Following one of my parent workshops, a woman related an incident in which another parent called her at home to scold her for not inviting her child to a birthday party. The woman relating the story was floored that she would get such a call and asked me what I thought about that. My initial thoughts were two things: it's so hard to see our children feeling left out and how much more parenting help the woman who called, needs.
Stepping up on behalf of your child is one thing, but over stepping boundaries to protect them unnecessarily is another. That mother should never have made that call and I at least hope that her child did not know that she was making it. If so, that woman's child may grow expecting someone else to always solve their problems and they may even lack the ability to handle disappointment and other difficult emotions.
So what do you do if your child is left sitting on a bench at the game or off the list of a party? The two most important things is to use the best listening skills you can conjure up and affirm your child's feelings in that moment. Avoid telling your child that she shouldn't feel that way and don't try to make it all better. A child processing their own feelings is a huge step in self-soothing and problem-solving.
One day when I picked my young daughter up from school, she was crying and said that a certain girl wasn't her friend anymore. I remember how difficult it was to see her hurting and I had difficulty fighting the urge to find a way to make it up to her. But I remembered my own childhood, how friends could change in an instant and for no obvious reason.
I let her cry it out and asked lots of open-ended questions to get her to talk about it. I wanted her to know that I was there for her and ready to listen. By the time we arrived at our destination, the tears had subsided and I was amazed to hear her sooth herself by saying that she still had a few other friends in her class. She even talked about having some play time with those other friends.
In addition to letting them vent, it's equally important to let a child know that what they are feeling is OK and that it's normal. Avoid talking too much in the beginning, but when they are ready to listen, validate their feelings with phrases like, "It must have really hurt your feelings when you didn't get an invitation," or "Wow, you must have been so disappointed." I found it helpful to offer examples from my own life when I experienced disappointment or hurt, being sure to use stories that she could comprehend.
In summary, don't rescue, don't try to "make things all better", and don't minimize the experience. Instead, be present, be silent, and be encouraging. Allow your child to experience life!
Bill Corbett has a degree in clinical psychology and has been invited to deliver the keynote address at a large education conference in Holland this Fall. He is happily married with three grown children, three grandchildren, and three step children and resides in Enfield, CT. You can visit his Web site www.CooperativeKids.com for further information and parenting advice.