Monday, March 28, 2011

Relational Aggression - What is it?

Bullying is a huge concern. Bullying can happen anywhere,  face-to-face, by text messages or on the web. It is not limited by age, gender, or education level.  It is not a phase and it is not a joke. Bullying can cause lasting harm. Relational aggression can be build to bullying if left unaddressed.

Relational aggression is not typical bullying by being either physical or verbal in nature, but a more subtle form of aggression that uses relationships to damage or manipulate others. Both boys and girls, can and do, participate in this form of aggressive behavior. Girls are more likely to express aggression in a relational sense. Boys have more of a tendency to use physical or verbal aggression. However, both boys and girls can also engage in all types of bulling and aggression.

Relational aggression:
  • Purposefully ignore or exclude others
  • Spread rumors or gossip
  • Tell peers not to associate with another as a means of retaliation
  • Using relationships to inflict harm, manipulate peers, and injure others' feelings of social acceptance
The most effect solution for bullying of any type is the bystander's role. If a bystander chooses to do nothing they are siding with the bully, but by speaking up they are breaking the pattern. Most bystanders want to do something but fear and uncertainty get in the way. Children can be guided in practicing to speaking up, using role play and problem solving together with the adults in their lives. Sharing your own experiences with them can help them to see how they react to situations can make a big difference.

Victims of relational aggression often keep it to themselves. They are hurt and confused because these are people they know, look up to or felt were their friends. If you observe a child withdrawing from their usual activities or friends don't wait for them to come to you. Ask open ended questions to encourage a conversation. Refrain from condemning the aggressor, instead focus on potential solutions. Role play and practice the solutions that the child is comfortable trying. Letting them know you care and that you're available for them is huge.

Aggressors can be observed to have a shift in their behaviors as well. If you notice that long time friends are no longer part of their lives and may be replaced by others get a conversation going with them. Sometimes these children are led to aggressive behavior by "new" friends. Belonging and fitting in can lead to behaviors that they would not otherwise engage in. These children need adult guidance with understanding. Role playing can be very effective in getting the child to see both sides and plan strategies for how they would like to change.

Being an active participant in the child's life can make all the difference in preventing and dealing with aggression issues or bullying. Children who feel welcome in communicating with the adults in their lives without fear of judgement will develop the skills they need to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.

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