Birthday parties have changed since I was a kid. Back in the eighties there was no pinspiration, no jumping castles, pass the parcel ended in exactly one present and the cake was always courtesy of the Women’s Weekly cookbook (the swimming pool cake was popular). But one things remain the same: an invitation to a party is always welcome. Being the kid who is not invited can cut like a knife through a birthday cake.
Being left out is one of life’s gut-wrenching experiences and it feels even worse when it happens to your kid. I’ll admit to being a big softie who would like everyone to invite everyone to everything. But that’s not real life and eventually we all need to learn how to deal with being left out. Here’s how to cope when your kid isn’t invited
Figure out who this is really about
Have a good think about whether this is really about Cooper not inviting your Ted to his party or whether this is about the time Lucy didn’t invite you to her 9th birthday. Old wounds can feel achingly fresh when history repeats itself. Sometimes we parents feel the rejection more keenly than our kids. Try to remain neutral and not involve past hurts. And if your child seems okay about the situation, embrace that. Don’t try to prod them into feeling bad.
Don’t try to intervene
Man, it’s tempting to email Cooper’s mother with light-hearted banter about Ted’s’ invite going “missing”. Don’t do it. It’s not fair on anyone. We don’t know the situation behind limited party guests or even the intricacies of childhood friendships. This isn’t the time for mum to make it right. It’s the time for mum to offer hugs and understanding.
Acknowledge the disappointment
It’s an awful feeling when you are intentionally left out of something. It hurts and it sucks. We’ve come to exalt happiness above all other feelings but that’s not realistic. If your child is upset, that’s entirely understandable. Let them cry it out if they need to. Even if it breaks your heart a little. Maybe share some of your own experiences so that they know everyone goes through this.
Avoid being petty
Don’t let a non-invitation become the sticking point in a relationship. Kids learn relationships from us, so I think being graceful is always the better option. Even if you do want to secretly punch someone in the face. That feeling will pass. It would be a pity to ruin a friendship over it.
What if it’s your kid who can’t invite everyone
For those planning a limited number birthday party, here are some tips:
- Try to avoid giving invitations out when everyone is around. Emailed invites are a good idea.
- Let your child limit the list by himself. My (very pragmatic) son invites those on his soccer team. And when I suggest other people to invite he tells me, “Mum, I don’t want a large party and this way I can just invite my mates at soccer and no one’s feeling are hurt”
- Be mindful of just leaving one or two people out. That’s when it really stings.
- Let your child invite who they want to invite. It might be that they invite someone who didn’t invite them or vice versa. Childhood friendships are fluid things and a year is a long time in the schoolyard.
- Talk about kindness and discretion. I actually think kids get this. They know it’s mean to talk to others about an event they aren’t invited to. Sometimes they just need to reminded to treat others as they would like to be treated.
It’s hard to be left out and it’s hard to make decisions that you know will potentially hurt others. But on the flip-side, these are the experiences that shape our kids and let them grow emotionally. The chances to learn grace and resilience. We just have to remind ourselves of that when they are going through the hard stuff.
Have you had to deal with your child not invited to a party? Or an unhappy child who wasn’t invited to your kid’s party?
More advice for navigating children’s friendships:
- 18 Ways to Help Your Kids Navigate the Social Playground
- 4 Tips for Fostering First Friendships
- 15 Friendship Lessons I Want to Teach My Daughter