Relational aggression is a fairly new title for an age old problem that is sometimes referred to as emotional bullying or the mean girl phenomenon. Have you seen the film Mean Girls? This film gives some great examples of relational aggression and although very funny as a film if you are a victim of relational aggression it can feel far from amusing. This kind of emotional bullying is just as painful as physical bullying and can have far reaching effects on many aspects of a young persons life.
In general, girls tend to be more relationally aggressive than boys and girls are particularly vulnerable as they place such high value on friendships. Relational aggression involves social manipulation such as excluding others from a group, spreading rumors, breaking confidences and getting others to dislike another person. This kind of emotional bullying, can be hard to spot and often goes unnoticed by parents and teachers.
Some common behaviours used in relational aggression are listed below;
- Talking badly about others
- Spreading rumors or participating in gossip
- Breaking confidences or sharing secrets
- Building alliances among social circles
- Backstabbing one another
- Using code names to talk about others
- Making fun of others for who they are, the way they dress or how they look
- Excluding and ostracizing others
- Leaving hurtful or mean messages on mobile phones or social media
- Huddling together and whispering about others
- Intimidating others with stares or certain looks
- Using hostile body language such as smirks and eye-rolling
- Encouraging others to ignore or exclude certain people
- Engaging in cyberbullying
How can you help;
Be a good listener. Encourage your child to talk and then let her talk. Don’t interrupt, criticize or minimize what she is saying. In fact, try not to say anything until she has said everything she wants to say. Additionally, talking out loud often allows girls to understand themselves and their experiences. Your goal is to keep the lines of communication open so that she will confide in you.
Be empathetic. Don’t trivialize problems, avoid making comments like “no one will remember this next week,” or “she wasn’t a good friend anyway.” Instead, support and comfort in ways that encourage and empower her. Be sure to validate her feelings and demonstrate that you understand how she feels.
Monitor Internet and mobile phone use. Many bullies use the Internet and mobile phones to bully others. Whether it’s a mean post on Facebook, a hurtful text message or a vengeful blog, girls often resort to being relationally aggressive online. Make sure you know what your child is doing online and how people are treating them. You may spot some things that need your input. So keep tabs on her online activity.
Pay attention to your child’s moods. Sudden changes in mood can sometimes signal that bullying is taking place. Never ignore these changes or write them off as hormones until you have verified what is at the root. Changes in behaviour, sleeping patterns, school performance and moods should always be seen as signs that maybe something isn’t right
Take steps to protect your child from cyberbullying. The Internet and social media are often tools used by relational bullies. Using the Internet to bully is called cyberbullying. Be sure you know how to deal with cyberbullying, http://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/ is a very useful and informative site on the subject.
Teach your child to recognize what is controllable and what isn’t. Show your child that they may not have any control over what others say or do but that they do have control over their own actions and are not helpless in the situation.
Advise her, but don’t try to “fix” things. It’s never a good idea for parents to take over and try to fix things. Instead, explore different courses of action such as making new friends and talking with a school counsellor. Let your child decide what is best in the situation. When you demonstrate that you trust their decisions, you are empowering them and building a feeling of competency
Focus on rebuilding self-esteem. Bullying of any type damages self-esteem. Give as much praise as possible encourage activities that they are good at and enjoy.
Encourage them to keep a diary. Research demonstrates that writing about painful or traumatic events helps victims process the experience because it allows them to break down the experience in a meaningful way. Additionally, if dates and times are recorded, diaries also can serve as a record of the bullying, should one ever be needed.
Teach your child how to be assertive. While you want your child to think of other people, it’s also important that they learn to be assertive. The goal is that they learn to defend themselves in a respectful manner without being aggressive or mean.
Support healthy coping skills. Help to find healthy ways of dealing with the stress and anxiety that bullying can cause. Many young people find listening to music, drawing or exercise are great stress relievers there are also some great recourses on line to aid relaxation. http://www.imaginememedia.com/
Try not to intervene too soon. For many parents, the first thought is to call the school and get the situation sorted out immediately. But, as long as there are no safety issues, sometimes it helps to let your child manage things. This reinforces that you believe in their ability to handle their life.
Know when to contact school officials. While it’s important to give your child the chance to solve the issues don’t ever delay contacting school if a student has threatened or physically harmed your child. You also want to contact school if the bullying is continuing or escalating.
Know when to get outside help. Letting bullying go too long can have devastating effects , if your child does not seem to be recovering or returning to normal, is depressed or has hinted at suicide, it is time to get immediate assistance. If you don’t have a counsellor to call, ask your doctor for a recommendation or visit the BACP website