Bullying Relational Aggression - Identifying relational aggression elementary counselor

How to Identify Relational Aggression

Heather School Counseling 14 Comments

It’s not always easy to identify relational aggression. Casual attitudes about teasing friends, reluctance to report occurrences and the sophisticated methods some kids use can make identifying relational aggression difficult.

Welcome to my series on girl drama relational aggression. In this post, we will take a look at the definition of relational aggression and how to tell when it is happening.

As I stated, in my first post about relational aggression, relational aggression is a type of bullying that causes harm to a relationship. The types of relationships can vary greatly; relational aggression can occur between best friends or between two kids that attend the same school.

In either case, it’s the same situation. Relational aggression is an imbalance in perceived power is used to manipulate someone or make them feel excluded from a social group.

Victims of relational aggression are often embarrassed by the rejection of their peers. Friendship loyalty and the confusion of an on-again-off-again friendship makes some children reluctant to seek help.

Since many cases of relational aggression go unreported, it’s important to be aware of the warning signs.

Warning Signs for Relational Aggression

    • Peer rejection
    • Social anxiety
    • Loneliness
    • Depression
    • Low self-esteem
    • Poor self-control
    • Acting-out behavior

Some children may deny victimization due to embarrassment, feelings of loyalty, and/or fear of reprisal. Since many cases of relational aggression go unreported, it’s important for adults to be on the lookout for behavior that may lead children to feel socially isolated.

Relational aggression can be both verbal and nonverbal. In all instances, the aggressor is trying to manipulate or harm the target’s social standing and relationships.

Examples of Relational Aggression

  • Not allowing someone to join a group
  • Leaving someone out of a group
  • Refusing to share friends
  • Refusing to work with a classmate
  • Refusing to sit next to someone in the cafeteria
  • Eye rolling
  • Laughing at someone
  • Sarcasm
  • Giving someone the silent treatment
  • Forcing a friend to pick sides in a disagreement
  • Trying to stop two people from being friends
  • Relaying gossip/rumors to the target of the gossip (this can be an innocent attempt to “try to help a friend” but it is far more hurtful than helpful)

Although we now know what relational aggression is, it can be difficult to spot when it happens. Those who engage in relational aggression are particularly adept at manipulation and will often try to spin the situation into a misunderstanding. Unless someone witnesses the aggressor in action it can become a case of he-said-she-said.

We must distinguish rude behavior from relational aggression. In order to do that, we need to look at intent. Remember, relational aggression is intended to lower someone’s social standing.

There’s a difference between being rude and intentionally manipulating someone’s social standing.

Given teenagers tendency towards egocentric thinking, they don’t fully process how their words and actions can impact those around them.

To them, an eye roll might mean they would rather be anywhere than at school. The fact that they rolled their eyes right after being asked to work with a classmate doesn’t even register.

You may be reading this and think, “They should know better!”

I agree 100%. Which is why my first step is to educate the students I see. If adults have a difficult time distinguishing relational aggression from rude behavior doesn’t it make sense that kids will need help as well?

Teach Appropriate Behavior & Expectations

Since the intent of someone’s behavior is somewhat tricky to determine,  establishing behavior expectations is critical.

After teaching behavioral expectations, students can no longer claim ignorance on the subject.

Example:

A classroom is taught that everyone works with everybody and refusing to work with someone is not acceptable. Students who don’t follow the expectations can’t blame wanting to work with their bestie instead. That’s not how the classroom works. That’s not an option.

That’s not how the classroom works. That’s not an option.

One of my favorite resources to use with my 4th and 5th graders is I Didn’t Know I Was A Bully by Melissa Richards. It has a 21-page reproducible coloring book and several great lessons that can be adapted for classrooms, small groups, or individual sessions.I didn't know I was a bully - story and activity book for relational aggressionHave you discovered Trudy Ludwig yet? I absolutely LOVE Trudy Ludwig’s picture books! When it comes to the topic of relational aggression, Trudy Ludwig’s books can’t be beaten!!!

My Secret Bully by Trudy Ludwig

 

Just Kidding

Sorry by Trudy Ludwig

 

Confessions of a former bully by Trudy Ludwig

 

Increase staff awareness of relational aggression with this printable handout. Just click here or on the image below.

Examples of Relational Aggression Elementary Counslor

In this post, we explored different types of relational aggression, behaviors associated with relational aggression, and strategies to increase students’ awareness about how their behavior affects others.

Join us for the next installment in this series as we take a look at K-12 Relational Aggression Lesson Plans. You can also check out my post on ending the on-again-off-again friendship cycle for some practical strategies.

Looking for more books about bullying? Check out my post, 29 Books to End Bullying. If you are looking for fun ways to teach children about bullying, you may be interested in my games and activities for bullying and relational aggression.

What types of relational aggression are you dealing with? Is there a specific area or topic you would like to see covered in this series? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!

Refrences

Young, E., Nelson, D., Hottle, A., Warburton, B., & Young, B. (2012). Relational aggression in schools: Information for educators. Helping Children at Home and SchoolIII, Retrieved from http://www.nasponline.org/resources/bullying/Relational_Aggression.pdf

Relational Aggression Skill Development Planner

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Comments 14

  1. This is incredibly helpful. So often it happens but if you don’t catch the conversation in total, it’s very difficult to determine what happened. But you certainly can talk with both children about exclusion and how it damages feelings and friendships. Thanks for this helpful article!
    Jennifer Miller
    Confident Parents, Confident Kids

  2. My daughter is a senior in high school and has a group of about 10 girls she hangs out with. One girl is a covert bully big time. She manipulates the other girls so that they are afraid to hang out in smaller groups bc they will have to endure her wrath at lunch the next day. She is like a caricature of a Bully. I have no idea what to tell the girls to do. I have encouraged them to do what they want. She is drinking and using the F word with her parents, most of the girls don”t even want to hang with her but feel stuck. It is very frustrating. She dictates who can date who, the list goes on and on.. Any suggestions? My daughter has a strong personality and has stood up to her but, the other girls chickened out and wouldn’t back her up.

    1. Hello Chris,
      It can be really difficult when a friend “takes over” a group. If we stand up for our beliefs we run the risk of being left out, but if we go along with the poor behavior then we can get hurt in the process.

      Ultimately, your daughter will need to make the decision on how close she wants to keep this friend. If the other girls are truly your daughter’s friend, they will remain her friend regardless of outside pressure.

      Best Wishes,
      Heather

    2. Hi Chris, my daughter ,also a senior,is in a similar situation. She is in a group of 8 friends including herself. A new girl entered the group and has been very hurtful to my daughter. She has done the whole “eye roll ” and sarcastic remarks when my daughter starts a conversation. The new girl has been making fun of her and leaving her out of invites to social gatherings, the other friends have been joining in with the behavior too. I am at a loss and am not sure what to do. It is heart breaking as her closest friend is turning on her through this behavior.

      1. Post
        Author

        Hello Anna,

        Exclusionary behavior is very hurtful. I recommend that you daughter invite her best friend over to have a heart to heart talk with her about how she is feeling. A true best friend will be willing to listen and will take steps to solve the problem. You may also want to help your daughter come up with a statement, such as “true friends don’t treat each other this way” and prepare her for how this other girl may respond.

        Best Wishes,
        Heather

  3. Thank-you for the resources. We’re already starting the “girl drama” with our not even 6 year old at school and I want to be able to give her the tools to help herself in situations that may arise. I also bought the book “Little Girls Can Be Mean” to read myself, but am enjoying your “kid friendly” book choice that might help her better understand what is going on as well!

    1. Hello Alicia!

      Little Girls Can Be So Mean is a fabulous book for parents! Any Trudy Ludwig books (above) are highly recommended…also, American Girl publishes some great books that deal with friendship issues and are great for self-esteem. (They have nothing to do with the dolls.)
      I wish you and your daughter all the best!
      ~Heather

  4. I’m in my 50s and still have a hard time forgiving my aggressor. I had to endure everything mentioned above, and had no one to go to for help in understanding what was going on. In my 40s, my husband and I were watching the “Odd Girl Out” documentary and I burst into tears. There was a name for it! I wasn’t crazy! It happened, and it happened to others just like me — what a relief! Finally, validation! My mother was emotionally unavailable and told me it was “all in my head” and that I was just overly sensitive. All those years, and I thought there was just something wrong with me, that I’d done something to deserve that treatment, that I was ”defective” in some way. All this talk and all these books about how to help the aggressor understand the error of her ways makes me sick. What about those who have been living with the wounds for years and still cannot understand what it was that brought all this on? Just curious.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Vivianna,

      I’m sorry that you had such a horrible experience. I’m not sure if you’ve checked out the other articles in my series, but I cover ways to support the target. Relationships are a two way street and both sides need to be supported to address what is occurring.

      People who treat others poorly need to learn appropriate ways to treat people. Just as victims need help in cognitive framing (understanding why something happened) and coping skills.

      Best wishes,
      Heather

  5. Women continue doing this as adults. I have encountered it several times in my life, usually because I am dating/marrying a man who has previous alliances to a couple of female friends and even a mother and a sister who felt threatened that he had a girlfriend. It’s awful because all of these women were lonely and felt they needed a man in their life, and some of them were quite pleasant and I’d considered them friends before they started declaring alliances. Unfortunately, I was seen as someone who was taking the man they had. And I always ended up feeling like the man joined them in bullying me.

    These were women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. It’s painful, for everyone involved.

    I’m going to a counselor with my current partner because of this very issue. Finally, I have a partner who is at least willing to see my side of the experience.

  6. Women continue doing this as adults. I have encountered it several times in my life, usually because I am dating/marrying a man who has previous alliances to a couple of female friends and even a mother and a sister who felt threatened that he had a girlfriend. It’s awful because all of these women were lonely and felt they needed a man in their life, and some of them were quite pleasant and I’d considered them friends before they started declaring alliances. Unfortunately, I was seen as someone who was taking the man they had. And I always ended up feeling like the man joined them in bullying me.

    These were women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. It’s painful, for everyone involved.

    I’m going to a counselor with my current partner because of this very issue. Finally, I have a partner who is at least willing to see my side of the experience.

  7. Omg this is happening to my kid, and to me. Except I am an adult and it really doesn’t hurt. The kids learn it from their moms who still do it. I will not mention names. But we had two kids apparently who liked the same guy. the friend dated her best friends crush and all hell broke loose. These were middle schoolers — but it was like the town broke out into the effing trojan war or something. We move in years after this whole thing went on and find out one of the girls was backed into a corner at the nearby store and are horrified and we befriend the girl. Big error. Because now the other kids are nasty to my kid for treating the one who was bullied with respect. Then the one being bullied decides that to protect herself she is going to join in and bully my kid who defended her in order to keep the new found “popularity” wow. but basically it was the grown women who never learned better egging it all on. This woman is sitting in my porch telling me that because the two girls have to go to school together she wanted to “make peace” and so she buried the hatchet — right before she tells me that the lady cheats on her husband every sunday. Like its any of my concern. Or like I will automatically beleive it to be true. Or like I didn’t pick up that if you want to make peace with someone you don’t defame them to new residents of the community who have nothing to do with whatever the “trojan war” going on was. What is most sad about all this — is these are upper middle class or rich women who have brains, beauty, talent, nice homes, nice careers — and apparently far too much time on their hands. While other moms struggle to make ends meet, while others die of illness, or crime, or need help — these women live in their bubble so very blessed never knowing what true hardship is. You would think they would take the energy, time and money they use to be “Mean Girls” and teach their daughters that “frenemy-ism” is acceptable, etc., to help someone else and be true “Queens and Princesses” that have no need to tear others down cause they’re genuinely loving generous and fiercely moral people. But no its 2017 and we have devolved. Competition and being one up is the order of the day. As long as we are ahead who cares who we degrade — and how we degrade ourselves in doing so — to get and stay there. That’s what life is all about, no? smh. I hope my kid will overcome and continue to be the beautiful young lady inside and out that she is. We have never seen something so incredibly ugly. Houses of the Holy. go figure….

  8. Omg this is happening to my kid, and to me. Except I am an adult and it really doesn’t hurt. The kids learn it from their moms who still do it. I will not mention names. But we had two kids apparently who liked the same guy. the friend dated her best friends crush and all hell broke loose. These were middle schoolers — but it was like the town broke out into the effing trojan war or something. We move in years after this whole thing went on and find out one of the girls was backed into a corner at the nearby store and are horrified and we befriend the girl. Big error. Because now the other kids are nasty to my kid for treating the one who was bullied with respect. Then the one being bullied decides that to protect herself she is going to join in and bully my kid who defended her in order to keep the new found “popularity” wow. but basically it was the grown women who never learned better egging it all on. This woman is sitting in my porch telling me that because the two girls have to go to school together she wanted to “make peace” and so she buried the hatchet — right before she tells me that the lady cheats on her husband every sunday. Like its any of my concern. Or like I will automatically beleive it to be true. Or like I didn’t pick up that if you want to make peace with someone you don’t defame them to new residents of the community who have nothing to do with whatever the “trojan war” going on was. What is most sad about all this — is these are upper middle class or rich women who have brains, beauty, talent, nice homes, nice careers — and apparently far too much time on their hands. While other moms struggle to make ends meet, while others die of illness, or crime, or need help — these women live in their bubble so very blessed never knowing what true hardship is. You would think they would take the energy, time and money they use to be “Mean Girls” and teach their daughters that “frenemy-ism” is acceptable, etc., to help someone else and be true “Queens and Princesses” that have no need to tear others down cause they’re genuinely loving generous and fiercely moral people. But no its 2017 and we have devolved. Competition and being one up is the order of the day. As long as we are ahead who cares who we degrade — and how we degrade ourselves in doing so — to get and stay there. That’s what life is all about, no? smh. I hope my kid will overcome and continue to be the beautiful young lady inside and out that she is. We have never seen something so incredibly ugly. Houses of the Holy. go figure….

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