Relational Aggression and Social Exclusion

Overcoming Relational Aggression and Social Exclusion

Feb. 23, 2023 • Studies Weekly

Despite educational leaders’ best efforts, bullying still occurs in schools across the nation.

The Mizzou Ed Bully Prevention Lab in Missouri is a foundation established to conduct research to assist in preventing bullying in K-12 schools. Recently, they released a pair of studies focused on relational aggression, social exclusion, and general bullying.

What Are Relational Aggression and Social Exclusion?

According to a May 2022 article in Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, relational aggression “refers to actions intended to harm another through manipulating social relationships.”

Social exclusion “is a form of ‘relational aggression,’ that occurs when peers exclude a student from group activities or spread harmful rumors about that person,” Matt Zalaznick explained in his Sept. 2, 2022, District Administration article about school bullying.

Zalaznick described that this type of bullying might occur because some students are obsessed with their popularity and therefore need to assert control over others, while other students have low self-esteem and exclude others to make themselves feel powerful.


How Often Does Social Exclusion Happen?

In both Mizzou Lab studies, the frequency with which social exclusion or other forms of bullying occur is alarming:

  • 20% of students ages 12–18 experienced bullying.
  • 30% of teens are involved in bullying either as the bully or the victim.
  • Over 50% of students with disabilities are victimized by their peers.

The Mizzou Lab studies suggest two reasons this social exclusion bullying occurs: 1) teachers often don’t realize to what extent bullying takes place, and 2) restrictive classroom arrangements for students with disabilities separate them socially from other students.

Zalaznick also explained that bystanders “can also perpetuate bullying by simply being around it and not intervening.” Social exclusion is sometimes harder to determine because it’s not as visible as something more physical, like a fistfight.

Perpetuating Social Exclusion

Researchers behind the Mizzou Lab studies surveyed students about how they felt about social exclusion and whether they engaged in it. The students’ responses fell into two main groups:

  1. Socially dominant students who thought bullying was okay but didn’t think they were engaging in it, even if they were participating in social exclusion.
  2. Students who admitted to participating in the social exclusion of others to climb the social hierarchy.

Chad Rose, one of the researchers behind the Mizzou Lab study and director of the Mizzou Ed Bully Prevention Lab at the University of Missouri, explained in Zalaznick’s article that both teachers and students don’t recognize how harmful social exclusion is.

“When a kid is excluded from social activities by their peers at school, the outcomes for that kid both short-term and long-term will be just as detrimental as if they got kicked, punched or slapped every day,” Rose said.

Suggested Strategies for Handling Social Exclusion and Bullying

Zalaznick urged parents, teachers, and district leaders to increase their awareness of how they interact with others. Kids look to the adults in their lives for role models, and they mirror what they see. He shared three ideas for preventing or responding to social exclusion and other forms of relational aggression:

  1. Teach Empathy and Social-Emotional Skills: Children need to learn certain skills to prepare them for life after school. Social-emotional learning can arm students with the skills they need to deal with complex social situations now and in the future.
  1. Celebrate the Individuality of Marginalized Students: “The students most at risk of being bullied are those who are perceived as different from their peers, such as for being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing or being new to a school,” Zalaznick said. If educators can emphasize that every student is unique in their own way, it may help marginalized students become more accepted by their peers.
  2. Integrate Social Communication Skills Into the Curriculum: Whatever subject is being taught, teachers can find opportunities to teach their

Studies Weekly Can Help Prevent Relational Aggression

If teachers struggle with integrating social communication skills into their classrooms, they may find Studies Weekly helpful. Studies Weekly naturally builds a social-emotional learning foundation for PreK-6th graders in the Studies Weekly Well-Being curriculum and the new Health and Wellness program (coming in late 2023). Each of the suggested solutions above is covered in these programs.

A few examples from the Well-Being curriculum:

Empathy and social-emotional skills are discussed in weeks 2, 4, and 25.

Celebrating individuality is found specifically in weeks 23, 24, 27, 30, and 31.

Social communication skills are taught directly in weeks 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 15, and 24, and are also encouraged in all Studies Weekly subjects.

Studies Weekly can help your teachers make a difference in their classrooms. Try it now!

Prevent bullying with Health and Wellness curriculum.


Kim, A. Y., Rose, C. A., Hopkins, S., Cree, N. M., & Romero, M. E. (2022). Survey of secondary youth on relational aggression: impact of bullying, social status, and attitudes. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 66(3), 285–295.

Zalaznick, M. (2022, September 2). Bullies do this more often than fighting or teasing. This is how leaders can help stop it. District Administration.

Rose, C. A., Espelage, D. L., & Monda‐Amaya, L. E. (2009). Bullying and victimisation rates among students in general and special education: a comparative analysis. Educational Psychology, 29(7), 761–776.