March 14, 2015

Helping the Child Who’s Not Invited

A mother told me recently that her second-grade daughter had been passed over when invitations were issued for several friends’ birthday parties.  She wondered what was going on and what she should do.

This is naturally concerning. One wonders if other kids or their parents are trying to send some sort of message. One wonders if other kids are engaging in passive-aggressive bullying.  One wonders if one’s child doesn’t really fit in with her peers. A parent quite rightly wonders who is at fault for this situation, other parents, other children, or her own child.

Any of these scenarios is possible, of course. It could be that other parents or other children are treating your family badly. It could be that your child rubs other people the wrong way. But it’s also possible that nothing at all is happening or at least nothing much.

The guest list for a party of seven-year-old children is understandably short. There is a limit to the number of second-graders a parent wants to have responsibility for, especially second-graders under the influence of sugary party foods and birthday excitement. The old rule-of-thumb to invite as many children as the birthday girl is old clearly works only in the preschool years. Once a child’s age exceeds five, the number of guests should depend only on her parents’ estimate of their ability to keep things under control.

So it may be that a child who is passed over for a birthday invitation just may not have made the short list. This might not be what her parents’ wanted or expected but it’s not an indication of something awful. It’s important to not make more of this than it truly is.

In addition, it’s important to notice whose feelings are hurt the most, your child’s or your own. Usually it’s parents who feel this slight most keenly. Parents of course want their children to be happy. But if not being invited doesn’t seem to bother the child, then there’s no need to fret to the point the child is bothered. Keep your indignation to yourself.

If your child is not invited to friend’s parties, take a careful look at things while remaining fair. There may be a problem if…
  1. Invitations were issued in class, when uninvited children could see they were not included. Most schools have rules against this sort of thing. If this is happening at your child’s school, complain to the teacher and the principal.
  2. Friends use party invitations as a way of controlling others, saying things like “If you don’t do as I say, I won’t invite you to my birthday,” or otherwise use the party as a way to establish an in-group. This is bullying and should not be tolerated. Again, if this is going on at school or on the school bus, tell the teachers and principal.
  3. Your child is continually left out, not just of invitations, but in many aspects of kid social interactions. If no one will sit with your child at lunch, or play with your child at recess, or work with her on a project, there’s something amiss. Take a long, hard look at your child’s social skills and help her to find a compatible peer group.

It’s possible that when your child is left off an invitation list, there’s something serious going on. It’s possible that nothing serious is going on at all. It’s often difficult to tell.

But it’s very hard to sort things out if we’re blinded by our own hurt feelings and anger.  As you figure out what’s going on be careful to stay objective.  That’s the best way to help your child.

© 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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