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Girls bullying (Part 2) –
Dealing with Female Relational Aggression

Girls’ bullying, or Female Relational Aggression, is psychologically damaging. And its effects on the target can last a lifetime.

As we discussed in Part 1 (Girls bullying – How friendship becomes a weapon) FRA takes many forms.

Today, we explore the strategies and actions we can take to empower our girls to overcome FRA.

Life ain’t perfect

Perfect looks, perfect friendships, perfect life. That’s the expectation thrust upon girls and young women through social media and social circles. It infiltrates their thinking.

But no friendship or relationship (or life) is perfect.

Your daughter needs to know that conflict is a natural part of friendship. Relationships ebb and flow. Friendships built on trust and respect can survive this conflict.

If trust and respect is absent, the friendship becomes a choice.

Ask your daughter if she could minimise the time she spends with ‘friends’ who make her feel bad and maximise the time she spends with friends who treat her with respect.

Know what to look for

FRA is complex, subtle and can take many forms. Being aware of FRA behaviours is the first step to addressing them.

And there’s a long list to look for…

  • Exclusion
  • Gossiping
  • Spreading rumours
  • Backstabbing
  • Name calling
  • Laughing or giggling at someone
  • Whispering
  • Pointing at someone
  • Silent treatment
  • Rolling eyes
  • Mean looks or glares
  • Verbal putdowns
  • Aggressive text messages or posts
  • Liking something mean on social media
  • Being a messenger
  • Jumping on the bandwagon
  • Being a bystander

6 talking points

Here are six things you can discuss with your daughter to help her navigate FRA:

  1. Nice-in-private, mean-in-public friends are not good friends.
  2. Know the difference between ‘friendship fires’ (small conflicts and disagreements), being ‘mean-by-accident’ and ‘being mean-on-purpose’.*
  3. How to extinguish a ‘friendship fire’ or ‘mean-by-accident’ conflict and how to avoid fuelling it?
  4. Why conflicts should be sorted out in private and face-to-face, not in public or on social media.
  5. Why it’s important to be her own person when witnessing FRA and not join the pack hunt.
  6. Understanding the only person whose behaviour she can control is her own.

It’s not what you say it’s how you say it

55% of communication is body language, 38% is tone of voice and just 7% are the words spoken.

Surprised?

With these figures in mind, we can form strategies against FRA.

Confident body language acts as a deterrent. Think shoulders back, head up, eye contact.

Assertive language is an effective way to convey confidence. Call people out on their behaviour (respectfully). Use the broken record technique – a statement used over and over to make your message hit home. Use humour or wit (when appropriate) to diffuse a situation.

And learn about behavioural language – the differences between passive, aggressive and assertive behaviours, overt and covert, direct and indirect aggression. 

These techniques take practice so rehearse them at home.

8 ways to prepare for FRA

There are lots of ways you can help your daughter deal with the distress of FRA.

  1. Practice assertive language.
  2. Use breathing techniques and positive self-talk to help your daughter stay calm.
  3. Reflect on friendships. Does this friendship bring her joy? Does this friendship make her feel good about herself? Encourage your daughter to make changes if the answer is ‘no’.
  4. Brainstorm options. What else can she do to make it better?  What can she do differently that will help her feel better/stronger/happier?
  5. Plan for what she will do and say next time.  Equip her with the interpersonal skills she needs. Role-play and rehearse the words, tone of voice, body language, actions.
  6. Ask for help from a supportive adult. Talk to your daughter about which adults they trust, will listen to her and will help her.
  7. Teach your daughter to apologise with sincerity when she knows she has hurt a friend, intentionally or by accident.
  8. Forgive and move on. Help your daughter understand that resolving conflict is rarely black and white. There are always other perspectives and these can sometimes differ from hers. Help her focus on making things better than on ‘being right’.

State of love and trust

As a parent, you can’t fix every problem your child has. What you can always do is be there for your daughter and offer advice.

Listen with empathy and without judgement. Acknowledge that FRA hurts.

Be a coach from the sidelines. Teach, role-model, encourage and empower your daughter to be assertive. Trust that she can do this.

If your daughter is the bully, or empowering a bully, hold them to account. Remind them of the different roles people play within a social group (bully, bystander, messenger and target).

Resilience is formed through experiences. With your love, support and guidance they will learn and grow strong because of FRA, not in spite of it.

Libby Barnes is a teacher, counsellor, Master in Student Welfare and Guidance and Resilience Builders facilitator.

* Dana Kerford: www.URStrong.com

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