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How to Curb Relational Aggression

By Dianne Durante, Ed.S. and Kirsten Hagman, LMSW

Relational Aggression (R.A.) is a term that many parents are unfamiliar with but educators are reporting that it is now one of their top concerns with middle school students. Bullying is a notion that has been a topic of conversation for generations but often we think of bullying is often thought of as something that goes on between boys and dismissed it as a “boys will be boys” situation. However, Relational Aggression is often a far more complex type of bullying that involves more covert forms of torment, where friendship is used as a weapon. It is more commonly seen with girls than with boys and the scars that it leaves are on the inside, where it is harder for parents or educators to notice and address them.

R.A. has many ugly ways that it manifests itself, like exclusion, gossiping or spreading rumors about the target, name-calling, and separating from friends. R.A. causes the young women who are the targets to withdraw from other things in their lives-such as school, extracurricular activities, and family. R.A. victimization could be a precursor to relationship violence, since it establishes a pattern of the young woman being demeaned and passive in a relationship with a person who she cares about. She practices justifying the behavior of her “friends” as she may later justify the abuse of a partner.

The covert abuse goes on between young women but often extends into adulthood. The girls who bullied their classmates become the mothers who bully their peers at the P.T.A. meetings and soccer games. Mothers are the primary example that many young women have and young women base many of their reactions to stressors on how they have seen their mother handle situations.  This by no means subscribes to the Freudian notion that everything wrong with an individual is the result of some error on the mother’s part. However, there are proactive ways that mothers can guide their daughters that will reduce the possibility that these girls will be on either end of an R.A. situation. Role modeling appropriate responses and positive behavior is a prime example of how mothers can help their daughters establish healthy relationships. Keep in mind the Chinese proverb “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

An excellent way for mothers to guide their daughters towards healthier relationships and greater successes in life is to work to increase Emotional Intelligence skills (E.Q.). Emotional Intelligence is a set of emotional qualities that studies have found to be important to a successful life. Unlike the more commonly referred to I.Q. (intelligence quotient), E.Q. skills can be taught and developed. E.Q. is not the opposite of I.Q. – it is important to have both. However, more and more one hears about colleges and businesses that have an interest in assessing the E.Q. of their future students and employees. The individuals with high E.Q. get along better with their peers, work better in teams, take criticism constructively, and show a willingness to collaborate for success- important traits in universities and workplaces.

To begin developing your E.Q. and the E.Q. skills of your children try these basic exercises. The exercises are for you to use as a role model to your child. They can also be modified for the child to use.

Be Creative and develop Creative Problem Solving techniques. Successful, quick problem solving abilities are a highly noted characteristic of people with high E.Q. Think outside the box, as you used to be unrestrained by the lines when you would color.

Take a few minutes to clear your mind. Reflect on a recent situation that had a negative outcome. On a piece of paper write down EVERY way that you could have handled that situation, no matter how ridiculous it may seem to you. There are no wrong answers in this sort of free-association technique. Let your mind wander from one idea to another, noting each possible reaction that you could have had in this situation. You can not change the past but you can spend interpreting why you reacted as you did and deciding which different reaction you may like to have in similar future situations

Ask someone that you feel comfortable with to help you role play an upcoming scenario (or one that you have already experienced that may reoccur). Spend some time talking through some potential ways that the conversation may play out, so you feel prepared for what may be in store. Make sure you take the opportunity to “play” the other person, so you may feel what it is like to be in their position. This may force you to consider something that would not have otherwise occurred to you.

Connecting with kindness. Having the skills to make friends and cultivate those relationships is significant in E.Q. The ability to connect with people increases empathy, gives the chance to have polite manners modeled through observation and allows a person to see how they have a role in a group, not merely as an individual.

To foster many basic connections practice smiling at strangers. We have all Everyone has witnessed the bad attitude that spreads through a workplace, household or store. Happiness is equally as contagious but this is seldom demonstrated. Take a moment to make eye contact with a store clerk, rushed stranger or friend. Then smile! The fact that you made the effort to silently connect with that person will not go unnoticed. Most people will respond with a smile, which they will hopefully pass on to the next person that they see. You could start a chain reaction of happiness with just a few seconds of your day.

Take time to develop your current relationships. Set aside one night a week (or a month) to spend with your friends. Perhaps you have a ritual of going to the same place each time. Maybe your ritual is that you try to new activity each time. Either way, stay committed to this routine. It will show your friends that you value their roles in your life and you will be pleased to be reminded that they feel the same by their participation in this bonding time.

Hopefully, these simple activities will get you on the way to strengthening your E.Q. and understanding the importance of building these skills in your children. Good Luck!


About the Author:

Dianne Durante, Ed.S., is author of “Everyday Symbols for Joyful Living”, a book that inspires readers to use seven common items (penny, elastic band, pencil, crayon, candle, seashell and chocolate heart) in order to have a richer, happier life. A licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and business consultant, Dianne conducts motivational workshops nationwide with her daughter, Kirsten Hagman, LMSW. For more information visit  To order their R.A. Relief Kit for Terrific Teens, please call: 1-877-513-0099.



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