Three Key Factors to Help Children Avoid Social Rejection

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Neurobehavioral researchers at Rush University Medical Center have found three key factors in a child's behavior that can lead to social rejection.
The studies are a crucial step in developing scientifically sound screening tests and treatment planning for social-emotional learning difficulties. The results from the studies are published in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

Findings from the pair of studies indicate the ability to pick up on nonverbal cues and social cues in social interaction as well as recognize the meaning and respond appropriately to them are key to helping children develop skills to maintain friendships and avoid a host of problems in later life.

A child who experiences social rejection is more likely to suffer from academic failure, drop out of school, experience depression or anxiety and experiment with drugs.

"Children's ability to develop positive peer relationships is critical to their well-being," said Dr. Clark McKown, the study's principal investigator and associate executive director and research director at the Rush Neurobehavioral Center.  "Compared to children who are accepted by their peers, socially rejected children are at substantially elevated risk for later adjustment troubles."

Researchers observed two groups of children. One was a random sample of 158 children in the Chicago school system.  The other group was a random sample of 126 clinic-referred children.

The studies indicate some children have difficulty picking up on nonverbal or social cues.

According to McKown, "They simply don't notice the way someone's shoulders slump with disappointment or hear the change in someone's voice when they are excited or take in whether a person's face shows anger or sadness."

A second major factor is that some children may pick up on nonverbal or social cues but lack the ability to attach meaning to them.  The third factor is the ability to reason about social problems.

"Some children may notice social cues and understand what is happening but are unable to do the social problem solving to behave appropriately," said McKown.

A child who can take in social cues and recognize their meaning and respond appropriately and who is capable of self-regulating, or controlling behavior, is more likely to have successful relationships.

"The number of children who cannot negotiate all these steps and who are at risk of social rejection is startling," said McKown.

Nearly 13 percent of the school-age population, or roughly 4 million children nationwide, have social-emotional learning difficulties.

For some time, behavioral scientists have known the social costs associated with this problem.  Illinois is one of a handful of states that require school districts to assess and monitor the social-emotional learning needs of its students.

"Because it is not known exactly which behaviors set a child up for failure or how to measure these skills, it was difficult to provide support," said McKown.  "Now, it will be possible to pinpoint which abilities a child needs to develop and offer help."

According to researchers at Rush, the results of the studies could potentially help develop tests to assess for social-emotional learning that are easy to administer and scientifically sound.

The study was funded by the Dean and Rosemarie Buntrock Foundation and the William T. Grant Foundation.

Nancy Di Fiore

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 17, 2010