When Shannon Brandt's son Alden started third grade last September, he was worried about whom he'd hang out with all day because his best friend, Gio, would be in a different class. "Alden and Gio were both pretty upset about the separation," recalls Brandt, of Beacon, New York. On top of that, Alden soon found out that most of the boys in his new class were really into wrestling--which is not exactly his favorite activity. "It's always hard to connect with new people when you don't have many common interests," Brandt says. "Plus, to make matters worse, the kids were also starting to splinter off into all these different 'boys' clubs,' and there was a lot of talk about who's in and who's out, and what you have to do to stay in the club. I couldn't believe that we were having to face that kind of peer pressure already."
It's a brand-new school year, and along with all the other stressful things that come with that, your 7- or 8-year-old may be dealing with a tricky new set of social dynamics as well. "This is a breakaway time, when kids are much more consciously forming their own identity and engaging in the world of their peers," says Michelle Anthony, Ph.D., coauthor of Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades. "They're also aware of the existence of social strata: Who's the best at reading or soccer? Which kid is the most popular? However, they don't yet have the tools they need to navigate all these situations." Check out three common social challenges your child may face this year, and learn how you can help him get through it.