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Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Arts




Nowicki, Elizabeth A.


Children who display externalizing behaviours are more likely than their peers to experience social exclusion. To better examine this topic, the perspectives of peers were investigated. Thirty-six participants were interviewed from a school in Southwestern Ontario. Participants were asked why they believe children with behavioural difficulties may be socially excluded by peers. Unique statements were extracted from the transcribed data. Participants were invited back to sort the statements into meaningful categories. Sorted data were analyzed using multi-dimensional scaling and cluster analysis. A five-cluster solution was selected as the best conceptual and statistical fit for the data. The clusters in this solution reflected (a) Disruptive Play Behaviour, (b) Problematic Social Interactions, (c) Stigmatizing Beliefs, (d) Fear, and (e) Not Belonging. The data collected from this study provides insight to the social interactions of children with behavioural difficulties. The information garnered in this approach allowed children’s perspective of social exclusion to be heard.

Summary for Lay Audience

Children with behavioural difficulties often struggle to develop positive peer relationships and often experience exclusion (i.e. being disliked or ignored) by other students. The current study uses a mixed-methods approach to explore peers’ perspectives of this phenomenon and contribute to the understanding of why children with behavioural difficulties are often left out by their peers.

Elementary school children were interviewed and asked why they thought children with behavioural difficulties are excluded. Overall the participants’ statements suggested that children with behavioural difficulties were perceived as being at fault for their exclusion, because many statements focused on how children with behavioural difficulties were seen as being difficult in social interactions.

Once the interviews were transcribed, unique reasons that participants generated were extracted from the transcripts. The participants were given copies of these ideas and asked to group them in any way that made sense to them. This generated five overarching groups of reasons as to why peers may exclude children with behavioural difficulties. The first group of statements suggested that peers perceive children with behavioural difficulties as disruptive to typical activities or games. The second group of statements suggested that children with behavioural difficulties struggle to communicate effectively, which leads to them often being labelled as mean or bad by their peers. The third group of statements discussed stigmatizing beliefs about children with behavioural difficulties, such as being perceived as more likely to cheat. The fourth group of statements discussed peers’ fears relating to the inclusion of children with behavioural difficulties. The fifth group of statements indicated that peers perceive children with behavioural difficulties as unpopular and not belonging to their social group.

Overall, participants appeared to exclude children with behavioural difficulties due to negative perceptions and fears relating to differences in behaviour. These findings highlight the need to educate children about behavioural difficulties and the reasons why some children struggle to regulate their behaviour. Teaching children ways to de-escalate situations and effective ways to help others with intense emotions may make them feel more comfortable to socialize with peers with behavioural difficulties.

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