School Starters Out into the World : The Odd One Out? Making friends (part 1) - Stress-free children’s parties Ensuring a good time for all

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Q: My child keeps coming home crying, telling me he’s been left out. What can I do?
A: Not knowing whether he’ll be welcomed or rejected by friends can be both upsetting and anxiety-provoking, since each day brings uncertainty about what he’ll face. While falling out with friends is common at his age, the situation is more serious with repeated exclusions that cause distress. This should be treated as bullying, so let him know you are going to speak with his teacher to work on a plan to help. He may ask you not to do anything, but bullying is unlikely to stop without an intervention from you and his teacher. Your plan with the teacher may involve holding lessons with the whole class on friendship and bullying issues. The teacher could also assist your child to make new friends by pairing him up with others for tasks in the classroom. Break-time staff can be alerted so they’re watchful of children being left out and step in to help. The children actively excluding your son and their parents may also receive some information about how behavior should change.

Speak regularly with the teacher to find out how these ideas are working, and ask for a daily update of what’s going well, or not, with your son. If the situation does not change, then review and adjust strategies with the teacher. When you act to support your son, he learns that telling about bullying helps and is more likely to confide in you if it happens again.

Q: My daughter never gets asked to birthday parties. Does this mean that she’s unpopular?
A: Seeing your child disappointed or left out can be distressing, but the number of parties she’s invited to is only one indicator of friendships. Perhaps, like many girls, she’s formed strong bonds with one or two others and so has a smaller circle of playmates to offer invitations. However, if your daughter is upset by this situation, it is worth investigating why it’s happening. It may be maturity: There is great variation in the rate of social-skill development in young children. If your child is slightly behind her classmates, she may have difficulties with shyness, taking over, or talking over others that can make her less appealing as a friend. Help her develop social skills by encouraging her to join organized clubs that promote teamwork. Invite children home to play and supervise closely so you can prompt conversation, and encourage sharing and cooperation.
Q: My child is very shy and won’t leave my side to play. How can I get her to be less clingy?
A: Shyness is part of your child’s temperament, just one aspect of what can be seen as an introverted or inward-looking personality. Your child may never be as outgoing or extroverted as you’d like, but being reserved is not necessarily a problem, nor is it a permanent quality. What your child learns in everyday social situations can reinforce or dispel some shyness—for example, if she’s pushed forward in social situations and is embarrassed, this will tend to increase her reticence, whereas joining in with a game or conversation successfully will encourage her to be more outgoing. However, at the moment her temperament seems to be getting in the way of her social development and everyday family life. Do introduce her to new people and places, but don’t surprise her by putting her in social situations without warning, since suddenly doing so will increase her anxiety. Instead, explain in advance where you’re going, who will be there, and how long you’ll stay. Stay near your child at first when you’re somewhere new. You are her secure base, and eventually she will move away to explore then return to reassure herself you are still there. Encourage her gently to mix, perhaps standing beside her as she begins to play with another child. Don’t sneak away once she appears settled or push her into situations she dislikes—feeling abandoned, lost, or pressured can increase distress. You can put a positive slant on her shyness by saying she’s careful who she mixes with. But don’t repeat any label too often, or she may start to identify with this characteristic even more. Other people could also expect less of her, giving her fewer chances to socialize.
Q: My son wants to win so much he alienates others. Can I help?
A: At this age your son’s games will grow more competitive, and he’ll care about winning and strive to come first. There are advantages to strong motivation; he’ll try his hardest to do well. However, if he has a competitive temperament, strong reactions can result in boasting when he does win and sulking or becoming aggressive if he doesn’t.

Holding a debrief after a sports event can tune him in to how each player contributes to a game. Ask him to identify what each person, from the coach through to the captain of the team, did toward the end result. This will focus him on cooperation and the value of good teamwork. Help him practice dealing with winning and losing by playing games together. When he wins you can model being a good loser by congratulating him; if he loses, praise him for playing well. If he starts to argue or disrupt the game, ask him firmly to stop and, if he can’t contain himself, take a break from the activity to calm down. Don’t fall into the trap of “letting” him win all the time to avoid a tantrum, since this doesn’t give you a chance to teach him how to handle not coming in first.

The sociable child Introvert or extrovert?

I’ve always been outgoing, often being the one to start up conversations and friendships, so I was surprised when my daughter was the opposite. It was painful to watch her hovering on the outside of an activity not having the confidence to ask if she could take part. I decided to teach her what to do. We rehearsed how to wait for a gap in the action, step forward, look someone in the face and say, “Can I join in?” then wait to see what happened. I made sure she knew that this wouldn’t always work. Having a plan seemed to kick start her into action, and although she’s not a leader in the games, she’s now usually part of them.

Party pressure

A quarter of parents report feeling pressure to give expensive party favors. Feeling anxious about keeping up with the latest in organized events can take the pleasure out of planning any party. Put things in perspective by reminding yourself what your child really likes about parties: Having fun and feeling special among people who love and care about him. Ask him what he remembers from the last couple of parties he went to. It was probably a game he played with friends and a joke he shared, rather than the contents of the party bag or the fancy invitations. No matter how much you spend or how elaborate or simple the party venue, it will be the atmosphere you create that makes it a success.


Friendships started in the early years can be strong enough to last your child into adult life

Stress-free children’s parties Ensuring a good time for all

Children differ in the sort of party they want, but at ages four to seven it is most likely your child will want to celebrate with a large group of friends. A little older and he may involve two or three “best friends” in a bigger event such as a day trip.

How to prepare

To avoid finding the whole class are on his invitation list, ask your child to choose those he sits next to at school and plays with at recess. By six to seven years old, he should be able to come up with a list without much help. Some schools encourage an “invite the whole class” policy to avoid disappointment. However, it is you and your child’s decision how many children to ask. If you’d rather not invite everyone, perhaps sharing a birthday cake in school will ensure no one feels left out. On the day, do a safety check of the venue. For example, make sure any outdoor ponds or pools are not accessible. If you’re at home, move breakable items and your child’s favorite toys away from party areas. If adults are attending and alcohol is being served, make sure there is a place to keep drinks away from the children’s play area, and do limit amounts. Supervising a party can be a busy task so recruit as much help as you can from friends and family.


Plan a mix of active and quieter party games; for example, follow a treasure hunt with a more sedate game such as telephone. As a final wind down try a craft. A modern slant on traditional games will make sure no child feels left out; in a game of statues, simply reward the children who stand still the best rather than having the child who moves go “out.”

Emotional overload

Keep a look out for signs that children are getting upset, such as small disagreements, snatching toys or going quiet. If this happens, get that child to help you with a little task.

Younger children will enjoy a shorter party with plenty of planned activities and treats, such as paper hats, to make it feel special.

As your child gets older, he may want to invite fewer children but for a longer event, maybe a day out.

The expectations and excitement of a party add to the fun, but can also lead to upset and tantrums as children reach a fever pitch of emotion. Step in quickly if you see things escalating or a child becoming overwhelmed.

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