Psychological Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents

Navigating Cliques

Published on: September 5, 2016  

Navigating Cliques

There’s little you can do to shield kids from the drama that occurs in classrooms and the forming of cliques, but there is plenty you can do to help your child remain confident in the face of drama while negotiating the slippery slope cliques. The silver lining is the opportunity to help your child understand what true friendship is all about.


What’s a Clique?
Developing and maintaining friendships is an important part of your child’s development. Having friends helps them to think independently, to make choices on their own and express their opinions and beliefs outside of the family system(s). Interactions with friends allows them the opportunity to experience trust and respect in relationships while realizing what types of peers are a good fit for them.

Groups of friends are different from cliques in some important ways. Friendships are formed from shared interests, sports, activities, classes, neighborhoods, or even family connections. Members of the group are free to socialize and hang out with others outside the group without worrying about being rejected. They may not do everything together but there is comfort knowing that they reconnect with their friends at any time.

Cliques have a different feel. They often form around common interests, but the social dynamics are quite different. Cliques are typically tightly controlled by leaders who decide who is “in” and who is “out.” The kids in the clique do most things together. Someone who has a friend outside the clique may face some pressure from the insiders.

Members of the clique usually follow the leader’s rules, whether it’s wearing particular clothes or doing certain activities. Cliques usually involve lots of rules — implied or clearly stated — and intense pressure to follow them. Kids in cliques often worry about whether they’ll continue to be popular or whether they’ll be dropped for doing or saying the wrong thing or for not dressing in a certain way. Cliques are often at their most intense in middle school and junior high, but problems with cliques can start as early as 4th and 5th grades.

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.

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:

Shed some light on social dynamics. Acknowledge that people are often judged by the way a person looks, acts, or dresses. Casting judgements is one thing but acting on those judgements is another. Some people actually act mean so that they can establish and maintain some form of control, elevate their social status and feel better about themselves and their social position. The sad part is that they strive to achieve what they want at the expense of others. The happy part is that the expression of these attitudes provides a valuable backdrop to talk with you children about their own beliefs about what friendship means, discerning the types of people they want in their lives and the qualities inherent in true friendships.

Find stories they can relate to. Many books, TV shows, and movies 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.

Create healthy outlets. Get kids involved in community-based activities like sports, theater (Tacoma Musical Theater), art classes, music, dance and language studies. These types of activities will provide your child with opportunities to establish friendships in other settings all while creating opportunities to learn and master new skills.

Develop skills to manage challenging relationships. If your child is part of a clique and one of the kids is teasing or rejecting others, it’s important to help your child develop skills to manage these relationships. The first step is to encourage them to talk with you about what’s happening and to let other adults, like teachers, coaches, counsellors become aware of what is happening. Ideally, it’s best to have the child be assertive in this situation by talking with supportive and trusted adults on their own. As parents we can help them identify the problem, what they want to see happen and why and explore strategies on how to create healthier relationships and improve their self-confidence..

Discuss consequences. If your child is the one at the center of a clique, 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. You can take the next step by challenging them to think about what they want in relationships, the consequences of their behavior, and strategies on how to change they way they perceive relationships with others.

Encourage 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?

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.

Bolster assertiveness skills. If they’re feeling worried or pressured by what’s happening in the cliques, encourage your kids to be assertive and stand up for themselves and others who are being cast out or bullied. Encourage them to participate in activities that feels right to them, build their skills and foster cooperative healthy interactions that bring people together instead of hurtful behaviors that tear at the fabric of relationships.

Teach responsibility. 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.

Keep the big picture in mind. 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.

With Warmest Regards,

Dr. Dave Callies
Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychologist
Gyro Psychology Services, Inc.
360-236-0206 (o)
360-236-9909 (f)
866-616-GYRO (4976)

“Promoting Balance and Stability in Kids & Teens”

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