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Disability Harassment - How Cliques Can Harm Children with Disabilities

Find Strategies to Help Prevent Disability Harassment from Cliques


Updated October 21, 2011

A Girl Feeling Left Out at School

Cliques Can Engage in Disability Harassment

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Most of us can recall experiences of cliques in school. Cliques are groups of students who form a close relationship and exclude others in ways that are negative. Cliques can be emotionally damaging to children in them and those excluded by them. Children with disabilities are often victimized by them and suffer disability harassment by kids in cliques. Cliques often engage in more subtle forms of bullying like emotional attacks and exclusionary tactics and may go undetected. Although the behaviors may go undetected, the damage that cliques can cause is real.

Being involved with and accepted by peers is important to any child, and it is especially important to children with disabilities, who often feel isolated and different from others. Being excluded can cause a child to feel rejected and affect their self-esteem. Cliques often thrive, in part, because they exclude others. In some cases, children in cliques are mean to other children and may even bully kids who are not a part of the group. Cliques hurt others by behaviors such as:

  • Refusing to let victims join in;
  • Ridiculing children who are not in the group;
  • Organizing harassment by modeling behavior that other clique members are expected to conform to;
  • Orchestrating setups for victims to be humiliated; and
  • Name calling, damaging the victim's property.
While cliques can occur at any grade level, the negative impact can be reduced when teachers take active steps to prevent the kinds of behaviors that lead to disability harassment. Teachers must emphasize the acceptance and teach tolerance of others. Children need to be taught that excluding others and harassment are bullying and will not be tolerated. Teachers need to send a clear message that cliques that harm others are unacceptable. Teachers must also ensure there are consequences for cliques that harass anyone. Teachers should be especially watchful for cliques that target children with disabilities because they are frequent victims of such behavior.

More Anti-Clique Disability Harassment Strategies:

  • Support children who are being victimized. Help them make friends and develop a support group of peers.
  • Intentionally and deliberately teach equality and tolerance of differences.
  • Teach children to identify common interests with others.
  • Provide structured activities that teach team building and cooperative play.
  • Bust up aggressive cliques by moving children to different classrooms and assigning them to different groups.
  • Avoid unstructured, unsupervised down-time during class or on the playground.
  • If your child is harassed by a clique, meet with the school counselor and request that she make the bullying children's parents aware of the concern.
When children are targeted by cliques, they may feel overwhelmed, hurt, angry, and powerless to do anything to stop the problem. It can be helpful to explain to your child that she should let an adult know if she is victimized by any other student or a group of students in a clique. If your child becomes a victim, talk to the school counselor and your child's teacher to let them know what is going on. Ask for their assistance in stopping the behavior. Most teachers and counselors are more than willing to help out when children are being victimized. However, if you find that they are not willing to help or if they trivialize your concerns, be prepared to speak with the school principal and even the superintendent if you do not get the support you need to resolve the problem. Any type of victimization of a child can cause long-term damage to self-esteem, so it is important that steps be taken to resolve the problem.

One of the most effective ways for schools to address cliques and bullying is to take preventative steps before a problem occurs. Teachers and counselors can teach children to be empathetic. They can also and use formal peer and adult mediation programs to help resolve problems between children.

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