Koki, aged 9 does not attend her drama classes anymore. She even stopped going to her best friend’s – Sandra – place on Saturday afternoons as she usually did. She does not look happy anymore and her parents have to intervene. At first, her mother speculated it could be some misunderstanding she had with Sandra, but what about the drama class? And her general loss of interest in everything that once mattered so much to her?
After talking to her, Koki’s mother finally understands it is a brawl she had with a member of her ‘clique’ in school. This has led to the entire group not taking to her or walking with her in school. This means so much to her since this clique comprises of her closest friends – her best friends. So now, she does not want to go to the drama class because all her friends enrolled for the same club and they are not talking to her anymore.
Sounds like a really unstable relationship right? Do you remember back in primary school, the group of 4-5 girls that went to the washrooms together, sat together, and did everything together? This also happens with boys but with boys it is not as outstanding as girls.
Given how common cliques are in primary school and even high school, at some point your child is likely to face the prospect of being in one or being excluded from them. There’s little you can do to shield kids from cliques, but plenty you can do to help them maintain confidence and self-respect while negotiating cliques and understanding what true friendship is all about.
When Cliques Cause Problems
For most kids, the pre-teen and teen years are a time to figure out how they want to fit in and how they want to stand out. It’s natural for kids to occasionally feel insecure; long to be accepted; and hang out with the kids who seem more attractive, cool, or popular.
But cliques can cause long-lasting trouble when:
- kids behave in a way they feel conflicted about or know is wrong in order to please a leader and stay in the group
- a group becomes an antisocial clique or a gang that has unhealthy rules, such as weight loss or bullying others based on looks, disabilities, race, or ethnicity
- a child is rejected by a group and feels ostracized and alone
How Parents Can Help
As kids navigate friendships and cliques, there’s plenty parents can do to offer support. If your child seems upset, or suddenly spends time alone when usually very social, ask about it.
Here are some tips:
- Talk about your own experiences. Share your own experiences of school — cliques have been around for a long time!
- Help put rejection in perspective. Remind your child of times he or she has been angry with parents, friends, or siblings — and how quickly things can change.
- Shed some light on social dynamics. Acknowledge that people are often judged by the way a person looks, acts, or dresses, but that often people act mean and put others down because they lack self-confidence and try to cover it up by maintaining control.
- Find stories they can relate to. Many books, TV shows, and movies portray outsiders triumphing in the face of rejection and send strong messages about the importance of being true to your own nature and the value of being a good friend, even in the face of difficult social situations.
- Foster out-of-school friendships. Get kids involved in extracurricular activities (if they aren’t already) — art class, sports, martial arts, horse riding, language study — any activity that gives them an opportunity to create another social group and learn new skills.
If your child is part of a clique and one of the kids is teasing or rejecting others, it’s important to address that right away. With popular TV shows from talent contests to reality series glorifying rude behavior, it’s an uphill battle for families to promote kindness, respect, and compassion.
Discuss the role of power and control in friendships and try to get to the heart of why your child feels compelled to be in that position. Discuss who is in and who is out, and what happens when kids are out (are they ignored, shunned, bullied?). Challenge kids to think and talk about whether they’re proud of the way they act in school.
Ask teachers, guidance counselors, or other school officials for their perspective on what is going on in and out of class. They might be able to tell you about any programs the school has to address cliques and help kids with differences get along.
Encouraging Healthy Friendships
Here are some ways to encourage kids to have healthy friendships and not get too caught up in cliques:
- Find the right fit — don’t just fit in. Encourage kids to think about what they value and are interested in, and how those things fit in with the group. Ask questions like: What is the main reason you want to be part of the group? What compromises will you have to make? Is it worth it? What would you do if the group leader insisted you act mean to other kids or do something you don’t want to do? When does it change from fun and joking around, to teasing and bullying?
- Stick to your likes. If your child has always loved to play the piano but suddenly wants to drop it because it’s deemed “uncool,” discuss ways to help resolve this.
- Keep social circles open and diverse. Encourage kids to be friends with people they like and enjoy from different settings, backgrounds, ages, and interests. Model this yourself as much as you can with different ages and types of friends and acquaintances.
- Speak out and stand up. If they’re feeling worried or pressured by what’s happening in the cliques, encourage your kids to stand up for themselves or others who are being cast out or bullied. Encourage them not to participate in anything that feels wrong, whether it’s a practical joke or talking about people behind their backs.
- Take responsibility for your own actions. Encourage sensitivity to others and not just going along with a group. Remind kids that a true friend respects their opinions, interests, and choices, no matter how different they are. Acknowledge that it can be difficult to stand out, but that ultimately kids are responsible for what they say and do.
- Remember to provide the big-picture perspective too. As hard as cliques might be to deal with now, things can change quickly. What’s more important is making true friends — people they can confide in, laugh with, and trust. And the real secret to being “popular” — in the truest sense of the word — is for them to be the kind of friend they’d like to have: respectful, fair, supportive, caring, trustworthy, and kind.