Friendship is an important part of a child’s development. Having friends helps them learn independence and prepares them for the trusting relationships we hope they’ll establish as adults.
Also, remember there is a big difference in a group of friends compared to a clique of friends.
Groups of friends form based on shared interests, sports, activities, classes, neighborhoods, or family involvement. In groups of friends, members are free to socialize and hang out with others outside the group without worrying about being cast out.
Cliques often form around common interests, but the social dynamics are very different. Cliques are usually 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 rejection or ridicule.
Encouraging Healthy Friendships
Here are some ways to encourage your 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. Encourage kids to participate in activities that they enjoy and that build their confidence.
- 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 you cannot change others. Kids often try to get others to change if they don’t agree with their positive or negative behavior. You cannot be responsible for others behavior or actions, you can only control yourself.
Fitting in can be a challenge. Finding groups that are welcoming like martial arts, religious youth groups, scouts are just a few that might be the right fit.