Dealing with Relational Aggression

What is “relational aggression,” also known as bullying? Professionally, I prefer to use the term relational aggression, because if we are being honest, terms like bullying and cyberbullying, although still very prevalent, are often disregarded or viewed as overused or a parent or child’s exaggeration. Relational aggression by definition is harming others through purposeful manipulation and damage of their peer relationships (Ophelia, 2010).
The impact of relational aggression can be critical, in that establishing and maintaining healthy relationships is such an important developmental task for children and teens. Relational aggression works against the development of these relationships. It is hurtful, damages self-confidence, and interferes with academic and physical development. It can have lasting effects into adulthood. The pain triggered by social abuse “lights up” the same pain centers of the brain that physical damage “lights up.” Social pain is real. It hurts. And it needs the opportunity to heal.
What Do You Need To Know?
The Top 6 Locations for Relational Aggression:
55% see relational aggression
during recess or break time
52% in the cafeteria
42% in the hallways
37% on the way home
36% in the restrooms
36% in the classroom
(Ophelia Project, 2010)

What Does Relational Aggression Look Like?
Bumping into someone on purpose
Whispering
Eye rolling
Ignoring
Taunting
Mean instant and text messages
Forming exclusive cliques
Name calling
Sabotage
Spreading rumors and gossip
Building alliances
Cyberbullying
(Taylor & Trice-Black, 2007; Alcamo, 2017)

A Few Signs to Look For (keep in mind signs of relational aggression may vary from the ones listed below):
Increased insecurity or lack of self-confidence (“No one likes me,” “I don’t have any friends”)
Poor grades
Complaints about stomachaches or not feeling well
Requests to stay home from school more often or avoid after school activities
Good friends no longer call or come over to hang out
(Alcamo, 2017)

How Can Parents Help?
Understand that “telling someone” is not as easy as it sounds and can often escalate the problem.
Discuss perspective and help your child understand how hurtful their behavior is. (Alcamo, 2017)
Model healthy ways of dealing with conflict. As grown-ups, we can be unconscious of the ways we ourselves bully, like the way we gossip behind people’s backs; however, our children pick up on these behaviors. (Alcamo, 2017)
Make sure their basic needs are being met. These include acceptance and a sense of belonging (Alcamo, 2017)
Empathize with your child, and help them develop a plan that both empowers them to use their voice and keeps them safe.
Monitor social media accounts very closely and use your judgement to determine if your child is responsible enough to handle these appropriately.

For Girls
The following skills may be helpful for girls attempting to survive the adolescent social world and thrive in environments where relational aggression flourishes:
Be assertive: Learning how to stand up for yourself while being conscious of how your behavior can impact others can help you develop healthy relationships.
Know your values: Explore what qualities are important to you in a friend relationship. The knowledge of what is important can help you determine which friendships are healthy and which are toxic. You do not have to stay in an unhealthy friendship. Find ways to limit contact with toxic friends, and seek out relationships that make you feel safe and like your best self.
Strengthen your self-esteem: Work on ways to feel confident about who you are, no matter what others say about you.
Develop coping skills: Explore healthy coping skills that can help you deal with difficult social situations. Participate in activities outside of school, or find recreational activities you enjoy.
Talk to someone: The adolescent social world can be difficult and pose any number of challenges. Find an adult you trust and feel comfortable talking to. Whether you would simply like a space to vent or you want advice on how to deal with difficult situations, getting that support can be extremely beneficial. A therapist is a great resource for this, but your school counselor might also be a helpful adult to seek out.
(Ophelia Project, 2010; Alcamo, 2017)

For Boys
Although boys too are involved in relational aggression, their experiences are often overshadowed by the focus on relational aggression among girls. Therefore, causing the physical aggression that occurs among males to be the primary focus for school staff, parents, and boys themselves.
Challenge them to examine their beliefs about how to treat others because research tells us that beliefs predict behaviors.
Encourage more inclusion in their friendship circles.
Increase awareness of the contributions of each of their peers to the group. (Ophelia Project, 2010)
Note: The aforementioned information provided, while based predominately on the columnist’s professional knowledge and practices, is also reflective of a collective body of research on the topic of relational aggression.
References:
The Ophelia Project (2010). It has a name: Relational Aggression: Shaping healthy peer relationships for today’s girls and young women. Erie, PA.
Girls in Real Life Situations (2007). Group Counseling Activities for Enhancing Social and Emotional Development. Julie V. Taylor & Shannon Trice-Black.
Alcamo, K. (2017, March 15). Surviving Relational Aggression. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/surviving-relational-aggression-tips-fo...