As our kids get older, it's not uncommon for them to form bonds with certain groups of friends based on their shared interests. For example, your child may have a group of friends they made playing sports, and another group of friends from school. That's totally normal, and a healthy part of developing social skills! Think about your own social circles - chances are, you have different groups of friends for different interests in your life. However, having different friend groups doesn't mean your child isn't able to be friends with others, and it doesn't mean that other kids are excluded from those groups. That's not a group of friends - that's a clique. Cliques can be made up of kids with similar or shared interests, but the social dynamic is very different, and they can actually be incredibly damaging and hurtful. Unfortunately, they're something that most kids will have to deal with at some point, so we should all know how to help our kids cope with cliques.
Friend Groups Versus Cliques
As kids get older and they develop their own interests, it's normal for them to gravitate to other kids their age who share the same interests. That's why many kids have so many different friends - school friends, sports friends, church friends, etc. These friend groups are a normal part of adolescence, and are actually beneficial to kids as they develop their social skills. They can be introduced to other kids and develop friendships with them they might not have been exposed to in a different social circle. Friend groups may be based around shared interests or activities, but they aren't exclusionary, and kids are free to socialize and be friends with people in and out of the group.
Cliques are similar to friend groups in that they may be based around a similar interest or activity. But the social dynamic of a clique is very different. There's usually a leader or leaders who control the clique and its members, and set the rules for what's accepted or not accepted within the clique. They're also very exclusive, and not inclusive of all kids. Many times, kids with friends outside of the clique are ostracized or ridiculed, or forced to end the friendship with the non-member. The rules can cover everything from what the clique wears to who they're allowed to talk to, and the pressure to abide by the rules can be intense. Not following the rules can result in a child being kicked out of the clique and ostracized by the remaining members. These problems can start around 4th grade, but get really intense and problematic in junior high and high school.
How To Help Your Child Cope With Cliques
Our first instinct is likely to tell our children they don't need friends like that, and encourage them to ignore the behavior. But that ignores the fact that our kids, whether we like it or not, are probably concerned with fitting in and being part of the popular crowd. It's helpful to acknowledge those feelings, and let your child know that they are valid. It can also help to share some of your own experiences with cliques, so your child understands that this isn't the end of the world.
One of the best things we can do is encourage our kids to have more than one peer group, and to keep an open mind and be accepting of new people, interests, and experiences. Work with your child in developing their social skills - making friends isn't always easy, and this is an area where a lot of kids (and adults) struggle!
It can also be helpful to foster a sense of individuality in your children, and make sure they understand that who they are is perfect, and there's no need to try to be someone they're not.
Explain to them that people who judge others based on they look or act is not someone they want to be friends with; people who put others down to lift themselves up lack self-esteem and confidence and can only feel better about themselves when others feel worse.
Make sure your kids understand that changing who they are should never be a prerequisite to being friends with someone, and that having diverse friend groups and social circles is a good thing! Foster their self-confidence, and help them feel empowered enough to stand up and speak out against cliques and bullying. Being the friend that is inclusive to everyone is far superior to being in the clique that excludes others.