TikTok dares. Drug and alcohol abuse. Bullying. Peer pressure can lead to a lot of difficult and dangerous situations for kids and teens. 

It’s hard for your child to know how to handle that, especially in the moment. But you can help them understand what to watch out for, and even practice how to respond. When they find themselves in a tough situation, they’ll be ready. 

Connecticut Children’s pediatric psychologist Lauren K. Ayr-Volta, PhD, has tips.

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1. To start the conversation, point out examples of peer pressure.

Pretty much every kid will experience peer pressure, but it looks and feels different at different ages. Start a running conversation with your child about some of the situations they might encounter, and ways to deal with them.

It’s never too early to start this conversation.

  • If your child is younger, point out scenes in books or shows where characters aren’t being good friends. How does it make the other characters feel? What do they do?
  • For teens, use examples from the news or social media, like TikTok challenges. What does your teen think about it? What would they do if they were in that situation?
  • Offer your own age-appropriate examples, like how you handled teasing or peer pressure when you were a kid, or what you do at work these days when someone makes you feel upset.
  • If your child brings up an example from their own life, stop everything and listen. (See #6.)

Whatever example you choose, use it as an opening to talk about specific things that your child can say and do if they’re ever in a similar situation.

> Related: How to Talk to Kids About Scary or Tragic Events in the News

2. Help your child practice their response to peer pressure.

For little kids, maybe you’re talking about what to do if someone teases them. For teens, it might be what to do if someone offers them drugs.

  • Help your child come up with a simple reply that’s easy to remember. For example, “Please stop talking to me that way” or “No, I don’t want to do that.” For younger kids, it can just be a stern “No thank you.”
  • Have your child practice saying the phrase out loud, along with any action they might need to take, like walking away.
  • For older children and teens, tell them to use you as an excuse. They can say something like “I would be in so much trouble if my mother found out, and she always finds out”

It’s hard to think clearly in stressful situations. That’s why it’s so important to plan and practice these skills ahead of time. When your child runs into peer pressure in real life, their mind and body will tap into what they practiced, and they’ll be better able to handle themselves.

3. Help your child identify safe people at school and other situations.

Reassure your child that they’re never alone. If they’re faced with peer pressure or another problem, there are adults nearby to help. Who can they go to if they need to talk?

  • Help your child identify at least one adult who they trust. Maybe it’s a past or present teacher, a coach, a guidance counselor, or the school nurse.
  • Talk about the situations when your child should find their safe person, like if they experience or witness bullying, or see or hear something about drug abuse.
  • Have your child practice how to ask for help. Come up with a phrase to have ready, like “Can we talk?” or “I need help.”
Stressed out highschool student

4. If something has recently happened in the news, community or your child’s school, have a conversation with your child.

Kids pick up on more than you might realize. If something is going around school or the news, whether it’s bullying, drug use, or something else, it can be a relief for them to talk about it.

It’s also an opportunity to reinforce the importance of staying safe and standing up to peer pressure.

  • Ask your child directly what they’ve heard, how they feel about it, and what they would do in that situation.
  • Your child may not want to talk about it. That’s OK – don’t force it. Just make sure they know you’re there if they need you.

5. Keep an open line of communication.

It’s hard for kids and teens to bring up certain topics with their parents, and that includes bullying, substance abuse, and other issues that tend to involve peer pressure. They might be worried about how you’ll react, or waiting for you to ask about it.

Make it easier by making open communication a household habit.

  • Check in with your child regularly about how they’re feeling. Pick a day of the week to help you remember, or a time of day when you have the space to listen.
  • Get your whole family in the habit of talking about mental and emotional well-being, so it feels natural to have these conversations.
  • Embrace opportunities to talk about sensitive subjects, and really listen to what your child has to say. All that practice will help them feel safer coming to you for help when they need it.

Some kids, especially teens, will still have trouble talking. Find other ways to keep the lines of communication open: Let them know that if they have something they want help with, or something you should ask them about, they can always write you a note or send you a text.

> Related: The Best Way to Prevent Youth Suicide? Talk About It

6. If your child brings up an experience they’re having with peer pressure, stop everything and listen.

This is when you pause, look your child in the eye, and focus on listening. Do your best to stay calm, curious and neutral. Resist the urge to jump immediately into problem-solving mode, and take time to simply receive what your child is sharing.

To help your child open up about their experience, you can gently ask questions like:

  • What thoughts were going through your mind?
  • How did you feel?
  • How did your body feel?
  • What did you do?
  • How did that work out?
  • Are there other things you could do if this comes up again?

Let your child know that it’s normal for them to feel lots of different ways. And it’s OK if the situation didn’t go well. Now is the time reflect and talk about it, and think about what to do next time.