By Margie Sugarman
Margie Sugarman is a leading board-certified psychotherapist and sports consultant based in New York. Margie’s desire is to enhance performance through the connection between the mind and body, and her current client list includes Olympic, professional and amateur athletes across the country. Her experience employing various therapeutic modalities has helped equestrians win classics, junior medals and grand prix. Do you have a question you want Margie to answer? Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve noticed that some of the children at my daughter’s barn are forming friend groups and not everyone is included. As the girls have gotten older, I’ve noticed cliques are forming and I’m concerned they’re impacting our barn culture. How can we help those children who are not accepted by the dominant group?
As an example, I’d like to relate an incident that a mother recently related to me:
You’re at the barn just walking around the ring on your horse before your lesson. Three teens enter the ring involved in a rather intense conversation. You pick up bits and pieces of their gossiping about another peer who they sometimes ride and show with at the barn. Your trainer comes in and begins to set up some fences at the same time the “other” young lady walks in on her horse. The three girls — the quintessential small clique — laugh and then suddenly quiet down. The girl who entered knows she was the topic of their conversation. Nonetheless, she slowly rides over to them as smirks take over their faces and an air of superiority surrounds them.
Anyone who has ever gone to school knows about cliques — and it’s often these social groups that can be the source of anxiety in children as well as adolescents. Barns can be a breeding ground for the development of this type of group. Cliques are a different type of peer group than jocks, preps or nerds, which are reputation-based groups.
Cliques are tight groups that usually have a code of membership and a specific way to act. For example, the people in a clique may try to make it seem as though the individuals (members) are better than those not in the clique.
People in these groups sometimes direct their efforts toward intentionally hurting others by being cruel. They can often be insulting by targeting people outside their clique (who might want to be part of the group) and trying to change or fix them, laughing at them and/or ridiculing them.
In barn culture, clique behavior can manifest itself after shows where everyone seemed to get along. What about all the laughing and fun the girls were having at the show Saturday and followed that up Sunday morning with intentionally ignoring that one girl and not inviting her to go on the trail ride? The clique behavior can change at the drop of a hat.
Think about the various personalities at a barn. There are the more aggressive and verbal adolescents; the passive, compliant adolescents; and the introverted, desirous adolescents. Cliques give people who like to take control a chance to lead and people who like to follow the opportunity to do so.
Barns have their own personalities and those personalities are impacted by the individuals who spend their time there.
Trainers can sometimes find it challenging when clique issues are brought to their attention. Because of the discrete way in which some of these groups work, a trainer might not be aware of the interactions, or possibly dismiss the behaviors described by an impacted student. Clique leaders can be manipulative, and often know how to present themselves in a very positive way. This sometimes makes accusations even tougher for the adult(s) in charge to acknowledge. Because no group leader feels absolutely secure, they often use tools like flattery, rumors and forms of manipulation to maintain their status and conceal their behaviors from adults. Consequently, it can sometimes be difficult to support the perceptions of the victim.
Cliques can make life tough — whether you’re on the inside or the outside.
Should you find yourself faced with having to deal with clique behavior, there are some important things to remember:
- Keep your options open. Cliques can be very controlling and impact your ability to dress as you choose, think as you’d like and behave according to your beliefs. Understanding that clique members get their strength from one another, and they are usually insecure as individuals, can help limit their controlling influence over you.
- Stay involved in things you enjoy. Find a sense of belonging by sharing your interests and gaining a sense of being valued by others. Interact with individuals (at the barn) that don’t travel as part of a clique.
- Think for yourself. Don’t be subjected to others’ beliefs if they aren’t your own. Respect yourself.
Life changes. People who are caring, trustworthy, honest, respectful, thoughtful, kind and giving make the best friends. Give what you want to get back, and always strive to stay true to yourself.
Cliques will come and go, but true friendships can last a lifetime.