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Clique Busting

Laurie Copley

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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 cliquish?

  1. Keep watch. Notice who your kids interact with. Do they stick to the same group or do they blend with all the kids?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 new kids.

F-amily: What's your family like?
I-nterests: What do you like to do for fun?
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 church.
E-ducation: What's your school like?

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.

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