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Social Exclusion: Why Do Kids Leave Out Others?

09/06/2012 03:30 EDT | Updated 11/12/2012 02:07 EST
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When a child gets left out from activities or cliques, we can all guess at the pain that's going through his or her mind. But what about the kids who do the excluding?

A new study searching for less harmful alternatives to social exclusion found kids had a wide range of experiences when excluding their peers. Therefore, believes Holly Recchia, Concordia University assistant professor and the study's first author, adults need to find different ways to approach these cases.

"The most useful interventions will be the ones that allow kids to weigh different goals, across different kinds of situations," she said. "This flexibility would allow them to handle exclusion in ways that minimize harm to other people while still recognizing their own legitimate desires and perspectives."

In Recchia's research, kids noted all kinds of reasons for excluding others, and even categorized them as good or bad. For instance, exclusion due to poor work compatibility was a good reason, while exclusion resulting in hurting someone's feelings was a bad one. In some cases, children would look for alternatives to exclusion, showing researchers an opportunity to change their behaviour.

The study asked 84 kids from ages seven to 17 to recall a time when they intentionally left out another kid (instead of creating hypothetical situations, like in studies past). Older children in their teens took more responsibility for excluding peers, while younger children mainly felt they excluded others for reasons beyond their control, such as peer pressure. This could indicate the possibility for exclusion alternatives based on age, researchers found.

When finding alternatives to social exclusion, another variable may include gender, as girls tend to exclude others in different ways than boys, PBS notes.

Some parents encourage social inclusion by getting kids to engage in more than one social group, develop solid social skills and value inclusive communities.

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