Parents at conferences share that their third grade son is suddenly more emotional and quick to cry.
They also share their second grade daughter talks more about her friendship problems and what others do in class than what subjects were addressed in the day.
What is going on with my kid?!
Stay calm. It’s a developmental milestone and it’s known as “peer aware.”
Have you ever wondered when we stopped being carefree and started wondering what other people think of us? It starts around 2nd and 3rd grade. It’s not quite middle school drama, but this is where it starts.
Prior to this, children do not connect that others may think of them even when they are not in direct contact. They do not realize that if they trip, someone across the room they weren’t interacting with may think something about them. Each child starts their development completely egocentric, thinking how things effect them only. Oh innocence is bliss.
Then they hit the “peer aware” milestone. Suddenly they realize others are paying attention to them, perhaps unsolicited. People look at them and they immediately put assumed thoughts into the onlookers head. Unfortunately, those thoughts are often assumed falsely and are overly critical.
What can parents do?
Take note. Is your child talking about what others are thinking or saying about them? Do they know that someone was talking about them or do they think they are? Is your child making more observations about others as well? Check in to see what phase their development is in right now.
You can talk them about evidence they see for how others think or talk about them, but more importantly, you can talk to them about how they feel about themselves, regardless of others’ opinions.
- Read books with powerful characters and stories together. Perhaps the main character has a coming of age story, growing into their confidence. Regardless of the book, read together. Find ways to see what they think about the character, the problem, and how it may relate to themselves. Michele Borba writes, “It turns out that reading literature-even for short periods-can enhance empathy, and proof of that is showing up not only on paper-andpencil tests, but also on images of our brains. The more effort we make trying to figure out a character’s intentions, emotions, or thoughts, the greater the odds that our empathy muscles are stretched as well” (2016).
- Books for younger children: “A New coat for Anna” by Harriet Zeifert, “Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch” by Elieen Spinelli, “Wilfriend Gordon McDonald Partridge” by Mem Fox, “Courage” by Bernard Waber,
- Books for children, ages 8 to 11: “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White, “Brave Irene” by William Steig, “The Hundred Dresses” by Eleanor Estes, Dear Mr. Henshaw” by Beverly Cleary, “Stone-Faced Boy” by Paula Fox, “The Invisible Boy” by Trudy Ludwig, “The Sneetches” by Dr Seuss, “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” By Elizabeth George Speare, “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio, and “Fish in a Tree” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
- Books for middle school and older: “Wringer” by Jerry Spinelli, “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton, “The Invisible Thread” by T. Uchida, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon, and “The color of Water” by James McBride
- Ask about their day, who they sat with at lunch, who they worked with during a partner activity (there is almost always a partner or small group activity during an elementary school day), who brightened their day and whose day they brightened.
- Build empathy with your child. I got many ideas in the book “Unselfie” by Michele Borba. She has well-researched and easy to implement ideas in the book and at her website at micheleborba.com
- Start the conversations now that you hope to have with your teenager someday. Set aside the time, make use of windshield time by talking. You start the habits and culture of openness now. They have intense feelings now, and they need to know they can talk to you about them.
- Watch a movie or show together. Turn off your phone, watch a show or movie together, and discuss it. Some great options are likely within subscriptions you already have. Netflix has “Thunder and the House of Magic” and “The Ant Bully.” Common Sense Media is a great online resource for lists of appropriate shows, videos, books, and apps.
I hope this list just starts to give you some things to think about. Reach out for more support! We’re better together!