By: Rebecca Michelsen, M.Ed., MCHES, Community Outreach & Education Specialist, Penfield Children’s Center

Your child comes home from school and tells you a classmate would not play with her.  For many parents we hear this story and do not think much about it, other than this is just kids being kids.  However, it is important not to brush this behavior off because there is a chance your child is experiencing relational bullying (also known as social bullying).

Before diving into what relational bullying is, let’s review what is considered bullying behavior.

According to, “bullying is unwanted aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

The two points to focus on in this definition are “imbalance of power” and “repetition”.

An imbalance of power in a bullying situation can mean actual physical power such as physically bigger, stronger or a group of students doing the behavior.  It can also be a perceived power such as popularity or access to embarrassing information.

The second point is repetition. This one is a little harder to navigate, but bullying behavior usually happens more than once or has the potential to occur more than once.  Since this is not always clear or we do not want to wait to see if it is going to occur again, the final thing we can look at is the intent of the behavior.  Was the intention of the behavior to deliberately hurt or harm the person? If yes, then this was likely bullying behavior.

Now that we have a clearer picture of what bullying behavior is, let’s take a closer look at relational bullying.

Relational or social bullying usually involves hurting someone’s relationships or reputation.  Examples of relational bullying include:

  • Spreading rumors
  • Excluding others
  • Telling others not to be friends with someone
  • Embarrassing someone in public

Relational bullying can be done alone on its own or in combination with physical, verbal or cyber bullying.  Girls tend to use relational bullying more often than boys, especially during middle and high school.

The next time your child shares she was excluded from an activity at school, listen to her story and help determine if what she experienced was social exclusion or bullying behavior.  If this is a situation of bullying behavior, then it is important to contact your child’s teacher if the incident took place at school.  If it took place outside of school, you will want to contact the person in charge of the activity where the incident took place.

Has your child experienced relational bullying? How did you handle it?


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