It's natural for children to form cliques because they want to belong and have an identity. But, family therapist Meri Wallace told The Early Show, those groups can become exclusionary.
Wallace offers suggestions on how parents can help their children overcome feelings of exclusion and get through this difficult time.
Cliques are different from just a group of friends gathering together in that they actively exclude other children. Weather a boy or a girl is excluded, the feelings are the same: "lonely and miserable."
An example of what kids in a clique may say: "You can't sit at my table in the lunch room. You can't walk down the hall from me," Wallace said. "A boys' clique might use sports and outward aggression to show that they belong to a clique. Girls will use more subtle manipulation with more put downs, sarcasm, and cattiness because that is more socially tolerable for them."
Here are some things that parents can do to help their children:
- Create and environment at home where your child can actively talk about cliques but realize, unfortunately, it takes a long time to resolve.
- Listen and ask the children what they think might help. Let them know they don't need to be in a clique to feel happy in life.
- Tell them how special they are. Reassure your child that kids in the clique are often in one because they want to feel valuable.
- Explain to your child why they are in a clique. Explain that they have everything they need.
- Give your kids suggestions. It is good to say: "When I was your age this happened to me, and what worked for me is that I had one or two friends. … It was really hard for me, but I had to ignore this one girl that was teasing me and it worked. She stopped."
Practice role playing
Empower your child. Pretend you are a member of the clique and say something nasty to your child. Let them practice what they would say to you. One thing to teach during role play is to walk away. Teach them phrases like: "I don't like what you are saying." "That is rude." "I think you are immature." PRACTICE these phrases with your kid.
Encourage new and positive activities
If your child is upset about cliques, or even starting to isolate themselves, enroll them in special-interest groups. For example, if your son likes math, put him in a math group. He is sure to find kids that have things in common. You can also arrange play dates with cousins or old friends to remind your child that he/she is socially acceptable.
Be a good role model
Remember your kids are watching you. Cliques never go away. They exist with adults as well. Watch what you say about your friends or other people in the neighborhood when your child is around. If a parent is being exclusionary then their child might believe that is the only way to be accepted. Try not to be involved in a clique.
If your children are the ones leading a clique and participating in exclusionary behavior, Wallace said, "Sit down and try and figure out what is going on at home. Tell them the way they are behaving is harmful. Explain how it can hurt other people. Bring up experiences from the past when they might have felt left out."
She said cliques can be seen as early as nursery school and they evolve from there.
"What happens is kids leave their home in nursery school and focus less on their family," she said. "They may have a special friend. They share something that they love like building blocks. If a third kid comes in they don't really like to share.
"At 4, they like to form bigger groups of three and four because they feel close and can do housekeeping together. With young children, teachers show how to deal with opening up and being inclusive of others, or break up the group. There is so much more supervision.
"As children grow and become more independent, there is a need to belong to the group because of identity. There is not enough supervision from adults at this age. Kids, teens are trying to discover how to find identity. How do you feel normal in a group? Kids are left alone during lunch and recess time. This is the time when ostracism and negative effects of cliques happen.
"Schools need to be more involved in the supervision of cliques. If cliques get really bad, the school system could change classes of cliques, change where they sit, etc., in order to separate them."
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