No one likes being left out. Too many of us bear raw memories of being the second-to-last picked for sports teams or worse, being passed over for parties.
When it comes to birthdays, those old hurts need to be put to one side. It’s purely a numbers game. Class sizes continue to swell. While B.C. and Ontario average 25 students per class in Grades 4–8, some classes have 30 students plus.
As a rule of thumb: if your child has fewer than 10 kids in the class, then by all means invite them all. Leaving out one or two children in this case feels intentionally exclusive and mean-spirited. But inviting, say, three or four friends from school, a few cousins and buddies from extracurriculars makes for a totally reasonable mix.
If the class has any more than 10 to 12 kids (most do), you’re within your rights to let your kid cherry-pick the guest list.
After all, a birthday is your child’s personal celebration, not a call to please his ‘closest’ 28 friends. Birthdays are special precisely because they are the one day your child is surrounded by their favourite people. The one day that your child doesn’t have to put up with Creepy Cole or Insufferable Sophia…
You wouldn’t invite your entire department to a dinner party just to be polite, so why should your child?
There are plenty of opportunities throughout a lifetime to go big or go home. Weddings, prom, bar mitzvah… Where birthdays are concerned, bigger is not better; it’s just louder and messier. Unless you have a burning urge to rent a hall or book a caterer, may I suggest that you keep it intimate. Your child will thank you for it.
We recently hosted a sixth birthday party for our youngest daughter, Chloe, and invited everyone in her class. Our reasons for inviting everyone stemmed from years of hosting, attending and studying similar scenarios with our three children.
We decided to host a party for charity chosen by our daughter, an experience that benefits both the host child and those in attendance. This scenario, we have found, thrives with the greatest number of kids participating. Even those kids unable to attend wanted to donate to a plethora of worthy causes. This was the perfect forum to teach the kids empathy and how to foster a culture of inclusion.
Speaking of inclusion, having spent time in classrooms, on field trips and chatting with other parents, I have seen how being excluded from birthday parties can affect a child’s confidence long term. It isolates those kids from the group.
If we were teaching a “How to Build a Bully” clinic, excluding kids from birthday parties would be lesson number one. For some kids, yours will be the only party they attend all year.
So, why not host a party where classmates have the opportunity to play, to be kids, to see each other in a social setting outside of school where new bonds can form and existing ones can strengthen?
I have yet to find a flaw in this approach. It gives other parents the chance to meet, your child gets to be “Star Student” for a couple of hours and if you go the charity route, raising money for a worthy cause has no downside and a whole lot of up.
Larger parties can be done on a budget and without a whole lot of mess (think park, or renting gym time). Party on!
On the one hand, it’s always nice to be inclusive and included. On the other hand, the harsh reality that children (and their parents) eventually need to realize is that it’s not always possible.
Including everyone could become costly and/or simply not be practical for some families. As children get older, including all classmates at birthday parties (even if they have a small class) is not necessary. Parents should use these opportunities to teach children that, unfortunately, life isn’t always fair. Speak with them about how to sensitively invite (or not invite) other children to their party, how to handle it when they are not included in a party, how to speak about their birthday party in front of other children who may not be invited, etc.
Parents can’t be there to make every life situation fair for their children, but they can role model and teach them how to deal with situations that seem unfair when they do arise.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2016.