If You Hate Graham …
One day a third-grade teacher intercepted a note that was being passed up and down the rows in class. The note read, “If you hate Graham, sign here.” The note was about to reach Graham’s desk, and all the children had signed. Approximately 10 to 12 percent of children, like Graham, have serious peer relationship problems at school. These children are known as rejected children. Studies at Vanderbilt University have found that by the time children are in third grade, their peers socially reject about 8 percent of boys and 3 percent of girls.
Children’s social status can be categorized as popular, average, neglected, and rejected. Rejected children display a greater number of adjustment problems – evidenced by high levels of anxiety and behavioral and academic difficulties – than any other peer-status group. The majority of these children exhibit undercontrol. That is, they are argumentative, disruptive, imperceptive and less prosocial. Undercontrol is one of the major reasons for treatment referral during middle childhood (6 – 12 years).
~ Perhaps the group of children that cause the greatest concern are those who exhibit high amounts of aggressive. Rejected-aggressive children deliberately seek to harm or injure others and frequently resort to these kinds of behavior in different situations. Antisocial aggression has been characterized as one of the most prevalent, stable, socially transmittable, personally destructive, and clinically problematic behavior pattern. Childhood rejection is relatively stable over time and appears to place children at risk for subsequent developmental difficulties such as a wide range of mental health difficulties, substance abuse, and juvenile delinquency. All humans, even introverts, require a certain amount of social acceptance and interaction to be psychologically healthy.
Rejected children report the least supportive relationships with their fathers; they report receiving less love and affection from their fathers than popular, average, and neglected children, rejected children’s reports of relationships with mothers and teachers do not appear to differ from popular children.
Child experiences less guilt and less parental disapproval for their aggression than nonaggressive children.
Rejected children tend to display oppositional, hyperactive behaviors and parents tend to become more coercive in attempting to control such behavior.
Parents tend to engage in more threats, scolding, and hitting, and children tend to engage in more yelling, hitting, and defiance.
Rejected children see others behavior as hostile – they tend to overperceive others’ aggression and underperceive their own.
Rejected children are likely to attribute hostility to the provocative act of a peer and are therefore more likely to respond with retaliatory aggression.
Rejected children are less responsive to social reinforcement and social punishment, such as threats and scolding.
They expect more positive outcomes and fewer negative outcomes for responding with aggression.
Rejected children are more likely to think that unfriendly strategies will succeed in getting what they want.
Rejected children, as noted above, tend to perceive their environment from a very negative perspective. To illustrate, in a recent study, rejected children and popular children were asked to watch a video in which one child brushed into another child as he passed. Here’s how each of these groups reacted:
|Perception:||hostile: deliberate||non-hostile: probably an accident|
|Response:||retaliatory – push him back||non-retaliatory – ignore it|
~ Other researchers agree: rejected children process social cues in ways that contribute to their behavioral difficulties. Thus, helping rejected children to make less hostile attributions for other’s ambiguous behavior is a good place to start. The problem may not be the situation itself but the child’s interpretations of the situations. Rejected children are likely to attribute hostile intent to another child who, say, knocks down some toys – non-rejected children, on the other hand, tend to see the same incident as accidental. Parents can foster more positive and neutral attributions by discussing social situations that may occur in the child’s life and how he can perceive and deal with these situations in positive ways.
A fancy title, which means helping the rejected child notice the positive and feel happier about life. There is an Indian story that goes something like this: The young boy was listening to his grandfather – a Cherokee elder – tell about the battle that goes on inside people’s heads. That battle, said the grandfather, is between two wolves that live inside us all: one is happiness, the other is unhappiness. Happiness is love, hope, kindness, compassion, caring, sympathy. Unhappiness is anger, hurting others, fear, sorrow, jealousy. The young boy thought for a while, and then said, “Which one wins?” The grandfather replied, “The one you feed.” By always noticing the negative, rejected children are feeding the wrong wolf. Parents can help turn this around by helping their rejected child to notice the positive, which can help restructure their thinking and perception. Notice the good – (grandmother called today; I got a smiley face from the teacher; I ate a juicy apple).
My son is very aggressive
He’s always hitting other children
I don’t understand why …
I hit him every time he does it
Studies have indicated that parents of aggressive children reason less with their offspring and use physical punishment more than do parents of nonaggressive children. Punishing a child by physical means may bring results opposite to those intended, as exemplified by the preceding poem.
Whatever the final outcome of research on the relationship between viewing violent television content/playing violent video games and aggressive behavior, no one has argued that heavy viewing of violence is desirable or that it enhances children’s development. Further, there is virtually no evidence to support the contention that viewing violence leads to a decrease in aggressive behavior by draining off a child’s aggressive tendencies in fantasy. Research does indicate strongly that reducing levels of viewing of such violent programming is a worthy aim. Options include regulatory controls that block programs that exceed a chosen level of violence. Another effective way of ameliorating the effects of violence is parental co-viewing. In these situations, adults can enhance children’s understanding of television content by offering comments about what they are watching and after viewing a program.
Although aggressiveness is the most common reason for childhood rejection, it is by no means the only reason. The common denominator for rejection is lack of social skills, such as how to enter a group in a positive way, initiate and maintain friendships, resolve conflicts, cooperate, and so forth. Observations of the child, discussions with the teacher, talking with your child, are some of the ways in which a parent can discover the social skills the child may need. Perhaps the child needs to learn how to cooperate. A first step in helping children learn to cooperate is to pick out situations where the child has difficulty. Does he have trouble waiting his or her turn? Does he jump into games without asking? Is he bossy with other children? Does he end up in lots of disagreements over rules? Is he always trying to be the winner? In using the coaching technique, the child is first taught the needed social skill and then they practice that skill by role-playing with another person (coach). The child is then reinforced after the play session for correctly using the desired social skill.
Once a child’s reputation for being rejected has been established, reputation bias presents an additional obstacle. In a related study, second, fifth, and tenth graders were told a story in which a classmate did something bad to them. Half the time the classmate was someone the students liked; the rest of the time it was someone the students said they didn’t like. Students in all three grades were more likely to give the child they liked the benefit of the doubt (He didn’t mean to do it.) and the disliked child was given negative explanations of behavior (He was just being mean.) Thus, we may encounter a cyclical, self-perpetuating process in which biased responses from peers leads to more negative behavior from the rejected child. Reputation and expectations within a peer group service to maintain peer rejection. Therefore, it is important to help unpopular children as soon as possible before reputational biases enter into the equation.