What is Relational Bullying?

relational bullying

We have had the pleasure of working in Ireland’s first award winning evidence based children’s mental health initiative for schools since 2016 and we have seen a huge shift in how children are relating to each other. Our children are by nature Kind, Caring and Empathic.  However throughout generations the children themselves have not “changed” dramatically but my, has their world. What is influencing them is, what they see, hear, have access to and very importantly the example their parents show. Little eyes and ears are always open.

We have found that Physical Bullying, getting shoved into the lockers, or physically hurt is not so evident and less subtle as Relational Bullying today. Both have negative effects and can make a child’s life very miserable indeed.

What Is Relational Bullying?

Relational bullying is a different way of bullying because the actions are usually quiet and hidden from others and happen between friends.

Relational bullying can be:

  • Exclusion: When someone is left out of activities by their own friends and other social circles as well as outside school activities.
  • Gossip and Rumours: Information, stories, or details about a person that are spread around behind their back, online and offline equally.

Relational bullying can also be:

  • Mean letters or comments online.
  • Silent treatment.
  • Eye rolling or staring.
  • Withdrawing a friendship.
  • Threatening to end a friendship, to tell others their secrets, or to tell a boy/girl about a crush they have.

If you have daughters, does this sound familiar?  Yet, I caution against believing this is a problem that only affects girls. Relational bullying touches boys too, and it effects them just as much.

  • Being ignored
  • Being left out, not picked for sports teams.
  • Mean letters or comments online
  • A boy who is friendly one day and mean the next is hurtful and confusing.

According to the NSPCC, bullying remains the top problem for children aged 11 and under contacting them and was the single biggest reason for boys calling CHILDLINE (NSPCC, 2016). The Growing Up in Ireland study found that 40% of children aged 9 reported being victims of bullying in the previous year. The EU Kids Online study reported that 23% of children in Ireland aged 9 to 16 years have experienced some form of bullying, both online and offline.

The goal of relational bullying is to hurt a child’s self-esteem and damage their close relationships. Victims feel confused and rejected by their friends and other peers as well. But the effects of relational bullying go beyond the victim and can actually hurt the entire group of friends and the classroom.

Relational Bullying in primary school is, thus, of critical concern to educational policy makers and school leaders alike. Research would suggest that some schools experience more bullying incidents than others and that schools vary widely in both their approaches to and successes in dealing with the issue.

Our “ItsCool2BKind” programs are not a fix all anti-bullying solution. Understanding how multi layered bullying is, has led us in the direction to develop the different strands and outcomes of our programs.

While many interventions are focused on supporting children AFTER they have already developed a problem, or seek to address specific issues such as bullying, our focus is on resourcing children before they develop a problem, giving them tools to cope with everyday personal and interpersonal problems. It is an early intervention method.

“We believe a child who practices Relational Bullying is very much in pain and with some guidance can learn to treat themselves with kindness before their behaviour towards others will improve.”

Some of the “ItsCool2BKind” Program Goals

For children to learn automatically how to treat themselves, with kindness and respect. 

For children to learn automatically how to treat others, with kindness and respect. 

That children may understand what it means to “walk a mile in my shoes “, and create understanding and tolerance of others.

For children will create a world where they not only value each other, but value themselves also.

The core message we aim to impart is that we are all in charge of ourselves – our actions, our thoughts and our deeds, and as such we must learn to take responsibility of these. To be accountable for our words and actions at a very early age.

And “ItsCool2bKind”, to have us deliver our program in your school email us at

hello@buddybench.ie