As parents, we hurt when our kids hurt. It's our gift, that beautiful empathy. Sometimes, we hurt even if our kids don't hurt, like when there's some perceived wrong against them. We naturally feel slighted when our kid is left out of activities and that reaction — "Why did they leave out my kid?" — can lead to feelings of resentment toward other families. If we're not careful, we can pass that negativity along to our children with serious consequences to their budding self-esteem.
To help explain this sensitive subject, consider this story. Once my sister-in-law was playing with her young sons. A spider had crawled nearby, scaring her youngest. My sister-in-law told him, "Don't be afraid. It's just a spider." She moved the eight-legged visitor out of the way and told her sons a few facts about spiders. In doing so, she took the fear out of the situation and taught them a positive way to react.
When your child is left out of some event, it's like they're seeing that spider. Use the potentially negative experience to teach them how to deal with something that's typically harmless.
It's hard advice to follow; I know from personal experience. When we first moved to town, we had trouble getting to know the community. Our children were often not invited to parties and activities. The reasons were obvious: One, many people still didn't know us and two, people tend to invite their neighbors and close friends.
That, however, didn't take out the sting when my kindergarten-aged daughter caught wind of the parties to which she hadn't been invited. It made her sad and that made me sad — there's that gift again, parental empathy. So here's what I did; I told her, "There's no rule saying you have to wait until your birthday to have a party. Let's have our own party and invite everyone we want!" The result: 13 or so kindergartners in my two-bedroom apartment, playing games and eating dessert. My daughter had a blast and soon forgot that she hadn't been invited to this or that party.
Rejection is an opportunity to teach empathy and confidence — both necessary skills if your child is ever going to apply for a job, go on a date or be a parent.
We had another party. And another. They weren't fancy affairs. Sometimes, the only thing we had was a coloring book, music and popcorn. Simple, but the rewards were far from. Soon, other parents realized we were serious about being friends and they invited my daughter to their own events. Plus, we learned with which friends my daughter really clicked and could easily arrange play dates from there.
I recently read about a group of moms who wished schools would not allow students to pass out invitations so there was no chance for their kids to feel excluded. I understand that impulse but think banning invitations at school would be a terrible mistake.
The last thing our children need is for their parents to micromanage and control every possible scenario where they could have their feelings hurt. Instead, we must provide our children opportunities to stick their necks out and, if needed, deal with rejection. Rejection is an opportunity to teach empathy and confidence — both necessary skills if your child is ever going to apply for a job, go on a date or be a parent.
So remember the spider. When an unpleasant feeling crawls into your family's space, know that how you react has incredible power to shape your child's experience. Don't teach your child to perceive the world through a lens of insecurity. Instead, show that spiders happen and that the best thing to do is move on to something better. Have your own party. Invite your own friends. Make your own fun.