Oh goodness, even just writing the headline of this article hurt my feelings. The pain of not being invited to a party, not making the team, not being cast in the play – ouch, these are tough realities to experience and even tougher emotions to process. And while some kids – for some inexplicable reasons – seem to have an advantage when it comes to popularity and recruitable talent, not being included is a fairly (unfairly!?) common childhood experience. Heck, it’s also a common adult experience, but my nerves are barely robust enough to deal with the junior variety of exclusion!
You can almost tell from the sight of your child – waiting for you to collect them from school, training, auditions – that they have not received the outcome they had hoped for. And then your child gets in the car and the distinct change in atmosphere confirms your suspicions.
The car is a good place for talking, however don’t expect too much from your child if news of the disappointment is still fresh and feelings raw. Responses can vary according to age, too. When my girls were younger, a whole well of emotional response would sometimes overflow and flood the vehicle as soon as the door was safely shut to the outside world. As they get older, however, silence can be the more typical initial response, and more of the story will be released as the hours pass.
Our kids will need our help to support them through the disappointment of not being included in something they would really like to be a part of. This is one of those golden opportunities for precious life learning and character growth, but yes – it totally still stings!
All the emotions are welcome
Sadness, despair, frustration, anger… it really helps our kids to know that all the big feelings are welcome and that we’re not rushing them to move on through to the other side and simply ‘get over it’. In the event of exclusion, allow time and space for the inevitable sadness. We empower our kids when we let them know that it is okay to feel the way they feel.
“That is so disappointing”
We can also empower our kids by helping them acknowledge and name their feelings, especially the younger ones who don’t have as much experience in the school of hard knocks.
‘That’s really sad, I’m so sorry.’
Slightly reframing ‘You must be so disappointed’ with ‘This is so disappointing’ can be more effective, as the former wording can inflame some children.
Showing empathy at this point – simply sitting with them and their feelings, and gently helping them articulate what they are going through – will mean the world to a child. Yes, it’s really hard to see a child feeling such poignant disappointment and yes, it’s really tempting to jump in and try and fix it! But empathy is where it’s at – when you’re showing empathy, you’re actually doing all the important work of parenting required in that moment.
Another really great thing about modelling empathy is that it helps our kids to have empathetic responses to other kids facing similar situations down the track. When we carefully and empathetically sit with our kids and help them process their feelings, we’re growing their empathy skills. In turn, that empathy can empower our kids to prevent other kids from being excluded in future. Inclusion is a noble goal, and our kids are good at it. Obviously, there are situations that are beyond their control, but there are also plenty of ways our kids can help other kids who might get left out at school or in other contexts.
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Avoid trying to fix it
As hard as it may be, we need to avoid the temptation to fix, problem solve or justify the decision that has wounded our child. Off limits is any form of ‘I told you so…’ as in ‘You’re not really that close to the birthday child’, ‘You haven’t practised enough,’ ‘You don’t have the experience for the part.’
And DEFINITELY avoid the urge to call the parent/coach/producer and demand they rethink their decision and issue our child with an invitation/position/role immediately.
Parenting Coach Jenny Hale confirms that the fixing issue is big in parents as it feels like part of our loving role to act on behalf of. The challenge, therefore, of ‘sitting on your hands’ and holding back from intervening is as big for parents as it is for children. “A very loving thing to do is to actually hold back, giving your child the confidence that they can manage this challenge and that you are okay as well, sitting in the midst of it,” says Jenny.
The pain of not being included is really tough – for both the child and the parent looking on. Jenny reminds us that we can transfer our sense of ‘We are going to get through this and you are capable’ by not rushing into a solution. If we refrain from going into ‘super alarm mode’ it also helps a child trust us with sharing a disappointment in future.
“You’ve got this”
When we’ve allowed time and space for our kids to sit with their big feelings, we can gently empower them with some problem-solving affirmations.
‘I know you’re brave, you’re going to get through this.’
Through the process of accepting the feelings, listening to your child and showing empathy, you’ve also shown your child that you’re not fazed by this disappointment either – while it’s sad, it’s not the end of the world. You’re both going to get through this and you’re both going to come out stronger. And later on, once the big feelings have subsided, we can gently give our kids some insights into the practicalities of hosting birthday parties and the need for capped numbers. We can help them understand why there are only so many places on a team. We can guide them towards a better understanding of these realities, but addressing their feelings needs to come first.
Finally, as parents we have the privilege of continually reinforcing our child’s sense of self-worth. Their value doesn’t come from being invited to everyone’s birthday party or making the top team, and we need to be the voice that regularly reminds them of this. But we also need to be honest here – for young kids (even for older kids and teens, for that matter), these types of accolades are very important. They can build their world on them, and subsequently their world can then fall apart. Our job as parents is to make sure there are firm foundations that support our kids through even the toughest disappointments, reinforcing their innate belief in themselves – they are unconditionally loved and cherished sons and daughters.
Now, not being invited is still going to hurt, and your beloved sons and daughters might not appear to be listening when you gently remind them again and again of how precious they are in your sight, but we have to trust the process.
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