, "one morning" a couple weeks ago. Look, I already have one 3-year-old Prima Donna who fights for the same sequin purple dress 365 mornings a year - rain or shine, freezing or not. I can't handle a boy version, too.

Your jeans aren't skinny enough? Your sweater is too puffy? Your jacket has to have a hood? Pants can't be brown? No. No, I am not okay with this. Please revert back to putting on whatever outfit your (still-hip) mother has purchased, cleaned, picked-out, and perhaps ironed for you.

I've started encouraging my son to pick out clothes the night before school days - in a painstaking process of barter where logic is the goal. No, you can not wear short-sleeves in 30' weather. No, you just wore that shirt yesterday....  But then, the freshly-donned fashion-virtuoso will change his mind in the morning and we start all over again. Anything that can possibly be construed as not grown-up, not-normal, not-cool enough in his irregular and irrational book of standards, is vetoed.

Am I airing my son's dirty laundry right now? (Pun completely intended.) Yes, yes I am. Because it's absurd. Or I'm having trouble letting go. Or both.

There was no easement into this social awareness. Yesterday, everyone was still fun and intrinsically equal, judged only by their ability to adhere to classroom rules and basic standards of normalcy. I mean, you could literally poop your pants in class and still be a good play-mate. Today, the rules have completely changed for the little person I am witnessing them through. Any and all diversions from standard now render one susceptible to ridicule.

My son is clearly caught in a struggle between still enjoying the Star Wars jammies and toy figures of last year and aspiring to the skinny jeans, gelled hair, and zombie video games of this year.

The other day, after four hours in a children's museum, which, I point out, he thoroughly enjoyed, we walked across the parking lot to a derailed train on exhibit. He was interested and impressed. But then MotherDear made what was apparently a huge mistake and asked to take his picture in the engineer's seat. Only with his eyes rolled back and tongue stuck out was such a picture to be allowed. And then he proceeded to scowl sulkily at me for my transgression.

Why did this a-moment-ago-happy child buck so at the picture? After all, did I not just endure multiple coffee-less hours on a repeat-visit to a crowded Boredom-of-Parents-Museum for his sake? Why such ingratitude? Why such a hard time over a picture?

After many, many minutes of discussion - because I am determined to be a parent who at least attempts to curb insubordination and bad attitudes from my little charges, this one spills that a picture on a train "would make him feel like a baby." He didn't want me to share with others his interest in the train, as in, "Thomas the Train or something."

Oh good, so he wasn't just being a little brat. At least he had a reason.

But now we're back to this budding little, too-cool attitude.

Inadvertently (because our family often plays the best-part-of-your-day/worst-part-of-your-day game over dinner), the train incident became a major topic of discussion that evening. So there my husband and I were again, having yet another long - unsuccessful - conversation on being your own person and not succumbing to teasing or peer pressure. (And, let us not forget, not being rude to Mom.)

We reason through our son's irrationality. We discipline his bad behavior; encourage and reward the good. We cheer-lead him into having confidence. We implore him to follow good examples. We listen, encourage... all that stuff you're supposed to do as parents.

And it usually doesn't work.

I mean really, how do you teach a kid to be himself? To hold fast to the morals he is taught at home? To not care what his peers snicker about?

I'm pretty sure you don't.

At least not right away. You try. And you try again. And sometimes it kind of sticks or sticks for a while. But, in the early years, it seems like you just pay attention to who their friends are, you have the seemingly fruitless conversations over and over again, try to give them confidence and humility (so, so difficult), and then you just push them out the door to begin the long path toward the maturity of figuring it out for themselves.

Repetition wins this parenting race, I'm afraid.

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