Children's three strategies shed light on bullying

By Colin Ricketts - 30 Aug 2011 15:40:1 GMT
Children's three strategies shed light on bullying

A new study hopes to reduce the amount of and effect of bullying by studying how child victims respond to being harassed by their peers.

University of Illinois psychology professor is behind the research, appearing in the journal Child Development, which asked nearly 400 children and their teachers how youngsters dealt with difficult relationships.

"The main question we were interested in is how do children go about selecting strategies for dealing with harassment from their peers?" said Professor Rudolph. "And what we focused on was an understanding of the goals that kids develop in their social relationships."

Rudolph found three relationship strategies among her subjects: developing relationships with friendship skills; trying to be popular or cool, and trying to avoid negative judgements, or 'looking like a loser'.

Of the 373 second grade children studied half reported that they had been victimised in some way - from teasing and gossip to physical attacks. The researchers went back to the subjects in the third grade to see which of the three approaches to relationships gave the best results.

The children who had most social success were those who dealt with relationships by trying to build friendships. They were more likely to seek help with bullying and cooperate to resolve conflict and less likely to respond impulsively.

The kids who wanted to be seen as cool were more likely to retaliate to bullying and also had a less positive view of their peers.

Finally, the children who sought above all to avoid criticism, tended to ignore bullying.

Children who were most victimised as second graders started to develop escape strategies or to brood over the problem without actually dealing with it. "[They] were less likely to show problem-solving type strategies [in the third grade]," Professor Rudolph said.

Rudolph hopes that understanding children's social goals may help teachers and parents take more effective action when youngsters are subjected to bullying.

She said: "Just telling kids, 'this is what you should do' might not change their behaviours because their goals might be different from our goals," she said. "So I think understanding where the kid's coming from and why they're actually acting the way they do is going to be crucial for changing their behaviour."

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