10 Ways to Prevent Relational Aggression in Girls

How to keep girls from engaging in emotional bullying

Two girls in background excluding a third girl
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Bullying among girls is often cloaked in hurtful gestures, words and statements instead of pushes and shoves. It is both subtle and insidious. In fact, when it comes to female bullies, you will not see many overtly aggressive actions. Instead, most girls employ relationally aggressive tactics like excluding other girls, spreading rumors, name-calling and backstabbing – the very things parents and teachers often miss.

One of the best ways to prevent relational aggression is to teach girls how to be kind, thoughtful and caring. Here are 10 strategies for keeping girls from becoming emotional bullies.

Take a closer look at your own behavior. Children learn how to interact socially from their parents. If you gossip about other parents, purposefully exclude relatives from social gatherings and dominate others on committees, then you should not be surprised when your daughter does the same thing. Even your social media use can influence your daughter. Instead, show her what it means to be kind and loving. Let her see you being kind to the grocery cashier, helping an elderly neighbor or taking food to a sick friend. 

Enhance her emotional intelligence. Sometimes it is difficult for tweens and teens to see how their behaviors impact those around them. One way to stop relational aggression is to emphasize that these types of actions are causing someone else a lot of pain.

Help your daughter develop empathy for what victims of bullying may be experiencing.

Foster a healthy self-esteem. Some girls bully others because they struggle with self-esteem. But if you foster a healthy self-esteem, not only will your daughter be more confident, but she also will not feel threatened by others.

She also will be able to celebrate their successes instead of being overcome by envy

Encourage healthy friendships. One way to keep your daughter from engaging in relational bullying is to ensure she is building solid friendships with others. Talk to her about what constitutes healthy friendship. Teach her how to identify toxic friends, fake friends and mean girls. Also stress that it is important that she be herself. A real friend will like her for who she is and will not pressure her to be different. If she is being pressured to fit it, then she may be part of a clique. Cliques are hot spots for relational aggression.

Avoid pushing her toward cliques. Parents sometimes fall into the trap of trying to get their kids paired with the "right" kids. They force their way into the "right" classrooms, the "right" sports teams and the "right" peer groups. Instead, try to have a more hands-off approach in this area. Allow your kids some freedom in choosing friends and activities that interest them.

If you do push for the "right" friendships, your daughter will be inclined to worry too much about popularity and may end up doing almost anything to be in the "right" crowd.

Discuss the dangers of gossip, backstabbing and rumor-spreading. Girls often do not think about the negative consequences of their actions. As a result, they may engage in relational aggression without even thinking about how this behavior could impact them long term. Talk to your daughter about how important it is to be a good friend. Encourage that she not break her friends’ confidences (unless safety is an issue). Stress that she concentrate on being truthful and kind in all her communications and to always think before she speaks. Spreading rumors or engaging in gossip hurts other people. Make sure she also thinks twice before clicking send on a text message, e-mail or social media post. Once something is said or done that is hurtful, it is very hard to make it right after the fact.

Expose her to diversity. One reason some girls bully is that they simply have not been exposed to different types of people. As a result, they bully people based on differences in race, religion and cultural backgrounds. Try volunteering at a women’s shelter or a soup kitchen so that she can see that people have a lot of different things they are dealing with. You also may want to attend different cultural events and watch documentaries to expand her view of the world. 

Monitor her Internet and cell phone activity. As teens and tweens get older, they gain more independence and responsibility. But this does not mean they should have free reign when it comes to technology. Instead, keep tabs on what your kids are doing online. You might be surprised by what you find. It’s also a good idea to discuss digital etiquette and be sure your daughter is following your guidelines for online safety. Talk to her about the importance of maintaining a good online reputation and be sure she is not engaging in cyberbullying.

Teach her how to stand up against bullying rather than being a bystander. Bullying often happens when adults are not around. For this reason, it is especially important that tweens and teens know how to stand up and say something when they witness bullying. Familiarize yourself with ideas on how to empower bystanders and teach your daughter how to handle these difficult situations. Girls often experience immense peer pressure to join in and bully other girls. Be sure your daughter knows how to take a stand instead.

Address issues early. Believe it or not, a number of girls will engage in relational aggression at some point in their tween or teen years. This fact does not make them bad kids. They just have not learned to deal with social challenges. When you see something inappropriate, address it right away. But try not to overreact or demean your child. While it is important that there be consequences for bullying, the real goal is that the behavior does not happen again.

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