• SaY India

"SaY" it with Parenting: How 'You're Not My Friend anymore!' is a form of bullying

Parents are often startled to realise that relational aggression — using the threat of removing friendship, ostracism, and other forms of social exclusion — can appear in children as young as three years old.


For children that young, the experience of being pushed away by a friend can be utterly baffling, provoking anxiety at daycare or preschool. Moreover, as parents and educators observe these more subtle forms of bullying, it’s becoming clear that they require as much attention as physical aggression.


As a counsellor at an elementary school, observes, “Kids forget about scuffles on the playground but they don't forget about unkind words or being left out.”


Relational aggression appears to be more common in girls than boys, perhaps, researchers say, because the average girl is more socially developed and more verbal than a boy of the same age. These “mean girl” tactics are often considered a middle-school problem, but both parents and teachers report them in elementary school and even preschool classes.


A counsellor at an elementary school notes, "They're already thinking at that age about being popular, being the queen of the classroom, or the queen of the playground and vying for that position."


Because this sort of jockeying involves words and relationships rather than fists and feet, kids, parents, and educators often fail to recognise it for what it is: bullying. Kids don't understand that manipulating friendships and relationships is bullying and parents, teachers and children need to be start understanding it for what it is.


When a classroom poll was done, and kids were asked whether they would rather suffer a physical attack or relational aggression; over 90% of kids said that relational aggression is more hurtful. In other words, they'd rather be punched in the stomach, than be ignored by a friend.


While relational aggression tends to increase with age, parents and educators can do a lot to counteract it. Simple lessons in empathy — "Imagine how it would feel if someone did that to you?" — go a long way to preventing relational aggression. Sharing books that teach kids the importance of kindness helps to build that empathy, and shows them the difference they can make by offering compassion to others.


It's also important for us to talk about bullying with kids in a way that highlights the nuances of it, so that they recognise the difference between a hurtful misunderstanding and the power dynamics exploited by a bully. And, if we show kids what genuine friendship looks like, they'll be better able to recognise when a "friendship" doesn't offer them the caring and support they deserve.


Most importantly, parents and teachers have to understand that relational aggression isn’t something kids, especially younger-grade kids, can work through on their own. This is where it's extremely important that the parents, teachers, school and children work together to ensure that no child is left behind.

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