Invite Only: When Kids Feel Left Out
~By Michelle Siegman, MSW, LCSW
We all know that play dates, birthday parties, and recess are more than just fun and games for our kids. They’re where socialization begins, and they can spell heartbreak for the child who doesn’t receive an invitation to play with his/her peers. Read on to learn what you can do to ease the pain.
As a parent, your first duty is to listen and empathize when your child feels left out of the fun. When your daughter or son comes home in tears after not being invited classmate’s party, acknowledge the pain, listening calmly and quietly. Then begin brainstorming options for how to relieve her sadness or manage the issue at hand.
Check out the School Policy
When the absence of invitations becomes a pattern, one that lasts for months as birthday party after birthday party rolls on, it’s time to get more involved. You can start with your child’s school. Does the school have a party-invitation policy in its handbook? Many times, schools actually specify that if a child invites 50 percent or more of the class to a party, the entire class must be invited. In this case, speak to your child’s teacher and let him or her know that your child has been left out multiple times. If a policy does not exist, suggest to your school through your parent association that it be added to the handbook.
Talk with the Teacher
Getting an invitation is one thing. Getting your child in the game is another, and this demands probing a little deeper. Your child’s teacher has insights into your child’s social world that you probably don’t so an open, frank discussion with him or her is critical. Ask the teacher why he or she thinks your child is being left out. Ask detailed questions such as, “What kind of games does my child play at recess? Who does she play with? When group work is an option, does she readily join a group?”
Brace yourself for direct, possibly discomfiting feedback. After all, it may not be easy for the teacher to tell you things you don’t want to hear. Once you learn the full story, ask the teacher what he or she recommends so that your child can begin to more fully join the fun. Also remember to express full appreciation to the teacher for his or her time and openness.
If the teacher isn’t responsive to your queries, you may want to approach the assistant principal. If everyone on the staff fails to help you, you have no choice but to contact the parents who are throwing the parties. Remember that making accusations only puts people on the defensive, so be calm, reasonable, and genuinely inquisitive.
Model Social Practices at Home
The most important place to look for answers may be closer to home. Do you actively socialize with other parents? Are you involved in the parent association? Do you volunteer to help out at the school fundraiser? Do you invite families to your home for lunch or dinner?
Not everyone is a social butterfly, but some social modeling is critical. If you are disconnected from the people around you, more than likely your child will also struggle socially. So make the effort to actively engage with other families at least twice a month. Your world will grow a little bit bigger and so will your child’s.
About Michelle Siegman
Michelle is a Chicago-based Licensed Clinical Therapist with expertise in the areas of building social skills, bullying prevention, and implementing behavioral plans. Her eight years in the school system have provided her with an inside track and unique perspective of the academic environment. You can contact Michelle directly at (312) 259-5844.