How To Identify Relational Aggression, The Type Of Emotional Bullying That Affects Younger Girls

Understand how relational aggression affects your daughter, friend, or neighbor.

mirrored image of bullied teen girl Sam Wordley / Shutterstock

Emotional bullying may not be something you knew about. But, if you have a young daughter, sister, or friend, have you ever experienced her coming home from school feeling both confused and upset?

Through some careful questions, you may have discerned that she's being bullied. And not by a stranger but someone she considered a good friend.

It's not uncommon for young girls to experience having a close friend suddenly decide to ignore them and talk about them behind their backs. Sometimes, those so-called friends will act nice to the victim but suddenly shift gears when around other peers.


As a result, your daughter is the target of jokes made at her expense, which greatly impacts her self-esteem and mental health.

RELATED: 3 Things To Do Immediately If Your Child Is Being Bullied

This type of "emotional bullying" is known as relational aggression.

Physical bullying mainly relies on physical violence. But, this type of bullying involves relationships, the core of what every girl wants and needs to feel safe and secure in her world. 

Emotional bullying is when the bully uses relationships, words, and gestures to target the victim. They are also verbally aggressive.

And, sometimes, you decide not to overreact to the situation because it may seem like your daughter is being "too sensitive."


However, you suddenly realize that your daughter spends less time with friends and no longer wants to go to school.

As a parent, you want to assist and even protect your daughter but, perhaps, you are unsure how best to proceed. It's especially difficult knowing how to proceed if there are no clear-cut threats to her safety.

Instead, the threat is subtle.

What are some common behaviors among emotional bullies?

The silent treatment.

Spreading rumors about the victim.

Using social media sites (such as Snapchat) to post a humiliating post about the victim.

Asking other girls to make anonymous posts pertaining to hurtful thoughts about the victim — most often, the posts will include mean and hurtful statements about the victim.


Exclusion, which entails purposely not inviting the victim and ensuring that she knows she's not invited.

Making fun of the victim disguised as humor. When confronted with the cruelty of the act, the bully will turn the tables on the victim by saying she's being "too sensitive" or that they were "just joking."

Manipulation. If the victim does something the bully wants, the bully agrees they can be friends again or included in group activities.

Being taunted, laughed at, or called names behind her back within earshot.

If your daughter mentions any of the behaviors listed above, it's likely that she has become the target of relational aggression.


Make sure to listen attentively to all her concerns so she knows that you are understanding of her needs and worries.

This form of bullying can have a devastating impact on the emotional well-being of a young person.

Here are the signs to look for if you believe your daughter is a victim of emotional bullying and relational aggression.




Refusing to attend extra-curricular events, sports, and other activities previously enjoyed.

A significant drop in self-esteem and frequent negative statements about themselves.

Feeling socially inadequate.

Avoiding school.

If you notice any of the signs or symptoms mentioned, make sure to address them immediately.


Addressing the signs and symptoms of bullying early on is the best option for your daughter’s peace of mind and emotional well-being.

RELATED: Why We Should Never Tell Our Kids "She's Just Mean Because She's Jealous"

So as a caring parent, neighbor, or friend, what can you possibly do to help a girl navigate this minefield of emotional bullying?

Listen to your daughter and validate her feelings and the things she's telling you.

Never assume she's being too sensitive and never make her feel like she has done something wrong or that she should apologize.


Do not assume the bullying will eventually go away or get better of its own accord. Instead, address it and talk about it.

Your best bet is also to bring the issue to the attention of teachers and administrators. It's important that they, too, understand what relational aggression is and how to confront it.

This involves holding the aggressor accountable for their behavior and not showing any tolerance for it.

Therapy can also be beneficial in helping the victim understand that it's not their fault. It allows the victim to find safe ways to assert themselves and receive the support needed.

Some other resources that can help parents and girls understand emotional bullying and relational aggression and getting help include:


"The Odd Girl Out, the Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls" by Rachel Simmons
"Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques" by Rosalind Wiseman
"The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander" by Barbara Coloroso
Ophelia Project website
Girls Leadership website
Cyberbullying website
Girls Inc. website

RELATED: How To Tell If Your Child Is Being Bullied (Or Worse: Is The Bully)

Monica Ramunda, MA, LPC, LCMHC, RPT-S received additional training and was a group facilitator for the Girls Leadership Institute, Rachel Simmons. She is the Facilitator of a Girls Empowerment Group at her Louisville office, for school-age children. Reach out to Monica Ramunda to get additional support if you believe your daughter is the target of relational aggression. She is the owner of Rocky Mountain Counseling Services and Lighthouse Counseling.