Growing up I always had a best friend. Whether it was my next-door neighbor through the majority of my elementary school experience or the girl down the street when I was a tween and teen, close friends were always a huge part of my childhood.
While I always had a core person, there were other people that floated in and out to make us a group, or a squad – if you want to use today’s language.
I never considered us a clique because I never really considered us the cool kids nor was there one “leader” or ever purposely exclude other kids.
However, as I watch my daughter today – just entering first grade – I already see groups of friends starting to form and I see some activity that I find tremendously unsettling as a future predictor of the girls’ actions.
Merriam-Webster defines cliques as a narrow, exclusive circle or group of persons, especially one held together by common interests, views or purposes.
That simplifies it a bit. Anyone who has ever seen them in action knows that It can be very hurtful to be outside a clique, and, at the same time, it can be very hurtful to be inside too.
In an article from kidshealth.org, cliques are described as groups of friends that leave other kids out on purpose and says there may be a ringleader or two that decides who is in and who is out.
I can already see a ringleader among my daughter’s friends. We’ve also had days in kindergarten when she would come home and tell me about how so-and-so didn’t want to play with her that day or said she couldn’t play with them.
While cliques are most commonly seen among girls, boys of all ages can experience them too. Boys will establish themselves through athletics, being tough or being funny, said Leah Davies an educator and counselor with 44 years of experience in an article for KellyBear.com. While girls are generally more concerned about being liked and will be impacted more strongly by rejection.
In all honesty, it breaks my heart hearing that my daughter and other young kids are already experiencing this and while I’ve given her some tips, I wanted to be really prepared for the school year knowing what the future holds.
I know it’s going to get worse before it gets better and I wanted to be able to give her the tools to help deal with what she will be experiencing – now and in the future.
While my research into this was spurred by my elementary school-aged daughter, the tips below would be applicable to girl and boy cliques in middle school and high school.
Understand your child’s need to be accepted
It is 100 percent normal for your child to want to feel accepted and to be part of a group. Groups give us support and encouragement. Groups have our back when the going gets tough. Groups are a part of the social structure of society. Exclusion from societal groups hurts as an adult so of course it hurts as a child – probably 10-fold.
Knowing this, don’t discount your child’s feelings when they come to you and tell you they’re being excluded. Feel grateful they’re coming to you and help them learn to deal with their feelings. Listen to them with an open heart. Give them the tools to help them understand why they are being treated poorly (and yes, there may be no good reason) and to cope.
Encourage them to have multiple circles of friends
A friend of mine in high school always had friends at school and then she had a separate set of friends at church. The two streams of friendship only crossed occasionally. Other than that, she had two places to turn when one started making her feel badly.
I’m not sure she knew it at the time (or even now, really), but I always thought this was so smart of her in school. I know it probably wasn’t choice she consciously made, and more than likely it’s something that happened due to her parents’ choices. Still, I always thought she was lucky to have separate groups of friends.
Similar to my friend, encourage your child to have social circles outside of the classroom. Sure, kids spend a lot of their days in school but giving your child multiple opportunities to make separate groups of friends can be important. If they’re having a rough day with people at school, ask a friend from church or an outside-of-school club to come over and hang out on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes one person can make a world of difference.
Support your child being an individual
Everybody wants this right? Today it’s all about encouraging people to just “be you. Do you.” That’s a really hard thing for most people. I know plenty of adults that can’t be themselves half the time so telling a kid that might be something that’s difficult for them to grasp.
Take it a step further. Encourage their talents. Explain to them why having that talent – that might make them different from other people – can be a good thing and why it makes them special. Explain why just being themselves is important…and special.
Help your child form their own ideas and opinions – independent of the group
At 5-years-old, I remember always wanting to do everything my best friend wanted to do. She was a year older and I wanted to be just like her. Sometime around 9, that changed.
She liked Donnie Wahlberg of New Kids On The Block (Yes, you read that right.) and I told her I did too. As time went on though, I realized I really liked Joey. I was terrified to tell her, thinking she would be mad. When I did, she just said, “Ok,” and we went about our day. Since she was my best friend, she got it. We weren’t in a larger group but it still didn’t impact the fact that I believed I needed to like the same things and same person she liked.
Teach your child to believe that they don’t always have to follow the crowd when it comes to their opinions and beliefs. Peer pressure is tough in high school, but I’ve already seen it factoring into to elementary school in small ways from the toys they all want, to the clothes they wear and how they want to do their hair.
Group mentality is strong. If you can teach your child that it’s ok to go against the grain and decide what they like and believe, you’ll teach them a lesson for life about fitting in standing out.
Encourage empathy and inclusion
These two pieces of the humanity puzzle are perhaps the greatest gifts you can give your child. Teaching them how to understand and be mindful of someone else’s feelings will give them character and compassion. Teaching them to include new people will ensure they are never lonely.
These two actions go hand-in-hand to me because often kids are being excluded from cliques. Today you’re in, tomorrow you’re out – especially if you disagree. Teaching children that exclusion is wrong and making them mindful of that person’s feelings when it happens could be a game changer for those being excluded.
You never know which actions you take today will impact someone’s happiness tomorrow. Teaching empathy and inclusion teaches our kids to always make a positive impact.
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