At a glance
For kids in middle school, it’s very important to fit in and feel liked.
Kids may be comfortable with the idea of social groups by the time they reach middle school. But that doesn’t mean they know much about how to deal with them.
Even if your middle-schooler is part of a group of friends, your child may worry that they’ll be excluded.
Kids in middle school want to feel liked and included. That’s why cliques can be so powerful for tweens. At this age, kids are usually more comfortable with being in groups than when they were younger. But they’re not necessarily good at it — especially if they have learning and thinking differences.
Even if a middle-schooler is part of a group of friends, your tween may fear falling out of favor. And if kids are not part of a clique, they can feel desperately alone.
You can help guide your tween with learning and thinking differences as your tween navigates the complexities of middle school cliques. Here are tips on how to help kids with situations they may encounter.
Help your child find lunch friends.
The scenario: The kids from your middle-schooler’s social skills group all have a different lunch period than your child has. Your tween can’t find the “right” table to sit at and feels like they don’t fit in.
What you can do: Lunch can be tough for kids with social skills issues. Help your child think through who is in their lunch period. Is there someone from your child’s regular classes? Kids from your neighborhood? Role-play how your child might ask someone to meet before lunch and walk through the line together.
The scenario: Whenever your middle-schooler returns to class after working with a resource teacher, friends in the advanced reading group give your tween a hard time about “Dummy Reading Class.”
What you can do: Help your child practice self-advocacy. Together, come up with some snappy responses, like: “You’re calling me a dummy? Who got to miss out on that social studies lecture?” You can also ask who at school might help: A teacher? A counselor? Remembering that there are support systems in place can help your middle-schooler feel more secure.
Help your child find ways to stay involved.
The scenario: Your child has dyspraxia. Your tween has stayed on the soccer team because their friends are on it, but it’s getting too difficult. Your middle-schooler is afraid that if they quit, they’ll lose their friends.
What you can do: Encourage your child to think about ways to stay close with their friends after dropping soccer, even if your child doesn’t tell them about their . Your tween could try, “The team’s not working with my schedule, but I want to keep seeing you guys! Can we do a sleepover after next Friday’s game?”
Figure out what factors unite the group.
The scenario: Restrictive clothes set off your middle-schooler’s sensory processing issues. But your tween wants to hang out with a group of kids who wear preppy button-down shirts every day.
What you can do: Encourage your tween to think about what might happen if they wore an oxford to school. How would it feel? Could your child switch shirts if it became uncomfortable? Then ask your child what else these kids have in common. Charm bracelets? Bands they like? Maybe there’s another way your middle-schooler can get to know them.
You can help your middle-schooler brainstorm where to find new friends.
It can be helpful to point out alternate ways that your middle-schooler might bond with other kids.
Let your middle-schooler know that they can stand up for themself, whether or not they want to disclose their issues.
About the author
About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former community manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Donna Volpitta, EdD is the founder of Pathways to Empower. Her work draws on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and education.