Q: My daughter was really upset when she came home from school today. At the beginning of the day, one of her classmates’ mothers distributed birthday party invitations to many of the students in the class. My daughter was left out. She has played with the other child before at school and in an after-school program they’re involved in and has never had any conflict with her. Now she’s sad and worries that there’s something wrong with her.
How can I help my child when she feels left out? How can I help her handle the disappointment of not being invited to a birthday party?
When your child feels left out, it’s painful
It can be heartbreaking to watch a child struggle with the hurt that comes when a friend or classmate hasn’t invited them to a birthday party or other event.
But, let’s face it, exclusion from any kind of gathering can happen at any age and for any reason. And, as kids get older and the class size grows from 10 or 12 in preschool to 25 or more in grade school, it will happen more often. Many families simply can’t afford or have the desire to host a party for two dozen kids.
Of course, that doesn’t make it any easier for the disappointed child and a concerned parent. And, as their child grapples with their feelings, parents may feel tempted to lash out at the other family for not inviting their child too. Experts caution against it.
“What kids need most is support, empathy and space from the problem,” writes Katie Hurley, a child and adolescent psychotherapist, in an article about social exclusion for the University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine.
When their child is left out, parents can provide sympathy and emotional support. They also should take the opportunity to teach their child how to come to terms with their feelings. When kids learn to move on quickly after disappointment, they will gain the coping skills and resiliency that will serve them well throughout their lives.
When your child isn’t invited to a birthday party, here’s what experts recommend parents do.
Listen to them
Find out why they’re so disappointed. Is it because they don’t want to miss out on a trip to a trampoline park or swimming pool or because they thought the birthday girl or boy was a good friend?
“If missing the party is the issue, reassuring them that there will be other parties may be enough,” said Dr. Sharon Somekh, a pediatrician, parenting consultant, and founder of Raiseology.com, in an article on Fatherly. “If they are upset about the friendship, a lesson on how to improve their relationships can be helpful or arranging for a play date may help solidify the friendship.”
Remind them that they’re not the first person to miss out on a birthday party. “Talk about your own personal experiences,” said Brad Weinstein, co-author of “Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility Using Restorative Justice,” “When I was a kid, this is what happened and here’s what I did when I found what mattered to me.”
Find their niche
If they don’t seem to be clicking with the kids at school, help them find their tribe elsewhere. For kids who aren’t interested in the usual kid pursuits of sports or music, parents may need to get creative. A video game fan might enjoy a coding class, for example.
“All you need is a couple of close relationships with peers,” said Weinstein, who also is chief innovation officer for BehaviorFlip. “Help your kid find what it is they are passionate about.”
And then, help them find peers who love the same things.