How to Help Your Middle-Schooler Handle School Cliques

By Lexi Walters Wright

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, she may worry that they’ll exclude her.

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, she may fear falling out of favor. And if she’s not part of a clique, she can feel desperately alone.

You can help guide your tween with learning and thinking differences as she navigates the complexities of middle school cliques. Here are tips on how to help her with situations she 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. She can’t find the “right” table to sit at and feels like she doesn’t fit in.

What you can do: Lunch can be tough for kids with social skills issues. Help your daughter think through who is in her lunch period. Is there someone from her regular classes? Kids from your neighborhood? Role-play how she might ask someone to meet before lunch and walk through the line together.

Teach self-advocacy.

The scenario: Whenever your middle-schooler returns to class after working with a resource teacher, friends in the advanced reading group give her 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 she has support can help her feel more secure.

Help your child find ways to stay involved.

The scenario: Your child has dyspraxia. She’s stayed on the soccer team because her friends are on it, but it’s getting too difficult. She’s afraid that if she quits, she’ll lose her friends.

What you can do: Encourage her to think about ways to stay close with her friends after dropping soccer, even if she doesn’t tell them about her . She 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 she wants to hang out with a group of kids who wear preppy button-down shirts every day.

What you can do: Encourage her to think about what might happen if she wore an oxford to school. How would it feel? Could she switch shirts if it became uncomfortable? Then ask her what else these kids have in common. Charm bracelets? Going to the mall? Bands they like? Maybe there’s another way she can get to know them.

Key takeaways

  • 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 she can stand up for herself, whether or not she wants to disclose her issues.

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    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.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Donna Volpitta, EdD is the founder of Pathways to Empower. Her work draws on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and education.