Sticks and stones can break my bones …

The birthday party invitation that never arrived, the whispers by the hallway lockers, the cruel words written on Facebook – it has happened to us and it happens to our children. We know it hurts to be talked about or excluded from groups or activities. Now after listening to the December podcast I have a name to put with this – relational aggression.

Sarah Coyne defines relational aggression as any kind of mean behavior that aims to harm a relationship or the social structure of a group. This includes gossip, spreading rumors, exclusion and so forth. Do you remember the chant – sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never harm me? Well, wrong! Relational aggression can be just as harmful as physical aggression. The pain can linger and even last for years. I can remember incidents from my teen and college years and suspect you can also.

I think a place for parents to start is by being proactive. You don’t want your child to be aggressive in this way and you don’t want your child to be hurt by relational aggression.  Sarah talked about three things that parents need to address – and you may not like these.

Really pay attention to what you and your child watch on TV. Reality shows are popular but research points to the relational aggression that is so common. Being mean is shown in a glamorous way for someone to “win” or become popular.

Next take a look at yourself. How do you interact with other adults in your home? What does your child hear and see? Does she hear you talking “mean” to each other? Does he hear you gossiping or making snide remarks about people? Children model what they see in the home.

Then tune in to your child’s group of friends. Is it a group of kids that practice relational aggression? Are they children with low self-esteem or do they think they are “hot stuff”? Either way, help your child learn how to stand up to the mean behavior.

Ok – I realize I just gave you three things to give your attention to and none are easy. But we are talking about the pain that results from girls and boys being mean to each other. It is worth the effort to help children learn a better way of treating people. I, for one, would like to live in a world with a few less relational aggressive adults!

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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One thought on “Sticks and stones can break my bones …

  1. The example we are is one of the most vital factors in how our children will act, react, etc. It’s serious, and many people don’t take it as such. And yes, the television programs, music lyrics, social media posts – they all are shaping those young minds. It’s a tough battle, but it’s not un-winnable.

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