In 4th grade, groups rule. They drive the culture at school dictating the styles kids wear, the language they use, the shows they watch, and the magazines they read. Cliques start forming in 4th and 5th grade, with their power peaking in middle school. Individuality is not rewarded or encouraged in upper elementary school (that won’t happen until high school), and being part of a group — the idea of safety in numbers — provides a degree of security.
The Quest to Belong
Experts say human beings hate the experience of being left out or feeling different. As a result, kids that share ethnicity, gender, intellectual ability, and/or family background tend to flock together. Their conversations help them figure out the standards of their group and how to meet them.
Degrees of Friendship
Since mutual respect and affirmation is so important at this age, group members constantly assess themselves against what’s acceptable by the group. There’s an urgency in 4th grade — particularly among the girls — to know where they stand at all times. Boys use a different language to establish themselves socially. The language of the verbal put down — being quick-witted at the expense of your friends — wins boys popularity points. Being athletic doesn’t hurt, either.
Kids Helping Kids
These days, elementary schools play an active role in teaching children the problem-solving skills they need to navigate the social seas. Some schools rely on school counselors to educate students.
Training students to be mediators is another common approach. Upperclassmen (generally the 4th or 5th graders) are trained by the school’s counselor to work with younger kids when problems arise. Other schools use outside programs to train staff in peer mediation, such as Peace Pals, which targets kindergartners, 2nd graders, and 4th graders.
Developed by the Princeton Center for Leadership Training, Peace Pals has several goals, among them: giving students greater competence in handling day-to-day dilemmas and creating a strong sense of community.