Parents Canada - - Contents - BY JEN­NIFER COX

Cir­cle of friends: Are cliques good or bad?

It seems in­evitable that, as young as grade­school level, we grav­i­tate to­ward kids with whom we share sim­i­lar in­ter­ests. I had friends in the drama club and school news­pa­per be­cause those were the so­cial groups that I was in­volved in. How­ever, now that I’m a mom to a four-year-old, I’m amazed to see that, even in day­care, the kids are seg­re­gat­ing them­selves into their own lit­tle groups.

And I won­dered, is this a good thing?

On the one hand, my son was ex­tremely en­am­oured with his core cir­cle of friends (whom hap­pened to all be girls), so I was re­lieved – he seemed to have nice kids to hang out and play with, and de­spite the odd tod­dler spat (“So-andso didn’t play with me to­day be­cause I couldn’t sing the song from Trolls”), they all got along beau­ti­fully.

But, at the same time, I didn’t like to think that maybe he was ex­clud­ing other kids by be­ing in his new­found “clique”. It’s nice to have friends, but what about the kids who haven’t yet found friends or cliques – maybe he should be en­cour­aged to play with those chil­dren too?

Jac­que­line San­der­son is an RECE (Reg­is­tered Early Child­hood Ed­u­ca­tor) at a YMCA day­care pro­gram in Guelph, Ont. She said that kids start form­ing cliques from a very young age, and that it’s nei­ther a good thing nor a bad. “It’s not a pos­i­tive or a neg­a­tive – it’s the nat­u­ral flow to form­ing per­son­al­i­ties,” she ex­plained. “The chil­dren are just de­cid­ing what they’re in­ter­ested in and find­ing kids who are into those same things. As they get older and start to be­come ex­clu­sive and maybe stop let­ting oth­ers join in, then you can have a con­ver­sa­tion about hav­ing em­pa­thy for those around them.”

For now, she mon­i­tors how the chil­dren in­ter­act with their peers who are out­side their des­ig­nated cliques. “I’ll lis­ten for a few min­utes to see what is be­ing said… if I hear, ‘I don’t want to be your friend be­cause you pushed me,’ then they’re kids hav­ing a con­flict and they will work it out,” she said. “But if they say, ‘I don’t want to be your friend’ and walk away, I’ll ask what hap­pened. But gen­er­ally, kids are very friendly.”

Dr. Yaniv El­har­rar is a child psy­chol­o­gist and one of the founders of the West Is­land Ther­apy Cen­tre, lo­cated just out­side of Mon­treal, Que. He, too, said that cliques are a part of grow­ing up and learn­ing so­cial skills within friend­ships. “Es­tab­lish­ing friend­ships are key and im­por­tant when kids are young – that’s when kids de­velop those skills of mak­ing friends, un­der­stand­ing what friend­ships en­tail, and they do so by play­ing and be­ing to­gether with friends,” he said. “By it­self a clique isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. Chil­dren will have an affin­ity for cer­tain kids over oth­ers be­cause they have com­mon in­ter­ests or are at their de­vel­op­ment level. But un­less the child seems un­happy with their peer group, adults shouldn’t in­ter­vene. Let it oc­cur nat­u­rally.” Af­ter all, he pointed out, we wouldn’t want some­one dic­tat­ing to us who we’re al­lowed to be friends with.

The im­por­tant thing to en­sure as par­ents is that our chil­dren are in healthy peer groups, where they’re con­tent and al­lowed to be them­selves with­out com­pro­mis­ing who they are. “If they’re not learn­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour, that’s great,” El­har­rar said. “It’s healthy to be in those groups be­cause they will learn what it is to so­cial­ize and learn how to so­cial­ize well. In the end, there are a lot of ben­e­fits to cliques.”

Chil­dren form “cliques” at a young age; but is that a bad thing?

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