nuture shock

Relational Aggression

We want our children to have friends. We also want them to have pleasant interactions even with kids who aren’t necessarily their friends. We also don’t want our children to be bullied or to bully others.

There has been a lot of talk about bullying lately and although I work with children every day, even I am become weary of the subject. However, I recently read a book that put a slightly different spin on bullying. Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman discusses many aspects of child development based on new research presented in a very accessible manner. The chapter titled, “Plays Well With Others” was particularly poignant. The authors discuss 3 types of child-on-child aggression that is prevalent among young children in our society. Physical and verbal aggression are familiar to all of us. The third type of aggression is relational aggression. In pre-school age children, relational aggression involves saying things like, “You can’t play with us” or ignoring children who want to play. Did you ever think of that as aggression? I hadn’t but it makes sense. Children with social cognition challenges want to play
and talk with peers. Being ignored or left out of play can have long-lasting effects.

We posed the following question to our 5 and 6 year old kids in the Social Adventures group.  “What do you do if you ask someone if you can play with them and they say, ‘No’ “? The answers included:

– “Say, ‘Please, please, please, PLEASE’ ”
– “Run away”
– “Say, ‘You can’t make me leave!’ ”

As we role played alternative responses we found the children we were coaching to say “No” didn’t know how to say no in a kind way. So, we worked on that as well.

The beautiful thing is that you could practically see their self-esteem meters rising as we worked on how to say ”No” and how to respond to “No”. The kids learned to tell each other to come back later and the ones who were gently rejected in this way, went on to play with others. Happily, this little exercise transferred to the playground time and we witnessed kids being more relaxed about the freedom to say “No” without worrying about being mean. Kindness begets kindness. We witnessed little relational aggression that day. Hopefully, the kids went home with another tool in their box to help them experience more positive social interactions.

submitted by:  Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L 

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