It's one of those scenarios that every parent dreads. Someone in your child's class is having a party, and everyone is invited. But not YOUR child. And the class bully is telling everyone. Your little one is in tears. And you are left wondering what kind of parent allows this to happen.
You begin second-guessing: Was it an accidental oversight? Are ALL the kids going except yours? Is your child being ostracised?
The sting of being left out can be devastating. Every day our child goes to school is a reminder that "I don't fit in", or "They don't like me." Humans are ultra-social - we flourish when our relationships with others are healthy. But when our relationships are poor, our self worth usually takes a tumble. There is a terribly negative impact, not just socially, but mentally, academically, and personally.
So what do you do? There are a number of approaches we might choose from.
The tough-love approach
There are some parents who become logical with their children, pointing out that life is tough and that even though it's horrible, "You can't be best friends with everyone." They may remind their child that she didn't invite everyone to her party either.
All of this may be true. But without some gentle understanding, hugs, and time "in" with a concerned parent, all a child may learn is that the world is a cold, hard place to get along and that even her parents don't care.
The indulgent intervention approach
Some parents have been known to speak with teachers and other parents in order to intervene and get their child invited to a party. While this may solve the problem in the short-term, all of the children will quickly work out that your child is only going to the party because "mum said I have to invite him." It can also lead to some awkward conversations when mum discovers that her child was intentionally left out. Ouch.
Other parents have put on a special party for their child and chosen not to invite certain others - or to invite everyone just to prove a point. This is unlikely to teach children much other than that vindictive revenge should be served up whenever required. But self-righteousness leaves a stale taste and an empty stomach. Wedges are likely to be made deeper through this approach.
A realistic and supportive strategy
Perhaps if we approach this situation with a view to support and listen, rather than fix, we might get the best outcomes. We might try the following:
- Recognise the emotions our child is experiencing as an opportunity for connection
- Invite our child to share their difficulties while you listen compassionately
- Help your child give names to the feelings he or she is experiencing. E.g. "I feel disappointed" , or lonely, or isolated, or rejected.
- Ask your child what he or she thinks would be the best thing to do, and brainstorm together. If your child is not sure, don't give answers, but instead, wait - or encourage your child to come up with more ideas and let you know later.
- Offer reassurance and love.
Such a situation may require some intervention. Perhaps a teacher or other parent might have some insight. Maybe it really was an accidental oversight. Or it may be that your child is having genuine difficulty with peers, or the environment is not right for your child. Perhaps it's time to look for new friends and a new school?
Some of these approaches are likely to lead to better outcomes than others.
Ultimately, however, the specifics of the situation may dictate what you decide to do. We can't make the world entirely accepting and kind to our children. But we can make their world more accepting and kind by the way we respond.
How have you dealt with this challenge in the past? How did it work? And, when you have a party for your child, how do you make sure no one feels left out?