Relational aggression is a form of bullying and it consists of manipulating relationships to exert control over another child, or harming another child by damaging his or her friendships or reputation. This kind of behavior is a growing concern for parents as it can sadly lead to life-long consequences and even death.
Research shows that students who have been the targets of relational aggression have:
- increased depression
- increased anxiety
- more anger
- increased feelings of loneliness
- lower GPA
- eating disorders
Relational aggression can be difficult for parents to observe because it is discrete, often existing within the subtle nuances of communication and relationships. It can also be difficult to identify and prove.
What Parents Can Do:
- Talk about gossiping and ignoring as a form of bullying before it happens.
- Let your child know that he or she can talk to you about any problems.Let them know what behavior is not acceptable and why. Don’t excuse your child’s poor behavior, but don’t overreact either; respond with disciplinary strategies that help your child develop the skills and capacity to become a healthy adult.
- Make sure they are aware of the emotional damage hurtful words and behaviors can cause.
- Teach your child to be compassionate and model appropriate behavior (avoid gossip yourself; children learn what is acceptable by watching their parents) and praise them when they follow your lead.
- Encourage girls to express all of their feelings in healthy and respectful ways.Take reports of relational aggression seriously and make sure your school or program has procedures in place to deal with these issues.Every child deserves to feel safe and respected. With your help, kids can learn to treat each other in ways that are respectful, healthy, and caring.
- Encourage your child to form and maintain friendships based on mutual interests rather than social status.
- If necessary, seek counseling from a psychologist, school counselor or social worker if your child is involved in bullying and the behavior persists.Challenge your child. Acknowledge the pervasiveness of gossip -after all, it is a form of intimacy. How long can they go without gossiping?
- Remember that kids themselves are our most powerful weapons. Teens listen to other teens. Empower your child by encouraging her/him to stand up for victims by not jumping on the bandwagon, they can effect change -by doing simple things like refusing to be an ‘audience’ for a bully, walk away, or don’t laugh in class. Don’t gossip.
- Encourage your child to keep a journal of relational aggression. It is theorized that by writing about traumas, an individual actually begins to process them by breaking them down in a meaningful way–one which can be incorporated (for example, ‘I was a victim…). This may help loosen the ‘traumatic’ impact of many incidents have.Validate your child’s pain, empathize with your child -and keep the conversation going. It can also be helpful to talk with her about what might be behind the behavior (for example, are they jealous? Not feeling good about themselves?)
- Monitor situations. Strategize with them, empathize with them ( share your own stories, while spending a day doing something with them), and only intervene as a last resort. S/he doesn’t need the added burden of having mommy fight her/his battles until things are clearly out of control.
- If situations require intervention, consider short-term professional counseling for your child. Among other things, the situation often involves losses that need to be grieved, and positive perspectives that need to be brought out and emphasized.
Dr. Michalopoulou’s profile can be found on the Children’s Hospital of Michigan website at https://www.childrensdmc.org/GeorgiaMichalopoulou
Dr. Georgia Michalopoulou is a licensed clinical psychologist with expertise in the treatment of emotional and behavioral problems of children and adolescents. Dr. Michalopoulou is the Chief of Staff in the Division of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan overseeing clinical, teaching and research activities in the Division. She also holds a faculty appointment in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Wayne State University School of Medicine. Additionally Dr. Michalopoulou is conducting research in the area of ethnic and racial health disparities and she has authored several book chapters and peer review articles published in prestigious journals.