The Peaking Stage
Cliques peak during the middle school and early high school
years and take on a more vicious nature. Bullying becomes more
prevalent and more intense. At this age, kids' basic need for
unconditional, positive acceptance is a driving force. They're
struggling to find their place in the social structure.
The good news is that cliques typically tend to dissipate later
on in high school. The better news is that we can disciple kids to
stay clique-free now.
Breaking the Bonds
Children use many techniques to maintain power in cliques such
as carefully screening potential members, personally inviting some
children at the exclusion of others, and harassment of those
individuals on the outside. This can happen in a church setting,
too, such as a Sunday school class or youth group.
Todd, a sixth-grader, was a newcomer to the church. Because he
was shy by nature, he didn't feel like he fit in with the youth
group. After class one Sunday, the kids were dismissed for general
recreation time, but no one included Todd. The kids went off into
their cliques, and there, standing alone on the sidelines, was
Todd. That was his last visit to the youth group.
What can you do if the kids in your church are
- Keep watch. Notice who your kids interact
with. Do they stick to the same group or do they blend with all the
- Mix kids up. When playing games or activities, help kids get to
know each other by separating them so they're not in the same group
or with their friends every time.
- Talk honestly. If you notice a group is being
cliquish or you hear of kids being cliquish at school, pull them
aside and talk to them about their behavior. Maybe they don't
realize they're being cliquish, and a gentle reminder to include
others will do the trick. If this doesn't stop the problem, notify
their parents and work together to reach a solution.
- Use positive reinforcement. Praise children
when you see them act in ways that are kind, loving, and inclusive
to others. Offer specific praise such as, "You were compassionate
to notice that Billy was left out of the conversation. That was
kind of you to include him."
Showing the Way
Disciple kids to be inclusive and welcoming of others. Train
kids to understand how God expects us to treat others.
One children's ministry leader shared this experience. "Lanie, a
fourth-grade girl in our small group, smelled really bad when she
came to church. Susie, one of our 'upstanding' girls was so
sickened by it that she wouldn't stay in the small group with
Lanie. The cool thing was that the rest of the group loved Lanie
and didn't follow Susie's lead."
This was a group that had been taught to show love and
acceptance. They lived out Jesus' commandment, "Love your neighbor
as yourself" Matthew 22:39.
Elementary-age kids often lack the confidence to interact with
others. Because their need for love and acceptance is so strong,
it's compounded with a fear of rejection. Help kids gain confidence
in their socialization with these ideas.
1. Equip. Use this acrostic tool as a reminder
of the questions kids can use to spark conversation when meeting
F-amily: What's your family
I-nterests: What do you like to do
R-eligious background: Where do you
go to church? If a child has a home church, instruct kids to follow
up with, "Tell me about your church." If a child doesn't have a
church, teach children to invite him or her to visit their
E-ducation: What's your school
To give kids practice using this tool, form pairs and have
partners role play these techniques during Sunday school. Then
encourage kids to try the questions at school and other settings
where they might meet new kids. To reinforce this technique, give
kids an opportunity each week to share about times during the week
that they were "FIREd-up" and met someone new.