Creative Child

Relational Bullying - How to Handle Mean Girls

by Deborah Song on Aug 15th, 2014

Cynthia is a 9-year-old brunette with wide eyes and a nose that crinkles when she smiles. She likes to wear headbands and enjoys soccer. There are no marks on her as far as I can see that would make her a target for bullying. But, "some girls at my school don't like me," she admits. "And I never even did anything to them."

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She recounted one story very poignantly. When her mom forgot her lunch one day, and her teacher forgot to tell her about the lunch her mom had later dropped off, Cynthia sat at the lunch tables hungry. After waiting 15 minutes into her lunch, she purchased pizza at her school cafeteria. While Cynthia left her opened lunch to grab utensils, some of the girls in her class came by and told her that a boy, who had just picked his nose, touched her pizza.

"Are you sure he put boogers on my pizza?" she asked.

"Yes, we're sure," they responded.

Cynthia threw away her lunch reluctantly. Then the huddled group of girls burst into laughter and told her he never actually touched her pizza. She discarded her lunch for nothing. Cynthia burst into tears, ran away and sat in a corner feeling ostracized, humiliated and hungry. Not a good combo.

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This type of bullying known as relational bullying exists in many nuanced forms. A bully or bullies can use the silent treatment to ignore someone, exclude someone from the group for long periods of time, gossip or spread rumors, say hurtful remarks about another child within earshot, make friendships conditional by using phrases like, "I'll only be your friend if..." Or they can simply play a joke on someone for the purpose of humiliation, as in the case of Cynthia.

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Relational bullying, which affects more girls than boys, usually goes undetected by teachers and even parents. It doesn't involve physical abuse or name calling. And it's hard to pinpoint bullies when they're often called "friends." But it's common and insidious, and can have long-lasting psychological effects. To make matters worse, many kids won't tell anyone for fear of becoming a loner at school.

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