(For other articles by Dr. Swatantra Jain, please check this webpage)

We generally come across many bullying situations like threatening other children, forcing them to obey their orders by exploiting them, asking them to perform wrong, anti-social and illegal acts; and/or controlling them – their actions and social relations. They exclude their peers by saying, “Don’t let her play,” or settle some scores by saying, “She was rude to me yesterday, so she can’t be our friend.” In older guys, the chitchat can be even nastier, e.g. “I saw her cheating” or “She’s a shoplifter” or “If you don’t obey me, I shall tell the teacher that you steal things”.

Have we ever pondered over as to why some children behave this way? What age group of our children indulges in such behaviour; how does this affect the victims or exploited children? How catastrophic can such behaviour prove to be? What could be the end-result of such bullies persona, attitude and thinking in their young age? What kind of citizens they would prove to be for their society and the country? Who, after-all, is responsible for their bullying acts?

Surely, all these bullying acts can be categorized as ‘Relational Aggression’. Relational aggression or bullying can be defined as, ‘Any action that inflicts mental harm upon their peers’. Thus, it can be termed as ‘A calculated manipulation to injure and control another child’s ability to maintain bond with his/her peers. Some guys begin to indulge in bullying behaviour right from their early childhood. It’s also seen that while the boys harm others physically; the girls, quite often, inflict harm on their relations or emotions; e g, a relational aggressive girl may persist that her friends overlook a specific child, bar her from their groups; form secret deals to debase the child, call her names, and/or spread rumors about her/him or exclude her from all their group activities etc. In Leah Davies views also, ‘The girls usually differ from boys in the type of aggressive behaviour they exhibit. While boys tend to inflict bodily pain, girls most often engage in covert or relational aggression. Girls tend to value intimate bonding with girls, while boys usually form social bonds through group activities.’

The common signs of bullying or mean behaviour

  • Talking badly about or making fun of others for who they are, the way they dress or how they look.
  • Cyber-bullying or shaming others by leaving hurting or mean messages on cell phones, social media, desks and lockers.
  • Using peer pressure to get others to participate in bullying.
  • Establishing rules for anyone who wants to be part of the social group.
  • Spreading rumors, gossiping or breaking confidence.
  • Back-stabbing, excluding or threatening others.

Aggressive guys often gain power by withholding their friendship or sabotaging the relationships of others. Quite often, subtle, nonverbal message of an aggressive girl is very obvious, for example, she may roll her eyes, frown, ignore, turn away, point at, or pass notes to a friend about the rejected child.

Bullying can take different forms such as accidental body crash, name calling, silent action, grouping, giving mean looks, maligning, humiliating, social exclusion, malicious gossips, lies, manipulation and betrayal, spreading rumors, cyber bullying, hostile body language and so on.

Psychologists view that all the members of the ‘Relational Aggressive Groups’ have a strong and intimate bonding with one another and they also know the secrets of one another. Hence, they take care of and cooperate with one another. But the same intimacy, many a times, may also jeopardize the lives of the followers, because the aggressive guy knows all the inner secrets of each member. More than that, they are afraid of the fact as to whom they would go for help, if at all they are excluded from that group, because they do not have any other friend to interact with and anywhere else to go. So, they keep on yielding to their orders for fear of being left alone.

It is also observed that the pressure of being compliant is always there. And therefore, they dare not give lukewarm look. They can’t express their feelings directly but their displeasure and anger continues which is expressed indirectly.

Hence, it is essential for the parents/teachers to realize that the habit of indulging in relational aggression can make their kids’ relations to be problematic for their whole life. It is therefore essential that they are given proper intervention and guidance. Because aggressive guys do possess leadership qualities but they need elder’s guidance to channelize this leadership quality into positive direction.

Consequence of bullying/relational aggression among children:

  • Relational aggression among children not only badly affects the aggressive guys and their victims but also the whole climate and culture of the school.
  • The aggressive kids either inflict bodily harm or put such a terrific pressure on the bullied kid that he is forced to take his own life.
  • According to Psychologist Krick, the relational aggressive guys are comparatively more disliked than their normal counterparts;
  • Not only this, they seem to suffer more from the strong feeling of isolation and depression. They face difficulty in making and maintaining social & personal relationships.

Bullied kids also have to face many adjustment problems, like:

  • They may have to bear this feeling of non-acceptance and hurt whole over their life, due to which their level of self-confidence remains very low;
  • They always remain submissive in comparison to their normal peers;
  • They feel humiliated, ignored and sometimes doomed;
  • They might score low, drop from school in large number, involve in child delinquency, be more dejected and entertain self-destructive/killing/harming thoughts.

Why kids tolerate bullying behaviour from their peers?

  • They think of bullies as the guys who beat or threaten to hurt others;
  • They are submissive and non assertive;
  • They think the good outweighs the bad;
  • They want to protect their friendship group by being compliant;
  • They have low self-esteem.

Why peer relations are important?

  • In middle childhood, peer relations become an increasingly important milieu for development;
  • Peer relations contribute to making one’s own standpoint, understanding of self and others, which in turn enhances peer interaction;
  • By using persuasion and compromise, school age children resolve conflicts easily as compared to the preschoolers;
  • Enhance sharing, helping and other pro-social acts;
  • Reduce aggression, especially physical attacks;
  • But verbal and relational aggression continues as children form peer groups.

How can school staff deal with the ill effects of bullying kids and their victims?

  • Create more and more awareness among the staff-members and the parents to make them understand what actually is relational aggression. Not only this, the ways to deal with this problem should also be discussed;
  • Aware your students about the relational aggression and make sure that they have got this point into their head that spreading rumors about anyone, making fun of or any other aggressive act to torture them is not only wrong but also a crime which wouldn’t be tolerated in any manner;
  • Discussion alone won’t do, in order to prevent it honestly, the teachers shall have to appraise & assess such children from time to time. While observing their different activities during their lunch time, in play ground, in hall/classrooms, before and after the school time, they should specifically try to observe their interactions with their fellow students/peers or even juniors and their secret dealings, if any. They should specially note the isolated child, their group leader and how his/her fellow members behave with other children;
  • Reinforce student’s social interaction skills through the use of discussion method, role-playing exercises, writing assignments, and other means. Develop in them the empathical dealing of the feelings of others, listening skills and exhibiting other character traits, important to form lasting friendships;
  • Help the aggressive kids appreciate that conflicts are natural episodes in friendship and provide them with an opportunity to practice giving support to one another. Encourage them to resolve problems honestly through open discussion and compromise;
  • The special privileges given to the bully’s must be taken back and if needed, such aggressive kids must be referred to the school counsellor or an experienced psychotherapist;
  • Trust the victims as the relational aggressive kids are very smart in covering up their aggressive tendency. They pretend them to be so innocent that their teachers feel that such innocent kids can’t ever be relational aggressive ones;
  • Facilitate friendship between kids because having at least one friend may shield a child from relationship aggression and thus, help her cope with a relational aggressive child. Encourage them to choose friends who are considerate and trustworthy, not mean;
  • Support the kids in developing the belief that she is a capable person with adequate strength who can take her own stand;
  • Locate some support system for the victim as well as the aggressive guy; and finally
  • Contact parents and work with staff to cultivate their social and emotional development. Thus, the school should get rid of this serious problem of bullying/relational and other kinds of aggression by persuading with love or, if need be, by taking strict action.