The second term has started. Uniforms have been freshly ironed, lunch boxes lovingly made and school bags packed. As you drop your child off at the school gates, it\'s only natural to wonder what goes on in those intervening hours before pickup time. At evening they can only tell you so much - most children prefer not to wax lyrical about their day. What happens in the playground, in the lunch hall and throughout the school corridors remains a mystery. For the most part, your child is probably perfectly happy hanging out with friends. What might cause some concern, however, is noticing a sharp change in his or her behaviour. It\'s at this point you might suspect peer pressure is at play. \"Peer pressure exists for all ages and begins very early on in life when children have the cognitive capacity to compare themselves with others,\" explains Naeema Jiwani, a child-development psychologist at the Human Relations Institute, Dubai (www.hridubai.com). \"From three-year-olds who throw temper tantrums to demand things they want right now to eight-year-olds who refuse to wear clothes their parents have picked out for them because the other children aren\'t wearing similar clothes, right through to adolescents who are faced with the pressures of maintaining friendships by seeing how far they can test parental boundaries.\" If you find your daughter shortening her skirt, wearing heavy make-up, or your son smoking or drinking alcohol, it\'s only natural to wonder if some questionable friends have played a part in this new behaviour. While no child is immune from peer pressure, young people do not all respond in the same way. Some feel more able to resist, whereas those who succumb tend to do so for similar reasons. It is human nature to want to fit in and it\'s not just children who fear being mocked. Even the keenest pupils might submit a history assignment late if they know they\'re going to be ridiculed for getting it in on time. \"Thoughts such as \'Everyone\'s doing it, why shouldn\'t I?\' can influence some kids to leave their better judgement behind as they give in to peer pressure and its associated influences,\" adds Jiwani. It\'s not all bad. \"Positive peer pressure can be considered as \'peer support\' - which happens when children support one another and find strength in group cohesiveness,\" explains Jiwani. \"Children who are a part of a \'peer support\' system appreciate feeling like they belong, are valued and are listened to.\" Peers can exert a positive influence by motivating each other to work harder at school, to take up a musical instrument or do better in a sports team. Of course, peer pressure is more commonly associated with negative traits and in adolescents it is frequently linked with risky behaviour such as cigarette smoking, truancy, drug use, fighting and shoplifting. \"Peer pressure also influences the degree to which children conform to expected gender roles. For example, up until about grade six, girls perform as well in science and maths as boys, but during the adolescent phase, girls\' test scores and the level of expressed interest in these subjects may decrease,\" says Jiwani. While you can\'t be with your children as they go from the science laboratory to the gym, you can equip them with the skills they\'ll need to survive the worst aspects of peer pressure. Here\'s a seven-step guide to helping your offspring hold their nerve. 1. Work on developing an open, honest and close relationship with your children. You can do this by finding family activities everyone can get involved in, such as exploring a new part of the city or playing games on the beach. This will give you the opportunity to develop close relationships with your children, which in turn means they are more likely to come to you when they are having problems. 2. Talk about peer pressure and how it works. Explain that it\'s normal to want to fit in with others in your group or class and to do what they\'re doing. When children have an understanding of the process and the feelings involved, they are less likely to give in to it.