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The (Good) Power of Peer Pressure

On mornings when 2 1/2 -year-old Marlee Jeppsen refuses to get ready for the day, her mom, Kirsti, of Milwaukee, casually mentions that her daughter's best friend gets dressed by herself all the time. The not-so-subtle hint works like a charm. "Marlee immediately wants to do it without my help," says Jeppsen. "Then she says, 'Look, I can do this just like Megan does!'"

Between 2 and 3, most children are becoming keenly aware of what other kids their age are up to -- and they want to do exactly the same things. That's why seeing a friend handle safety scissors or use the potty at preschool may be just the motivation your child needs to tackle big-kid skills himself.

But bowing to peer pressure now doesn't mean your child's doomed to follow her friends off a cliff later on. So go ahead and chat up the successes of his slightly older and wiser pals: Just be sure to keep those comparisons positive. For instance, it's okay to tell your 3-year-old that "it's fun to spend the morning at Grandma's house, just like your cousin James does sometimes." But don't say, "None of your friends cry so much when their mommies go out. Why are you acting like a baby?"

Your best bet for instant motivation: Give your child a firsthand look at the action. Inviting an adventurous eater to dine with your picky one, or setting up a playdate with an older friend who's better at sharing, may help get your child to start following the crowd.

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