051: How to handle social exclusion

“I don’t want to play with you.”

“You’re not my friend.”

“We’re playing families.  If you want to play, you have to be the dog.”

Seems like everyone can remember a time when something like this happened to them as a child, and how much it hurt.  Children still say these things to each other – and we see how much it hurts them, too.  When researchers ask them, every child can remember a time when they were excluded – yet no child ever reports being the excluder!

One of my listeners recommended that I read the book You Can’t Say You Can’t Play, in which the author (who is a teacher) proposes and then introduces a rule that you can’t say “you can’t play.”  A few researchers (including Professor Jamie Ostrov, with whom we’ll talk today) have since tested the approach: does it work?  If not, what should we do instead?

Since most of these situations occur in preschool and school, teacher Caren co-interviews Professor Ostrov with me: we have some great insights for teachers as well as lots of information for parents on how to support both children and teachers in navigating these difficult situations.



Allen, S.S. (2014). Narratives of women who suffered social exclusion in elementary school. Unpublished Ph.D dissertation. Antioch University, Culver City, CA

DeVooght, K., Daily, S., Darling-Churchill, K., Temkin, D., Novak, B.A., & VanderVen, K. (2015, August). Bullies in the block area: The early childhood origins of “mean” behavior. Child Trends. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/2015-31BulliesBlockArea.pdf

Haney, M., & Bissonnette, V. (2011). Teachers’ perceptions about the use of play to facilitate development and teach prosocial skills. Creative Education 2(1), 41-46.

Helgeland, A., & Lund, I. (2016). Children’s voices on bullying in kindergarten. Early Childhood Education Journal 45(1), 133-141.

Ostrov, J.M., Gentile, D.A., & Crick, N.R. (2006). Media exposure, aggression and prosocial behavior during early childhood: A longitudinal study. Social Development 15(4), 612-627.

Ostrov, J.M, Godleski, S.A., Kamper-DeMarco, K.E., Blakely-McClure, S.J., & Celenza, L. (2015). Replication and extension of the early childhood friendship project: Effects on physical and relational bullying. School Psychology Review 44(4), 445-463.

Ostrov, J.M., Murray-Close, D., Godleski, S.A., & Hart, E.J. (2013). Prospective associations between forms and functions of aggression and social and affective processes during early childhood. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 116(1), 19-36.

Perry, K.J., & Ostrov, J.M. (2017). Testing a bifactor model of relational and physical aggression in early childhood. Journal of Psychopathology & Behavioral Assessment. Online first. doi 10.1007/s10862-017-9623-9

Swit, C. S., McMaugh, A. L., & Warburton, W. A. (2017). Teacher and parent perceptions of relational and physical aggression during early childhood. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 1-13. DOI: 10.1007/s10826-017-0861-y

Werner, N. E., Eaton, A. D., Lyle, K., Tseng, H., & Holst, B. (2014). Maternal social coaching quality interrupts the development of relational aggression during early childhood.  Social Development 23, 470-486.  doi: 10.1111/sode.12048

Weyns, T., Verschueren, K., Leflot, G., Onghena, P., Wouters, S., & Colpin, H. (2017).  The role of teacher behavior in children’s relational aggression development: A five-wave longitudinal study.  Journal of School Psychology 64, 17-27.  doi: 10.1007/s10826-017-0861-y


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  1. Severina Georgieva on October 3, 2018 at 2:08 PM

    Curious where Dr Ostrov found the data about Relational Aggression starting as early as 30 months. I couldn’t see it in the references. That sound crazy early!
    Not disputing it, genuinely curious!

    • Jen Lumanlan on October 4, 2018 at 3:42 AM

      Severina, I emailed Dr. Ostrov to ask but his out-of-office message says he’s on sabbatical. If he responds, I’ll let you know…

      • Severina Georgieva on October 4, 2018 at 2:33 PM

        Thank you so much 🙂

      • Jen Lumanlan on October 8, 2018 at 5:23 PM

        Hi Severina – Dr. Ostrov did respond and directed me to this study of his (full article available on the link). Looks like it was the first time anyone had developed an instrument to measure relational aggression in children that young…

        • Severina Georgieva on October 9, 2018 at 10:27 PM

          Oh no, the link seems to be broken. I could make some key words from the web address though and it looks like he talks about a paper by Crick, 2006 “A longitudinal study of relational and physical aggression in preschool”, right?
          I will definitely check it out, thank you for the follow up 🙂

          • Jen Lumanlan on October 11, 2018 at 6:34 PM

            Oh, sorry about that – I was trying to make it easier for you, not harder. The study is: Crick, N. R., Ostrov, J. M., Burr, J. E., Jansen, E. A., Cullerton-Sen, C., & Ralston, P. (2006). A longitudinal study of relational and physical aggression in preschool. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 27, 254-268.

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