FRIDAY, Sept. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Children's social goals help determine how they respond to being bullied and whether their responses are effective, researchers say.

The new study included 370 second- and third-graders who were asked how they respond to other students' aggression, how often they were bullied and about their social goals.

The researchers created three categories of social goals: wanting to gain social skills and develop strong relationships, such as learning how to be a good friend; wanting to be seen positively by others, such as having "cool" friends; and wanting to minimize a negative image, such as being viewed as a "loser."

Students in the first category likely used thoughtful and constructive responses to bullying that were meant to help them deal with or learn from the situation and to manage their emotions. These children were less likely to become emotionally upset by bullying.

Children in the second category tended to deny that bullying had happened or did nothing, rather than trying to solve the problem. These children were more likely to retaliate against bullies, said the researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Students in the third category were more likely to ignore bullies and less likely to retaliate, possibly in an effort to pacify bullies and deflect attention from themselves.

The children in the second and third categories were less effective in their responses to bullying than those in the first group, according to the report published in the current issue of the journal Child Development.

"This research highlights the importance of educational efforts to shift children's priorities away from focusing on being 'popular' or 'cool' and toward developing skills and relationships," study leader Karen D. Rudolph, a professor of psychology, said in a news release from the Society for Research in Child Development. "Achieving this goal can promote constructive coping strategies, ultimately reducing bullying and lessening its long-term impact on children's social and mental health."

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about bullying.