Social Exclusion at School


Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

Social Exclusion in the School Environment
Social exclusion in the school environment is increasingly being recognised as a form of relational aggression or bullying, in which a child is exposed to harm through the manipulation of their social relationships and status (Edith Cowan University, 2009).

Social exclusion can take many forms, with children reporting a range of experiences from being deliberately excluded from a peer group to having rumours spread about them, being called names and being purposefully embarrassed. In any sense, social exclusion is fundamentally entails a lack of connectedness and participation from a peer group. Australian research suggests that approximately 1 in 6 children report experiences of social exclusion, however, this may under- represent true prevalence rates given the difficulties in measuring social exclusion which is often undertaken in covert and hidden ways (Edith Cowan University, 2009).

 Who does it affect?

While belonging and connectedness to peers is important at any age, it is particularly relevant in adolescence. Research suggests that adolescents are particularly sensitive to peer rejection and as a group, may experience the most significant mental health effects such as depression and anxiety in response peer rejection. Adolescence is typically a time of increased independence from parents and family and increased dependence on their peer group. Identities are developed in relation to peer groups and peer group differences can become highly salient. The difficulty for adolescents is that ingroup and outgroup rules are fluid and as such, maintaining peer relationships can be fraught with complication (Leets & Wolf, 2005).

Studies on the neurological profile of children suggest that their brain areas for emotion (such as the Anterior Cingulate Cortex) become more activated in response to peer rejection with age, peaking in adolescence. In contrast, adolescents show significantly less activation in the brain regions which govern emotional regulation such as the Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex in response to peer rejection in comparison with younger children (Bolling, Pitskel, Deen, Crowley, Mayes & Pelphrey, 2011). This unique neurological profile for adolescents suggests that social exclusion at this age may be particularly distressing and that they may have significant difficulty in managing their distress.

Effects of social exclusion

Research suggests that the physical, emotional and mental health of children exposed to social exclusion can be compromised. For example, lower immune function, reduced sleep quality, reduced ability to calm oneself in times of distress, reduced self esteem, feelings of anxiety, depression and aggression have all been observed in children who have been excluded from a peer group (DeWall, Deckman, Pond & Bonser, 2011).

 So what can we do?

Children and adults all have a core need to be loved and valued within secure and lasting positive relationships (DeWall et al., 2011). Helping children develop and maintain these secure relationships both with their family, peers and wider social group is an important part of their development. Research is telling us that children become aware of social rejection from a young age (Leets & Wolf, 2005) and can reason as to why it is wrong to exclude others from preadolescence (Killen, 2007). Thus talking with your child from a young age about inclusion of others, feelings that occur when exclusion is encountered and strategies to manage social exclusion is important. Some helpful tips are:

 For the excluded child:

  • Be open, available and calm when your child needs to talk with you. Children often worry about upsetting or worrying their parents, so it is important to remain calm and engaged with your child.
  • Be responsive to your child. Affirm to them that they have the right to be safe and feel secure and that you will help them by talking with the school and providing a safe haven at home. For older children, listen to the action that they would like you to take and negotiate with them when it would be appropriate for you to talk with the school, for example, if they are still being excluded at the end of the week or if things escalate.
  • Be affirming. Tell and show your child that they are unconditionally loved and valued as a person. Enlist the support of family friends to share positive messages about your child and engage in their gifts, talents and interests. Build a circle of security around your child.
  • Make your home a safe haven. Minimise the risk of online social exclusion and bullying by monitoring technology use and using privacy settings and parental controls. The change of email addresses and mobile numbers may be necessary.
  • Help your child manage emotional distress but talking about their feelings and developing some self-coping statements such as “relax, don’t take it personally”. Help your child focus on their gifts, talents and interests.
  • Build your child’s friendships. Having one close friend has been shown to strengthen a child’s connectedness to school and self esteem. Help your child identify a friend or friends that share similar interests and foster the friendship through play dates and scheduled activities.
  • Use the high five principal. Help your child identify five people that they can seek support from and /or things to do, one for each finger, if they are being excluded. For example, seek out a special teacher, find a friend in an older year, go to the library or offer their help to the teacher on duty.
  • Develop ways your child can have some clear boundaries. Help your child communicate their distress and name the inappropriate behaviour of others through statements such as “I don’t like what you are doing and you need to stop” , “That is bullying and it is not right”. Help your child know that they need to seek support if the social exclusion continues.
  • Consider programs like the Quirky Kid ‘The Best of Friends’ program.

For the parents/ school

  • Develop a tone in your family and school that demonstrates an environment of mutual respect and responsibility.
  • Have clear and well communicated policies on bullying and social exclusion and explore these regularly with the school community.
  • Encourage class-based discussions on the meanings of ingroups and outgroups and common misperceptions, such as “kids who wear glasses are not good at sports”. Find examples in everyday life that will challenge these misperceptions. Extend discussions to help children realise the moral and emotional implications of social exclusion.
  • Facilitate teamwork and an atmosphere of inclusion by choosing working or sporting groups based on arbitrary characteristics such as birth months, favourite animals or having a rotating system by which every half day, the group rotates by one member.
  • Develop strong networks between teaching staff and children by including children in lessons, school activity planning and open discussions. Having the principal visible and available can also help develop an atmosphere of inclusion and connectedness.
  • Get the wider peer group involved. Social exclusion thrives when surrounding peers do not intervene. Help children understand why it is important to help others and strategies to do so, such as saying things like “stop that is not fair, leave her alone, she’s my friend” or know a teacher whom they can approach.
  • Again, programs like ‘The Best of Friends’ can be offered school wide to ensure the social skills and communication strategies are consistently applied.



1. Leets, L. & Wolf, S. (2005). Adolescent rules for social exclusion: when is it fair to exclude someone else? Journal of Moral Education, 34 (3), 343-362.

2. Killen, M. (2007). Children’s Social and Moral Reasoning About Exclusion. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 6 (1), 32-36.

3. Bolling, D., Pitskel N., Deen, B., Crowley, M., Mayes, L. & Pelphrey, K. (2011). Development of neural systems for processing social exclusion from childhood to adolescence. Developmental Science, 14 (6), 1431-1444.

4. DeWall, C., Deckman, T., Pond, R. & Bonser, I. (2011) Belongingness as a Core Personality Trait: How Social Exclusion Influences Social Functioning and Personality Expression. Journal of Personality, 79 (6), 979-1012.

5. Edith Cowan University (2009). Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study, CHPRC

15 Responses to “Social Exclusion at School”

June 28, 2013 at 4:38 pm, Elaine Phair said:

Thanks for passing on some valuable informatiom Cheers Elaine


September 13, 2013 at 9:42 am, Sharon said:

My son, 7 experiences social exclusion on the bus daily. It’s a 40min bus ride home from school and the boys his own age always seem to have excuses for not sitting next to him and so he then sits next to an 11 year old girl who is also socially excluded because of learning/behavioural difficulties. My son doesn’t tell me he’s concerned about this but I’m not sure he is even that aware of what is going on. It’s been talked about with teachers and they talked to the group of boys in question but although their behaviour changed initially it’s deterioated again. I’m concerned about how this might be affecting him. We live in a different state to your centre unfortunately.


September 13, 2013 at 9:44 am, Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff) said:

Thank you for your comment on our social exclusion Sharon. We offer telephone consultations to assist parent with strategies, you can call us on 02 9362 9297 to discuss this further.


September 12, 2014 at 11:41 pm, It Is A Big Deal If Your Kid Is Picked Last, Says Dr. Donald Oh said:

[…] your child isn’t connected to the group. Researchers now recognize social exclusion as a form of relational aggression or bullying—one in six kids has reported social exclusion at school. Social exclusion comes in all shapes and […]


September 13, 2014 at 10:04 pm, Mary Watson said:

Can you recommend some type of therapy for a College student that has face exclusion all life? The student is in MA


October 05, 2014 at 8:23 pm, Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff) said:

Hello Mary, thank you for posting a comment. Please email support[at]quirkykid[dot]com[dot]au and we will be very happy to discuss your referral further. We do need more information to be able to help you more.


October 08, 2014 at 12:30 pm, Bethany said:

I get left out by my group, and they all catch up and leave my friend and I out. Everytime they post pictures of it on instagram I get really upset and cry. Its getting really hard for me. Ive told them about how im feeling but they say i do it to them to, yes i catch up with say 1 person by myself from that group and they say its leaving them out. But i feel their is a difference between from a group catch up and excluding majority of people to when only two people catch up together from that group because they have a very close relationship. Its really getting me down and their saying i do it to and getting angry at me. What am i supposed to do?


February 10, 2018 at 4:48 am, Mariel said:

Hi…I want to ask if what kind of person can be excluded in school? Need help for our research


March 28, 2018 at 11:46 am, Berenice German said:

Hello, I am currently a high school student in a small town of Texas. In middle school I used to have many friends an I was very social. After I started 9th grade, no one ever wants to talk to me and they always leave me out of everything. I have absolutely zero friends and I feel like nobody likes me. I have never done anything bad to anyone so I do not know why the whole entire school does not like me. Is this even social exclusion or is it just that I am the problem?


May 13, 2018 at 10:01 am, Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff) said:

Hi Berenice,
Apologies for this delayed response to your question on Social Exclusion at school. I’m glad you are questioning how this change in the behaviour of your peers occurred between Middle school and ninth grade. Given you were very social in Middle school, I firmly believe you are not the problem! I would suggest developing more social opportunities outside of school as this will maintain your self-esteem and confidence, and better equip you to cope with the hostile environment you’re faced with at school. I’d also suggest you email your Ninth Grade Coordinator and ask if there are any extra roles or responsibilities you could take on during your breaks at school, such as tech assistant at assembly or similar, to increase the structure of your day (i.e, less time to hang around) and to boost your status amongst your peers as an awesome individual!


May 02, 2018 at 2:43 am, Nette said:

My teen son has experienced exclusion and direct bullying all throughout his school life. It’s heartbreaking. The schools have known about it each time but it seems that one issue gets solved and another comes up. I have tried every angle to help him. School, principal, teachers, counselling, social skills, you name it. Nothing really changes for long. It’s just terrible seeing him go through this all the time. I’m so fed up with the same old approaches that make no genuine difference. Be honest, how many kids actually will go out of their way to include a child that has been socially outcast? They generally don’t because they fear also being bullied. Truth is, it gets worse at high school. We can tell children not to exclude others etc, but most of the time it doesn’t change. My son has told teachers and the outcome has been further more subtle bullying, stuff that you can’t see but is definitely happening. Bullies learn to fly under the radar as they get older. My son is in a good school and still it’s never ending. Sorry to sound so negative but all this talk about anti bullying has not changed a darn thing. School is not the place for a socially awkward child or a ‘different needs’child. Take them out and home school if you can. At least they will keep some of their confidence and make friends in other ways. Personally I can’t wait for the whole school experience to be over. It’s just soul destroying. Change our darn schooling system instead of creating system’s which cause our children anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Our system is totally wrong. Not our kids. Our kids bully because they learn how to. It becomes survival of the fittest. One young man I know described school as a war zone. I know what he means. Our whole society is based on competition and competition breeds winning and losing and no-one wants to lose because losing means not getting a job, not surviving in the adult world. Let’s get real and do something radically different about our problems. Change our society, our values. We live in a racist, sexist, ageist culture that is promoted by our media. Our kids are influenced by what they see and hear us doing, not by what we tell them to do. Our schools give our kids grades….why? So they can go on and be graded by college and universities and by employers and they compete for jobs in an economy of high unemployment. Our whole society is based on competition and competition breeds bullies and racism and violence and poverty. How sad is that? And we wonder why our children are bullying and excluding… Basically because our society breeds this kind of mentality and we aren’t living examples of what we are trying to teach our children. Truth is that school life is like ‘Lord of the Flies’. All I do now, is pray to God that my child will get through school in one piece. If you have any original suggestions about dealing with exclusion that have actually worked for your high school Student, please let me know. Guess you can tell I’m
I’m in despair. Oh and by the way, please don’t suggest counselling. We both see a counsellor already.


May 21, 2018 at 8:04 am, Aimee said:

Hi Nette, I wanted to reach out and let you know that I can sympathize hugely with this problem. I have a 12 year old son who also has been excluded/bullied most of his school life. Right now, he is suffering from bouts of depression and anxiety and I, too, feel horribly helpless. I completely agree with the changes you suggested that need to be made to the system but feel hopeless because too many people can’t understand the pain and loneliness felt when bullied or socially excluded or they are just breathing a sigh of relief that it is not THEIR child. He’s going into 7th grade in the fall and I am freaking out about what will happen to him there. Right now, I just keep trying to build my son up. I get him out of the house doing various things (piano, tae Kwan do, pickup games of ultimate frisbee with good natured adults), all of these help a little. However, you are right…it is exhausting and soul destroying to have to watch your child go through this. I know they say to stay calm and be strong but it is so hard for me now. I wish you and your son strength and courage while going through this and feel it is so important for parents like us to reach out and let others know that they are not alone!


May 16, 2018 at 4:08 pm, Michelle said:

My daughter is 11yrs old. This is her second school. She has ADHD and Epilepsy and PTSD .I got a phone call today from school saying that she got very upset and said to the Teacher she doesn’t want to live anymore. This has happened at home to and sniffing aerosol cans to.
The children at school are excluding her from playing eith them, even her what was her BFF has changed and is also excluding her from playing as well.
Any suggestions please.


June 28, 2019 at 9:20 am, Kate said:

Hello, I am doing a project on teen exclusion, and I was hoping that you may be able to help me with some questions that I have. Thank you.


March 04, 2021 at 8:05 am, James m said:

I have never been really social and i have trouble talking to kids can you send some tips


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