Fitting in and feeling accepted is difficult at any age, but a Netherlands study recently found that among children, having friends around can significantly reduce the stress they feel from peer rejection.
Researchers surveyed 100 Dutch fourth graders to see whether being victimized or excluded by their peers impacted the release of the hormone cortisol (a physiological byproduct of stress) in their bodies and if having friends lessened its presence in the participants.
The researchers asked the children to choose which peers were bullied or excluded the most, as well as how many friends they felt they in particular had in their classes. Researchers also spoke with the parents of the children regarding behavior problems.
Over the course of two days, the researchers measured the children’s cortisol levels by collecting their saliva at five different points and found that the children who were excluded by their classmates had elevated levels of cortisol at school. Those children also had showed a smaller decline in cortisol over the course of the day:
“Both of these findings may indicate that exclusion is stressful. This was even more pronounced for excluded kids who had few friends or had friendships that were characterized as low in quality. Surprisingly, victimization by classmates wasn’t associated with increased cortisol levels, suggesting that victimization is not as stressful as exclusion.”
“Together, the results demonstrate that although friends cannot completely eliminate the stress of exclusion at school, they do reduce it,” said researcher Marianne Riksen-Walraven. “And the number and quality of children’s friendships can serve as a buffer against being rejected.”
Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.