Cliques and Girls: Navigating Friends in 5th Grade

Posted March 21, 2011 by

Friends mean so much to young kids. As they go from grade to grade they face so many emotional challenges as they try to create lasting friendships.

My daughter started off 5th grade doing okay, with 2 close friends. But just this past February, they approached her on the playground and told her that they didn’t want to be friends any more. My daughter was quite shocked, as one of the girls (I’ll call her Jessica) accused my daughter of saying something bad about the other girl (for the purposes of this blog post, Lauren) on the phone. My daughter felt completely betrayed. She remembers talking with the “Jessica” about “Lauren,” but she said they were both agreeing that Lauren was really annoying.

I don’t think my daughter had any idea that this would come back to haunt her. So in 5th grade she is experiencing betrayal. My daughter cried most of the afternoon at school and got off the bus an emotional wreck.

Of course I comforted her and we talked until I understood the situation as best I could. It seemed to me that the main problem was that it was a group of 3 girls. Last year there was another girl in their circle who moved away, so their group of 4 became 3. I have always thought that 3 friends together can cause major conflict. I honestly think that one of the girls wanted my daughter’s closer friend to be her best friend and has manipulated the situation to kick my daughter out of the group. I seriously remember this happening when I was in middle school many times. I guess they start this earlier now!!

After that day three weeks ago, my daughter has been sitting with different people at lunch and playing either alone or with some other kids at recess, not knowing if she can approach these other friends. The one girl seems to be glaring at my daughter and making her very uncomfortable. I have been talking to my daughter every day about what is going on with this situation. I have been trying to give her the courage to approach some other girls or boys and make more friends. Even as I give her advice, I always stress that it is her decision what she should do. I also thought asking them to talk about the situation would be helpful and that maybe they could resolve their differences. I offered to call the guidance counselor, but my daughter was against that too.

The other thing is that I have been very hospitable to these girls. I have had their parents over and the children over even more frequently. So to be honest, I was personally feeling a bit perturbed. I thought, “How they dare treat my child this way after all that I have done for them!!”  The 3 of them had even formed a little band and practiced in my dining room. They have come over numerous times playing dress-up. I have fed them countless times, too. But I know this is not about me. I really wasn’t doing this to help my daughter keep her friends…I was just being nice and letting them have some time away from school to have fun. Even though I do feel upset, I definitely will not treat these girls differently when I see them around the school. I will speak to them kindly as always. I know they are young and immature and just trying to make decisions on their own.

I have always stressed that my daughter needs to be true to herself and she needs to love herself first. If you love yourself, you have the confidence that draws friends to you. She knows that it takes work to build a friendship and that you need to get to know someone before you can trust them. I have also stressed that you have to like how you feel around other people and you also have to share some common interests. She has been exploring other acquaintances and I enjoy what she has to say. She told me about one girl that she simply could not get along with because all they did was argue. She told me that a lot of the girls are boy crazy already and my daughter says she is just bored by all of that talk. Some girls aren’t very interesting to her. I’m proud of her for getting out there and trying to get to know some people. Some days she just runs and plays alone at recess. I think it is great that she has the confidence to do that. Her exuberance for life will take her far!


Parent Blogger Amanda Lane is the mother of an 11-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter. Amanda has been married for 16 years and works as a Clinical Systems Analyst in the hospital in her rural community. She hopes to give hope and confidence to others as she writes about her journey through parenthood.

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  1. Ashley Report

    Your a great person my 10 year old daughter had these problems before I sat down with her after I read this and it helped alot You are a inspiration to me and man others Thank you!!👍👫

  2. CTDAD Report

    I am struggling… very much so lately. My wife and I have one daughter… she’s 10 – (just started 5th Grade). She has always been a happy kid, and with a big heart. She’s smart and pretty…but she’s our only child, and I don’t know how much of this I’m freaking out about or how much she is affected. She was bullied last year, some exclusion from groups, some other more direct bullying. It has always seemed to come from her closest friends – and after a difficult year last year, it is already starting this year. I am at my hearts end with it – i say hearts end and not wits end because it is breaking my heart to see her struggle so much like this. it effects her school work, her desire to go to school and makes her second guess who her true friends are. I have thought about private school – but don’t know if that is just running away from the problem. I don’t know what to do, and we comfort her, and listen to her – but I just really don’t remember life being this hard in 5th grade…

  3. bjcmom Report

    thank you for these posts. i am so impressed at how you handled this difficult situation — and that you didn’t let yourself get sucked in emotionally. For me, that is the hardest part. My 10 year old has been shut out of her social group. No one calls her for play dates anymore and when she calls them, they oftentimes say no. And my “so called best friend” whose daughter used to be my daughter’s best friend is quietly manipulating the situation. She invites groups over and leaves my daughter out…and then, to “get credit” she asks my daughter to play with her daughter on days when she knows my daughter is not free. It is so painful for me to know enough to know that we are being manipulated and treated badly, but not know enough to figure out how to not be manipulated in the first place! I have encouraged my girl to make new friends but of course she says the “old group” is more fun to be around…even though they seem to not want to hang out with her. It is just so confusing and I keep wondering if there is something my daughter is doing to make people not want to be with her…but have no idea what it could be. She is a sweet and fun loving girl – or at least she used to be. Now she spends most days crying because no one wants to play with her. it breaks my heart.

  4. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    To ‘bizime’: It sounds like your granddaughter’s friendship with this girl has been very difficult. It is not necessary for you to let your granddaughter work this out by herself. You might find it more helpful to talk to the school counselor about what is going on here and ask the school counselor for some help to handle this. You can also work with your granddaughter to help her come up with some new skills she can use with this other girl. For example, if her friend is telling her something that makes her feel uncomfortable, how can she get herself out of that situation? You should also ask your granddaughter if this is something she feels she can handle with some help or if she would like to talk to the school principal about it. Depending on your school’s definition, this behavior of this other girl could be considered bullying. Whether or not to change her school is a personal decision for you to make, but keep in mind it won’t give her any skills to use when she encounters problems like this in the future (and chances are she will). has a lot of information for kids and parents and caregivers—you might benefit from exploring the information on their website. I hope this information is helpful. We wish you both luck as you continue to work through this.

  5. bizime Report

    You all seem so level heded and calm. We recently took in our grandchilden to raise due to the death of their parents. Our fourth grade granddaughter is really struggling with one child at school who says she wants to be her friend, but my garnddaughter feels that she is untrustworthy and mean. When the girl spent the night at our house she kicked my granddaughter hard between the legs, for no apparent reason. She is way too knowledgeable about sex and relationships for a girl her age ( or maybe I am showing my age!) She told my granddaughter some things which made her feel uncomfortable, but my garnddaughter ” promised” not to tell anyone. Now the other child is very possessive and gets angry if my granddaughter has anything to do with some one else. She threatened to tell my garnddaughter’s “secrets”. My granddaughter told her to go ahead, because she didn’t have any secrets. My granddaughter tried talking to her teacher, but was told that the girls need to work this out themselves. I feel that there may be soemthing inappropriate going on in the home, but having no concrete evidence, I hesitate to say anything to anyone. My granddaughter has even asked to change schools next year ( we have one a few blocks away, but we didn’t want to make too many changes this school year because of the deaths) So I do I agree with the teacher and tell her to handle it, whatever it is? Do I allow her to change schools, possibly this fall and just have her stick out the rest of the school year? I haven’t been a mom for more than 20 years, some advice would be appreciated.

  6. Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    To ‘TN Mom’: It is so hard to see your daughter struggle with hurtful situations like this. While boys tend to use more intimidation and physical aggression when they fight, girls use a form of aggression called relational aggression. Relational aggression is the use of exclusion or shunning, as you describe in your daughter’s case. Unfortunately, in my experience, it does seem to start right around third grade. What your daughter is going through is something I think every girl experiences at some point—I know I have. The best way for you to help her is to work on developing her problem solving skills- how can she handle this situation differently in the future? What can she do right now that would make her feel a little bit better? It’s also very good to encourage her to seek new activities on her own that she is interested in, as you have been doing. Talk with her about what skills she might need to make one new friend or join one new activity. Be there to talk and listen and ask your daughter if this is something she feels she can handle on her own. If she doesn’t, or if you think the problem is taking a toll on her, let your daughter know you are going to get some help from the school. A good place to start might be the school counselor. School counselors often have many tools for helping children in your daughter’s situation. If the problem persists you might also talk to the school administrators. Our article on girl fighting has a lot more information on this topic and suggestions that I think might be helpful to you. We wish you and your daughter the best.

  7. TN Mom Report

    My daughter has been having friendship issues since 3rd grade. Her 3rd grade teacher looped and the same group of kids were in 4th grade together. My daughter is very sensitive to what’s fair and what other kids say and do, and while she’s most often very kind and compassionate, I’ve also seen and heard her do things that didn’t seem kind or sensitive at all. She follows the lead of another girl who is a social butterfly, and when that girl moves on to other friends my daughter feels sad and left out. I subtly encourage her to develop new friends (she resists), and to figure out things she enjoys because she enjoys them, not because a friend is doing them first. My daughter’s being shunned by a friend right now because of something she said. How can I help her through this?

  8. Lynne Report

    I am so glad that I read this tonight. For years, months, weeks and days we have dealt with a mother and child that are manipulating and just down right mean at times. My daughter seems to be the one that this girl focuses on. I am so upset and have struggled with trying to be calm about it anymore. It is not a healthy relationship for my daughter and want it to end, but my daughter seems to keep going back for more. Reading all these comments I am going to wake up with a fresh look at things and approach it differently with my daughter plus pray she realizes she needs to move on. My daughter is so kind, loving, caring and respectful that I think it is very hard for her!! Thanks for helping this mom to step back once again and try to re-evaluate.

  9. Mommyof3 Report

    I cannot believe how much of this blog is my daughters situation. She has had the same situation happen with her to close friends. I thought junior high was going to be difficult; but never dreamed 11 and 12 years olds could be so difficult to deal with. I try to teach my daughter to be very respectful of her friends and their feelings; but when this continues to happen it’s hard for her to have any confidence in friendships at all. I myself had a lot more boys as friends than I did girl friends. For some reason I had more in common and they were more fun to talk to and wern’t judgemental. My daughter too has often played alone on the playground and then is often made fun of later for it. I will never understand why kids are so cruel. I do have to commend you for holding your composure around these girls for treating your daughter this way. I am not so sure I could be that way. I know that is wrong to think that way. However, one of the girls told my daughter that her dad committed suicide (we lost him in 09) which of course I reassured my daughter that that had not happened, but it’s very hard to teach my daughter to be nice to this girl when she says such cruel things and the school councelor has done nothing and acctually accused my daughter of making this up. I find it hard to help my daughter with this situation with no backing from the school.

  10. Sprog Blogs Report

    Yes Kristen,
    Great Job. Each mom should learn from it. Every one must believe and love himself first. Very Impressive Advice for all parents.

    Sprog Blogs

  11. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Kristen, It sounds like you are teaching your daughter all the right things. Loving yourself first–that’s one of those life lessons that we all need a refresher course in once in awhile! Bravo to you for helping to instill that confidence in your child now. I also think encouraging her to develop new friendships — outside of school, if possible — is key. This helps all kids to realize that the world is not ruled by the kids they see in the cafeteria. (Even though it can feel like it at that age!) Good luck to you and your daughter, and please let us know how it goes.

  12. Darah Zeledon Report

    Great job! It is heartbreaking to see how mean girls can behave towards one another. I see it with my own kids when they come home in tears. We must do all we can to raise self-confident, independent-minded kids because unfortunately, it doesn’t end when the bell rings. Tough skin is necessary to navigate in the real world…sadly.

  13. Mainstay Ministries Report

    I admired you for being supportive to you daughter Kristen. With that, your daughter has more confidence in herself. Because of that positive traits that you showed to the 3 girls, they’ve given you respect, same also to your daughter. Your princess is a smart girl because of you.

  14. Melody Report

    You are doing a wonderful job Momma! What a wise woman you are. My daughter is in fourth grade and is encountering the same situation. There is also a trio of girls and in this friendship triangle the third is new this year, edging her best friend away from her. It is heart breaking to watch and difficult to guide her through. I concur with your values of loyalty to one’s self and knowing that you have to feel comfortable with who you spend time with. I wish they were not so impressionable already though… Best of luck to you both.

  15. goodhaven Report

    This behavior in girls is just starting at this age! It does not go away without help.
    My 8th grade daughter just had something like this happen last week and was upset about it. We talked it through and I let her know these girls do things like this because they are dysfunctional and do not know how to relate in healthy ways.
    We talked about what her options are and are focusing on her friends that were not sucked into it and who have supported her.
    Healthy kids can talk about their feelings and thoughts and do not try to control friends, and this is what I have stressed with her.
    Friends that hurt each other this way are better avoided because they do not have the skills to be true friends and will always hurt others this way.
    I think every school needs to have “self science” curriculum included every day in every lesson because it is the only hope for some kids that never will learn healthy ways at home. As dysfunction increases in our schools and communities, so will this type of aggressive behavior. These kids just do not know any different and they learn it at home.

  16. Samantha Report

    The thing you can never really know until you get past it is that those friends in the 5th grade become different when you get to middle school, then change again in high school, and yet again in college.

    In a few years, this will feel like ancient history and a life learning experience. In the moment though, it’s no less painful.

  17. Never A Dull Moment Report

    It seems you have handled this situation wisely. You acknowledge that friendships matter (more than 50% adults say they still have a close friend from 5th grade or earlier), but do not get so emotionally entangled that she thinks the sky is falling. You also sound like you have a lot of patience for hearing the details of these situations. I’m sure your daughter finds your interest and calm perspective reassuring. In my work (as a family doc) I know that children at this age may roll their eyes at parents but do mimic their reactions. Strong work!



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