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Tiny tyrants: Even preschoolers exclude, withhold friendship, bully

Bullying can begin as young as age 3, and girls are more likely to do it than boys. It's called "relational aggression," according to the Wall Street Journal, and experts are trying to figure out how to head it off.
Lois M. Collins, Deseret News Modified: May 28, 2014 at 11:42 am •  Published: May 29, 2014
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Bullying can begin as young as age 3, and girls are more likely to do it than boys. It's called "relational aggression," and experts are trying to figure out how to head it off, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"Relational aggression is a relatively new term in psychology, devised to distinguish it from physical aggression," said the WSJ article. "There is no research showing that relational aggression is increasing or manifesting itself earlier, experts say. An increasing awareness of it, however, may be what's fueling educators' perception that it is starting earlier and becoming more common."

The National Association of School Psychologists, in a bulletin directed at teachers, offers a definition and a warning about the potential harm: "Relational aggression refers to harm within relationships that is caused by covert bullying or manipulative behavior. Examples include isolating a youth from his or her group of friends (social exclusion), threatening to stop talking to a friend (the 'silent treatment'), or spreading gossip and rumors by email. Relational aggression tends to be manipulative or subtle, and may not appear as typically aggressive behavior. In the past, relational aggression was viewed as a normal part of the process of socialization. However, evidence suggests that relational aggression may create just as much or more damage than physical aggression among youth … and should be considered an important focus on bullying."

The paper also offers insights for spotting children who are relationally aggressive.

Charisse Nixon, chairwoman of the psychology department at Penn State Erie, told WSJ that relational aggression grows along with kids, "often peaking in middle school." She said girls may see it as more damaging to their relationships and social position.

"Dr. Nixon's research has found that an average of 50 percent of children and adolescents — grades five through 12 — have experienced relational aggression at least monthly. About 7 percent of children report experiencing physical aggression on a daily or weekly basis," wrote WSJ's Sumathi Reddy.

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