Agreeing on a theme, blowing up balloons, coming up with fun activities, and making kid-friendly snacks are all a piece of cake when compared to the biggest question of all: Who do you have to invite to your girl’s birthday party?
Many schools insist that if your child is having a party (yes, even outside of school hours and off school grounds) that the whole class must be invited so that no child feels left out. And that’s a nice idea in theory, but in practice, it’s a lot more complicated. As we all know, throwing a party—even a very simple one—can be expensive, and the more people invited, the more costly the event becomes. Secondly, not every family has room to host 30 children at their home or the bandwidth to host them for a group outing. Plus, your girl might just want to celebrate with a few select friends. But are these factors enough to warrant not inviting the whole class? Girl Scouts’ Developmental Psychologist Andrea Bastiani Archibald says…yes!
“Kids start to form real friendships based on common interests even before grade school,” Dr. Bastiani Archibald says. “So it’s natural that your daughter might prefer to celebrate with just the children she feels closest to. This allows her to spend more quality time with them and increase their bond, which is an important step in her social development.” That said, although your girl might not want to invite everyone in her class, she does need to be kind to and respectful of everyone to minimize hurt feelings.
So, how can you, as her parent help with this? “If you’re only inviting five or six of her closest buddies to your house for a sleepover, or to the park for a soccer game and cake—that’s absolutely fine, but don’t distribute the invitations in class, at a troop meeting, in dance class, or in any other group setting where not every child will be included,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald. Wait until after school or class and give them to her friends’ parents, contact them via social media, or help your girl call her guests to invite them personally. Make sure to alert parents that only a small group was invited, so they know what to expect and can avoid putting other parents and children in an awkward situation by asking if they’re going to be attending.
Also, take the time to explain to your child that even though she’s excited about her upcoming celebration, she’s not inviting the whole class or group, so it would be rude and maybe even hurtful of her to talk about it around others. And should word get out, there are some graceful ways she can handle it. If another child gets upset and asks why she didn’t get invited—especially if she’d previously invited your daughter to her own celebrations—your girl can explain that it will be a small party and that she could only invite a few people. “Kids who weren’t invited, but who hear about the party, might be disappointed,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald, “but your daughter shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for connecting on a deeper level with some children than others, and for wanting to share her special day with those she considers her close friends.”
Dr. Bastiani Archibald says that there is, however, one instance in which you probably should extend the invitation to the whole class or group. “If you look at your invite list and realize you’re about to invite 21 out of the 23 children in your girl’s class or seven out of eight kids in her troop or dance class, step back and ask yourself ‘what’s another kid or two?’” she asks. “There’s a big difference between inviting only a small number of kids and inviting almost everyone, so that only a couple of children feel pointedly singled out. The first scenario is fair and fine, but the second one can seem purposefully exclusionary, even if that’s not the case.”
But what if your child is the one who didn’t get invited to the party? Even worse, what if most of her friends are going to this party, and your girl wasn’t asked in the first place? “This is really hard to deal with as a parent, because all you want is for your child to be happy and feel wanted and accepted,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald. “Seeing your daughter grapple with feelings of rejection, sadness, jealousy, and possibly even anger is heartbreaking, but you can help guide her through this experience. Ask her how she’s feeling, and let her know that feeling sad is completely normal and OK. Then tell her about a party or other event you didn’t get invited to (it happens to all of us!) and let her know how you handled it and moved on.” It can also be helpful to remind her of a time when she couldn’t or chose not to invite everyone. Having an empathetic parent on her side to help her think through this will help her process her feelings and feel better.
But do resist the urge to pick up the phone and chew out the parents of the birthday girl or boy for not inviting your daughter. “Just like your daughter has a right to be friends outside of school with whomever she chooses, so does this child.” So unless there’s actual bullying going on, it’s probably best to just let this one go and use it as a teaching moment within your family. It might be helpful to talk with your girl about the difference between being friendly and being a friend. “Liking someone a lot and not having those feelings returned on the same level is hard at any age,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald. “Your girl should know that although she should do her best to be friendly to everyone, friends fill a special role in our lives—and that the depth of those relationships, and the time it takes to foster a real friendship sets those people apart from others.” Your best bet here is to help your girl invest her time and energy in forming relationships with other children who will be as enthusiastic about being friends with her as she is with them.