Has your 8-year-old daughter come home from school complaining that she's not allowed to sit with the cool kids at lunch? Does your 9-year-old son hang out with a group of boys who seem to exclude others? Your child may be the target of, or a member of, a clique -- an exclusive group of children who often use their status, power, and popularity to manipulate or ostracize others.
While most of us think of cliques as being a middle school or high school phenomenon, social groups are now forming as early as first or second grade. And by third grade, they can become quite exclusionary, says Peter Adler, PhD, a professor of sociology at the University of Denver and coauthor of Peer Power: Preadolescent Culture and Identity (Rutgers University Press, 1998).
Why are cliques forming so early? One reason may be that children are spending more time with their peers at a younger age (starting in day care or preschool). By the time they hit grade school, they've already discovered the benefits of group behavior, says Adler. They've found that having a tight-knit circle of friends can provide them with a sense of belonging, self-esteem, prestige, status, and self-confidence, and even allow them to feel as if they have a small family outside their own. On a practical level, kids in cliques always have someone to play with at recess, someone's birthday party to attend, or someone to sit with at lunch.