Written by Doctor G

Can Peer Pressure Cause Tantrums?


My oldest daughter is having some horrible meltdowns after a visit with a friend.  Her mom is my friend too so it’s hard.  

Basically my friend’s daughter is a really mean kid.  She screams and yells and has even stepped on my daughter (while she was lying on the floor) twice right in front of me.  Usually my kid will tell me any time another child is being mean, but with this friend she barely says a word.

After the previous visit where the kid was particularly bad, mine was horrible for over a month.  She learned all these nasty mean things to do to me.   I thought it was the new baby.  I thought it was her being 3.  But then it ended.  I seriously feel like we had to deprogram her.  

Ok, so we went months without seeing these friends.  I gave it one last shot on Monday. MISTAKE. We’ve had tantrum after tantrum.I’m basically never going to see this friend again. The visits aren’t worth it and aren’t fair.

Am I just blaming this kid for my own kid’s issues? Could she really cause all this?

Anonymous, in NJ

This does happen, actually.

Nice as it would be to blame someone else’s kiddo every time our children did the Jekyll and Hyde change, once doesn’t really prove anything. But you seem to have identified a pattern.

Sometimes the chemistry of two kids will cause a pretty significant personality shift in one child. It can be hard for parents to figure out what all the forces are to cause such a change. It might be frustration, feeling that this girl is not nice to her and being angry but unable to express it. The problem could be that she really likes this girl and feels she needs to behave in a certain way to be like her or gain her approval (even when the friend is not around).The issue might just be that this girl gets away with behavior that looks interesting or fun to your daughter and she thinks she can get away with it as well.

For a three year old, the reasons don’t really matter. You don’t necessarily have to end your friendship with the mom, you can just tell her the truth. “I would love to hang out with you, but I can’t let my daughter play with yours because she can’t handle it.” If she asks you why, just keep focusing on playdates.” You could be more specific if you think your friend could hear it.

When this happens to children over the age of 5, it is worth talking to the child about the change. Some people are more easily swayed by others’ behavior, and that is not a character trait to ignore. Kids need to learn to respect themselves enough to not try to make themselves over for someone else. An elementary school child who is easily led into poor behavior now, may try some really risky things as a teen to please or connect with a friend.

For a three year old, your plan works well. Avoid the pattern by avoiding the other child. But watch your daughter with other friends – does she change her likes or dislikes to reflect others often? Does she model other kids as a rule? If so, start talking to her about how much you like her personality, and how true friends will want her to be herself.


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2 thoughts on “Can Peer Pressure Cause Tantrums?”

  1. Jennifer Huffman

    I have to say I agree with this advice! I too have had an issue similar to this and have significantly reduced the contact my 4 year old son has with the boy who I consider “a bad influence”. Problem is they are going to be in the same Kindergarten class this year! I do hope with all the other children in the class, they will make friends with many others kids…

    I also explained to my son that he does not have to be anyone but himself, praised his admirable traits while frowning on some adopted negative ones (from this boy’s influence).

    He and I spoke of some examples of unacceptable behavior we see with this boy and role played ways to “help him” improve his approaches, which really helped my son see that the behaviors we not acceptable and there were ways, in a safe role play at least, to speak up against them.

    Before we see him, I also remind my son that certain behaviors are not allowed, no matter how much he may see the other boy engage in them.

    Good luck!

    1. Jennifer, thanks for adding your words of encouragement. We can’t protect our kids from people who misbehave, we need to teach them to be resilient in the face of that influence so they will be better prepared as the stakes get higher later in childhood. Well done!

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