It’s hard to know how to react when your kid is excluded. (Photo: Emma Kim/Getty Images)
When picking up my 7-year-old daughter from school recently, her chin dragged to her chest as if attached to a lead weight. After we cleared the cacophony of classmates, parents, and caregivers, she explained her foul mood: At recess earlier that day, she’d approached six or seven of her good pals to chat. They were all excited for a birthday sleepover one of them was having that night — a party my daughter wasn’t invited to.
She told me that she thought she was close with the birthday girl in question – and now felt terrible to the point of tears. They got along well, hung out often at school, and had attended each other’s birthday parties in prior years. We’d just hosted a playdate for them a few weeks before. The diss was totally out of left field.
My daughter asked the birthday girl why she was the only one of their crew to be cast aside. “She told me she didn’t invite me because they wanted to do ‘girly’ things,” my perfectly female kid recalled when finally home, sobbing into my arms. “I don’t get that! I like to do girly things sometimes.”
I didn’t get it either. To hear about your exclusion and have it rubbed in as if it were due to a character flaw sat uncomfortably with me — and her. The rejection broke her heart and thus, broke mine. I bit my lip to withhold any commentary and instead asked what her reaction was to this random assessment of her predilections. She said she told her friend, “That’s not true and even if it were, it would’ve been nice to be invited.”
Exclusion hurts, but it happens — even to grown-ups. It’s especially hard when you don’t see it coming. Some schools attempt to help parents navigate this kind of awkward fallout by recommending the whole class gets invited, or all kids of the host’s gender make the cut. But in the real world, we can’t dance at every party. It can be a challenge to thin the herd to a manageable head count, and someone is always going to be left out. So how can one best help their kid through this kind of commonplace heartache?
Although your primary instinct may be to try and fix things, the most important thing is to let your child vent while remaining objective, says Claudia M. Gold, MD, pediatrician, and author of Keeping Your Child in Mind: Overcoming Defiance, Tantrums and other Everyday Behavior Problems by Seeing the World Through Your Child’s Eyes, and the forthcoming Listening to Parents and Children: Protecting Space and Time for Growth, Healing and Resilience. “Though parents often feel a need to do something, being present, tolerating their distress, and validating their feelings is very valuable,” Gold tells Yahoo Parenting. “The best message to send is that you love your child, and are there for them.”
Giving your kid the opportunity to work things out for themselves offers practice in dealing with exclusion that will inevitably happen later in life, Gold adds. Also, if your kid is young (around first or second grade), Gold says distractions — like a cuddle and a favorite movie or game with you — may help ease their pain, at least temporarily. If you notice your kid is left out of social activities more often, Gold recommends seeking out extracurricular activities where he or she can excel, build confidence and make new friends outside of school.
This mom can attest Gold’s approach can do the trick. Fortunately, by listening to my daughter, offering lots of hugs and piles of reassurance that she is perfectly awesome as is, my kid bounced back and she’s long moved on, knowing full well she’s “girly” enough to take on just about anything.