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Your Child Today: Late Elementary

Coping with Cliques

"At my school, there are three kinds of people: popular kids, regular kids and the losers," my son said recently.

"And where do you fit?" I asked him.

"I think I?m a ?high regular,? " he said.

According to my son, a "high regular" is interested in sports, wears athletic clothing and eats lunch with other high regulars. A high regular knows he must never sit at a lunch table with popular people and never, ever with the losers.

And, a high regular boy does not have a girlfriend.

As kids reach the late elementary years, cliques inevitably begin to form. According to school counselor Gloria Libkin, a clique?s code of behavior is remarkably well-defined, although usually never spoken. It?s almost as if some invisible authority has set down rigid guidelines that limit membership by designating parameters for belonging, she says. To an adult, the standards may seem impossible to decipher, but children easily recognize who belongs and who doesn?t. And because the clique defines who they are?and who they aren?t?most kids wouldn?t dare violate group standards.

It?s difficult for parents to stand by and watch as their kids seem to set aside their own individuality in order to adapt the personality, likes and dislikes of their "group." You may even be tempted to step in and limit your child?s interaction with his friends from a certain clique.

But cliques can actually be a good thing in your child?s life, according to author Zick Rubin in his book Children?s Friendships (Harvard University Press.) At this stage, your child is beginning to move away from his family and toward greater independence. Groups of friends help bridge the span between childhood and adulthood, providing a sense of security, belonging and support.

For some children, however, the struggle to be included can be painful. Developmentally, some kids aren?t ready to break away from Mom and Dad. Yet as they see their friendships shifting and rearranging, they feel pressured to conform to a group. Your son may beg for a particular brand of tennis shoes or your daughter may want to wear makeup "like everyone else." Your understanding of the tension they?re feeling is crucial to helping them cope with the ever-changing social structure of their world.

If cliques are causing distress for your child, you can help in a number of ways:

Be a good listener. Remember that however illogical they may seem, your child?s feelings are very real. Allow him to vent his frustrations and share his pain without trying to "fix" the situation.

Avoid judgments. That same girl who made the nasty comment to your daughter today could very well be her best friend tomorrow.

Love him. Remind your child that God loves him and values him as an individual. Talk about all the characteristics that make him special to you and to God.

Dissect the clique myth. Explain that by excluding others, kids are really trying to make themselves feel more acceptable. Help your child see that the kids in the "popular" clique probably feel just as insecure about themselves as everyone else. Encourage your child to think about people as individuals and to treat everyone with the care and respect Jesus showed people.

Go easy on the advice. For the most part, children learn friendship skills through trial and error and from each other, not from adults. According to Rubin, you have a better chance of conveying your ideas about friendship through your own example of nurturing friendships with a variety of people.

?Faith Tibbetts McDonald
Writer, educator, mother of three

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