Ep. 84c – Sarah Moore – My Child’s Not Invited To Playdates And Parties
When we feel we’re being left out, it’s tough.
When we feel our kids are being left out, it’s terrible!
This week, parenting specialist and author of Peaceful Discipline, Sarah Moore addresses a question about how to help our children when they don’t seem to be settled into the social realities of school – especially if they’re not being invited to playdates and birthday parties. Join us!
Sarah MooreSarah Moore is the director of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting, where she offers coaching and counsel around child development, trauma recovery, and interpersonal neurobiology.
She is also the author of her newly released book, Peaceful Discipline, and most importantly a Mom.
Ep. 84c – Sarah Moore – My Child’s Not Invited To Playdates And Parties
Rachel Cram – Good morning, Sarah. Thanks for being back for one last question.
Sarah Moore – I’m glad to be here again. Thank you.
RC – This question is part of what we want and need on Family 360 podcast. We want to explore as many angles of thoughts and questions as we can and we are going to put out episodes that don’t address all the questions and concerns of people and parents. So listeners, please be encouraged, as this parent did, email or message us when you want more said about a topic or a different angle of consideration. We want to hear from you. In fact, we need to hear from you. So a big thanks to this parent who wrote in. And thanks for taking this question, Sarah.
This is what the mom wrote. She said, “My son is a bright and kind and sensitive child who seems to have plenty of friends on the surface. As a family, we’re involved at his school, volunteering and helping out with clubs and teams. We regularly invite families over for meals and kids over to play. However, my son gets very few playdate invitations back and rarely receives one birthday party invitation a year. Family 360 had a recent episode on birthday parties and I feel like this component was missed. As a parent, there’s a huge weight, wondering if there’s anything you can do to make this better for your child, to help them make connections that are worthy of birthday party invitations or playdates. I’m wondering if Sarah can give some insights on how parents of children who are not fitting in easily help their child navigate difficult social realities such as these.
RC – Oh, what immediately comes to my mind when I read this question is times when I’ve felt left out and even worse, times I’ve felt like my kids have been left out. Times it’s seemed like all the other kids are connecting and mine is not a part of what’s taking place. So, Sarah, can you give some ideas, some insights on how parents help their child navigate difficult social realities such as not being invited to birthday parties and playdates?
SM – My heart just goes out to this parent because we all want our kids to be loved and cherished by all. And especially if this parent is describing the child as being bright and kind and sensitive. Clearly, this parent is fully aware of this child’s virtues. So why is it that the rest of the world doesn’t seem to see them? So I want to acknowledge as a parent how hard it is that the world doesn’t always see the light that our child is shining out into it. So first of all, I just want to show up for that parent and say, “I get it. It’s hard.”
Another thing that comes up for me is I am curious how the child feels about it. Oftentimes we as the adult sort of project how we want our child to be perceived. However, if we check in with our child, the child might say, this isn’t really an issue for me. We do know that according to the research, it is nfinitely, far more important for a child to have a good, close relationship with their parents or primary caregivers than it is with the people in their social circle. So if this child is engaging with parents, feeling loved, feeling supported, we’ve got the research at your back to say this is the most important relationship that your child not only should have with you, but absolutely must have with you. It’s an imperative.
So I would much rather, if we had to choose, have the child who feels loved and supported at home than the super quote unquote popular child who has a million friends but maybe isn’t getting what they’re needing at home. We also need to be aware that sensitive children are statistically more introverted than extroverted. About 80% of highly sensitive people, specifically children, are introverts. Therefore, by definition, we probably need less social interaction than an extroverted, sensitive or less sensitive child or adult. So we have to keep in mind that we might have a child who simply doesn’t need as much because too much can become draining for them.
I did hear in the question that this child seems to have plenty of friends at the surface, and maybe that’s enough for that child. Maybe that child says, “I talked to 20 different people today or ten different people today. Now, I have no desire to go and have a playdate, or to get invited to a birthday party or whatever, because I’m getting everything I need and then some from school, from social activities, from all of these groups that we have going on.”
Maybe that child already has enough and already is enough, just as they are.
RC – Humm. I actually experienced what you’re describing with my second child. I’m an extrovert, and my daughter was and is an introvert. And when she was in elementary school and even middle school, she had no interest in having playdates or hanging out with friends after school and I was really concerned for her. I could not comprehend her feeling content without a flow of friends around her. And then my sister, who is also an introvert, pointed out to me, “She’s not like you. Don’t make her feel wrong for not wanting what you wanted. She doesn’t want more social interactions after a day of school.”
And I was kind of stunned. The thought that my child might not be wanting and working towards more opportunities to connect with friends, had honestly not occurred to me because that was so far from my own purview.
So how Sarah, how does a parent determine whether or not their child is content with their social situation? How do you know if what you’re describing Sarah, a child not needing more time with friends, might be the case?
SM – Such a good question. What do we do? We ask them. We can ask the child. Are you happy with the amount of friends you have? And we may be really surprised to hear the answer. We also know this statistically in adulthood, adults thrive best when they have between three and five friends. That’s it. So if this parent is worried, oh, my goodness, there are 25 children in the child’s class and they were only invited to one birthday party this year. Or maybe no birthday parties. This is okay because children are figuring out who they like, who they don’t like, what works for them, what doesn’t work for them. And honestly, a younger child might not even be developed mentally ready for the invitations out into the quote unquote bigger world of birthday parties and social events. Again, this child might be absolutely thriving as they are, and they are going to take their sweet and beautiful time to figure out who their people are. Because we also know this about highly sensitive kids and adults, they are deeply loyal. They typically make wonderful friends and partners. And the friends that they make, they’re going to be committed to no matter what. If they haven’t yet found their people, that actually gives me comfort because I would much rather they wait for the right people than simply scoop up a bunch of the wrong people and then become loyal to them. So we really want to help our sensitive kids find people who deeply resonate with them. And they may not need all of the social interactions and external approval that we, with our adult eyes, would see them as having as a measure of success. If that makes sense.
As something else to keep in mind, too, is that for highly sensitive children, they will experience their feelings at a deeper level. So if there is anxiety or worry about making a new friend, they’re going to have that amplified. So our job as the adult isn’t just to push them into making friendships. “Go talk to that kid. Oh, go schedule a playdate. Go make a friend on the playground.”
That’s likely to be very overwhelming for them. So instead, as a parent or caregiver, we might start with, “How do you feel about the character in that book? Do you think that character would make a good friend? How about this friend from the TV show? Do you think that one would be a good friend? Why or why not? What do you like about that person?”
We start treading into the land of emotional safety with reaching out, role play, imagining, visualizing, what would it be like to ask somebody to come over sometime? And also, especially if the child is younger, the adult may need to take more of a direct involvement in setting up the playdates and being involved and helping the child connect to others. But here is a word of caution. We might choose a friend for our child who actually isn’t a very good fit. I could see how it could be really tempting to say, “Oh my goodness, I see this child on the playground. Everybody seems to love them. There are social butterfly. They can more or less mentor my child and help them get connected in all the ways. This will be a beautiful match.”
Well, that child may actually be totally overwhelming for your child. So much better and probably much more emotionally safe for your child would be; step one, let’s just go to the playground together and you can hang out with me. And I will confess, this is real me Sarah talking. You still catch me on the monkey bars and on the swings. I still do this with my child because it helps her feel more comfortable when we’re at the playground. So I am the tallest kid on the block, so to speak. But I’m right there with her because it helps increase her safety with engaging with others.
But I also would encourage the child in this situation, before talking to a single soul out there, to say, let’s seek out other people, regardless of age, who look like nice people. They might first start with as is actually really common for sensitive kids, they might start by picking out other adults. Maybe there’s a grandparent, maybe there’s somebody walking their dog. If they feel emotionally safe with you as their parent, they might start with somebody who actually would not make an appropriate friend for them.
But if we can validate what do you like about that person? That helps them learn to trust their instincts so they’ll be more likely to choose people who actually appeal to them and who they can deeply connect with, as opposed to trying to force them into a description of a child that they will never be; ie: social butterfly or whatever it may be.
Over time, with practice, with emotional support and the security and the ability to run back to you as often as they need to, when we embrace them in our nest, so to speak, they can grow and flourish and decide on their own when they’re ready to fly without us having to push them out of the nest. In fact, I dare say they will thrive much better if we let them fly when they are developmentally, socially and emotionally ready to seek out the relationships they want. Perhaps with a little bit of support from you, rather than feeling pressured to choose relationships that might not even feel right to them.
Lastly, and I know I’ve said quite a few words here, but lastly, I do want to normalize that there are a lot of kids, especially highly sensitive ones, who for years and years say, “My parents are my best friend. I don’t really need any friends. I don’t have to go talk to that person because I’m happy just who I am.”
This is actually a very good sign of secure attachment. You are their home base. And this is the child who, when they are a teenager in their twenties, thirties, forties. These are the kids who are going to look back and say, “I love how my parents supported me and let me go off when I was ready and didn’t force me into being somebody I didn’t want to be.”
I’m not at all implying that this parent who wrote in is forcing their child or not doing any of these things beautifully. But we do have to circle back to what I said at the beginning. We have to differentiate between our own hopes and expectations for our child versus checking in with the child themselves to say, “Are they happy?”
Because honestly, if they’re happy, they’re already happy, period.
RC – Thank you for those “So many words.” They are really helpful and insightful words. Sarah, say, the child does want to have more friends. Say, when you check in and ask them, they tell you they’re feeling left out and sad at school and are noticing they’re not getting invited to the birthday parties and wishing that they were. You mentioned role playing ‘making a friend.’ How do you set something like that up? What would that look like?
SM – That could look like the parent saying something like, “Tell me about the type of kid that you want to meet. Is there somebody in particular in your class who appeals to you? What is it about them that appeals to you? Have you noticed anything that they seem to enjoy doing?”
Start to help them pay attention to the desired friends, habits, personality interests, that sort of thing. And then you can ask questions like, “Do you think you have any common ground with this person?”
Let’s pretend you’re both really into basketball. Maybe one day you ask that child if they want to go play basketball at the playground with you, and you also play that out to the next level, too. If they say yes, what does that look like? If that child says no, how do you handle that? But you help give your child the scripts as well as the information that leads up to the script to know whether or not this is actually the right person to approach so that when the child is in the moment saying, “I’m looking at that friend, I want to meet them, I want to play with them,” the child feels like, “Oh, I practiced this a little bit at home and I know more or less how to handle it.”
So instead of standing here like a deer in headlights, not even knowing where to start, I know that I practiced with my mom or my dad or whoever. Oh, the first thing I say is, “Hi,” I can do that. That might be step one and that might be enough for today, but just practice. It makes it easier.
RC – You were also mentioning that often highly sensitive kids will gravitate more towards perhaps an adult, which is an easier relationship for them. And the highly sensitive kids that I know in my life, often they are the ones that are walking around the playground during recess and lunch with the teacher or the adults that are on recess duty. And having these involves conversations and quite delighting in those conversations.
Knowing that could be the case. Do you see a place for parents to go in and talk to teachers about their concerns, to try and figure out a way to line their child up with somebody who could possibly be a good playdate? Or does that seem like overstepping a boundary?
SM – I think it depends, but I think it’s absolutely worth asking the question. I would recommend that you get the child’s consent first. If the child is three or 13 or anywhere in between, I would ask the child, “Do you want me to do this?” And if they say ‘yes’, then by all means go have a conversation with the teacher. You can keep it low key. And it’s something that the teacher in most cases can be really helpful with.
RC – If a parent is in this situation and they are truly their child’s best friend, I think often as parents, we project into the future with concern, even though the now is fine. I can see a parent thinking, “Well, when my child is 20, 30, 40, am I still going to be their best friend?”
And although there’s a sweetness to that, there’s also a sadness to that. I just can see that being a concern. And what would you say to that?
SM – I would say two things. Number one, to address the sweetness. There is a reality there that can be a beautiful thing. This is the child who let’s pretend right now they’re ten and they are still saying, “Oh, you need to stay with me as I fall asleep tonight.”
You might think, “Oh my goodness, is this ever going to end?” This may be the child who at age 30 calls you at 10:30 some Friday night and said, “I just had the trickiest day. Can you talk to me a little bit?”
And we get to still show up knowing that they value our relationship because we created that level of emotional safety first. And I don’t know about you, but I would love it if my child is still calling me when she’s 30 or 40 or whatever, because we still want to show up and have that lasting relationship with our children. That’s what we’re designed to do. We’re designed for connection. It doesn’t expire because our child hits a certain age.
Secondly, I will address the sadness part of it, the grief. And I invite parents and caregivers to get curious about where that’s coming from. We might be catastrophizing. Does this mean they will have no other friends? Probably not. Does this mean that they won’t be able to tie their own shoes, go to the bathroom alone, get a job, whatever it may be? Probably not.
Let’s take that catastrophizing forward as far as we want to and get curious about it and say odds are really good that most of the things we’re worried about are very unlikely to happen. Much more likely is that you have a child who says, “My parents my best friend, and I still have a whole rich, beautiful life because I learned how safe and healthy friendship could feel first with my parent. Now I know not to settle for anything that feels less healthy, less compassionate, less patient, less loving.”
And these are going to be the kids who go out and seek truly healthy, loving relationships for themselves. Over time, they will get there naturally. And we get to still be part of the picture.
RC – Sarah. I think you’ve answered this question. I want to thank you so much. It has been such a pleasure to have been meeting with you over this last month. I just feel like you have such an incredible warmth and wisdom to you. And I just want more. I want more of Sarah Moore.
SM – Thank you. I want more of you too. You’re lovely.
RC – Oh, well, we will have to look for a second keynote address from you. Because I would love to probe into your mind again. It has been such a joy to talk to you. I thank you so much. And on behalf of the people who wrote in and the beautiful way that you answer their questions, I say thank you too.
SM – My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.