Being left out is more than just child’s play

Making “life-long” friends in the playground one minute then being left out the next is usually brushed off as part of growing up, but new research has shown being rejected is far more complicated than first thought.

New research from Spain has gained insight from the “rejecters” of friends in the schoolyard to get a better understanding of why some children are left out by peers and others ostracized for many years of schooling.

Previous research has looked at the behaviour of the child being alienated in the playground, blaming rejection on their behaviour. However, this research avenue has failed to portray why an aggressive child could also be popular among classmates – leading researchers to question whether bad behaviour among those rejected is a consequence of rejection rather than an initial reason for it.

Spain’s Jaume I University Department of Developmental, Educational and Social Psychology Professor Francisco Juan Garcia Bacete said the research found the rejected child’s behaviour “did not lead indirectly or inevitably to rejection.”

“Instead, what leads to rejection are the rejecters’ interpretations of the child’s behaviour, and whether they think it will have a negative impact on themselves or their social group,” Prof. Bacete said.

Researchers used methods to collate their data which relied on categories for comparison determined by responses to questions by the 5-7 year olds involved in the study.

“The theory starts from the reasons provided by the children and, by constantly comparing them, categories emerge that explain differences between the motives for rejection – rather than forcing the data to be grouped under preconceived headings, we let the data speak for itself.”

“Most of the reasons could be grouped under what the rejected child does, says or tries, such as aggression, dominance, problematic social and school behaviours, and disturbance of wellbeing.

However, we also noticed that these reasons came with context – specifically, which classmates or groups were involved in the rejection and the frequency it happened.”

He said the research provided a framework to build strategies to deal with rejection among children.

“This research highlights the importance of teaching children how to be aware of and tackle negative reputations, stereotypes and prejudices, as well as understanding the consequences of their behaviour on themselves and others. Positive relationships should be encouraged – you should respect others, not just your friends.”