Understanding and Coping with Social Exclusion

Social exclusion can happen in many ways and for many reasons.

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With regard to relationships and human behavior, social exclusion refers to the act of rejecting someone from interpersonal interactions. Social exclusion may or may not be intentionally harmful. In some cases, a child's perception of social exclusion may be a result, not of peer actions, but misunderstandings.

Unintentional Social Exclusion:

Unintentional social exclusion occurs under many circumstances; for example:

  • when a child appears uninterested in group interaction and is thus left out of social interaction because it seems to be what the child prefers;
  • when ethnic, economic, or other social differences create unspoken barriers between groups of children (often these barriers mirror their parents' behaviors)
  • when children with disabilities are shunned by other children because of anxieties, ignorance, or uncertainty as to how to behave
  • when children are focused on their own interests, dramas, or groups and are literally unaware of the needs or hopes of others

Unintentional social exclusion is fairly easily addressed through social skills and educational programs which help children to become more aware of the results of their actions or inactions. In some cases, it may be necessary to provide specific lessons about particular disabilities; for example, it may be helpful to provide typically developing children with information about how best to interact with a blind or deaf classmate.

Intentional Social Exclusion

When it is intentional, social exclusion is considered to be a form of relational aggression or social aggression. Intentionally harmful social exclusion may be overt, such as not talking to an individual, or it may be more subtle, such as by spreading rumors about a person so that she gradually becomes rejected.


Bullying is another form of social exclusion which can be particularly hurtful. Bullying can take many forms, from physical aggression to intimidation to subtler behaviors which may not be obvious to outside viewers. Bullying may also occur after school hours, at home or in the community.

Cyber-bullying is a pernicious form of social exclusion which can lead to serious humiliation and, in some extreme cases, to suicide. Cyber-bullying involves online rumor spreading, abuse, and victimization. Because adults may not be active on the same social media sites as their children, they may be unaware of cyber-bullying until it is too late.

Social exclusion is most often performed by girls, especially when they're threatened with being rejected themselves. Boys do, however, also engage in intentional social exclusion.

Counter-Acting Intentional Social Exclusion

In situations in which your child is being intentionally excluded, it is important to collect the facts before taking action.  Meeting with your child's teacher and/or other school staff members is one important step; you may also wish to observe your child in school (if he or she is willing to allow it).

 You'll need to determine:

  • whether your child's behaviors may be the underlying reason for exclusion (in which case your child might benefit from social skills training)
  • whether a particular peer is the "ringleader," pushing other peers into excluding your child (in which case intervention that includes the ringleader and his/her parents may be helpful)
  • whether your child is being excluded as a result of a physical or intellectual difference or disability (in which case education, peer buddy programs, and social interventions may all be helpful)
  • whether cyber-bullying is part of the problem (in which case you will want to monitor your child's online interactions or, potentially, end them)

In addition to taking action on the school front, parents can help their children cope with social exclusion by:

Related Terms: relational aggression, mean girls, verbal bullying


Archer, John, and Coyne, Sarah. An integrative review of indirect, social, and relational aggression. 2005. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 9, 3: 212-230.

Benenson, Joyce F., Markovits, Henry, Thompson, Melissa Emery, and Wrangham, Richard W. Under threat of social exclusion, females exclude more than males. 2011. Psychological Science.

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