Herald Journal Columns
Oct. 25, 2004 Herald Journal

Don’t take birthday parties for granted

By JENNI SEBORA

It seems that once your child begins school, so the invitations to classmates’ birthday parties begin also; at least for many children.

As a parent myself, I think we may take our children’s invitations to parties for granted. We may be as happy as our children are when they receive party invitations.

It means they have friends, which is so important.

We all want our children to do well academically, but social and emotional development are equally important.

Having friends, socializing, interacting with peers and others is extremely important in many ways for our children.

Most of all, we want our children to be happy, so when a child gets a card in the mail addressed to them, and it’s a birthday invitation to a friends party, he is thrilled. And so are we, usually. Better yet, is when our own child is having a birthday party.

Whether the party is big or small, the number of children invited is limited, unless you’re Oprah. That is reality.

As parents/guardians, we should be aware and cognizant of the children that aren’t invited or possibly have never been invited to a party.

As a special education teacher, I taught at the high school level for many years, and I fondly recall working with a high school student, Mike.

He was a wonderful person who was a very hard worker and put his best effort forth in everything he did. He was kind and wanted to please everyone he came in contact with. He loved to talk and socialize.

Mike had a cognitive impairment and he could not perform academically and emotionally at the same level as others his age. He was wonderful to be around. I still think of him and smile from ear to ear. Everyone has something to offer this world!

I worked with Mike for four years, so consequently I had many team meetings with him and his parents and others that worked with him. Mike was his parents’ only child, and his parents wanted the same things for him as we all do for our children.

I remember so vividly one of the last meetings I had with Mike and his parents, and his mother began crying. She said that Mike, who was 18 at the time, had never been invited to a birthday party. That really stuck with me. I had a three-year old son at the time who had all ready been invited to peers’ birthday parties.

I don’t know if the parents ever had a birthday party for Mike and invited people that Mike could really socialize with and who had the same interests, but that was neither the time nor the place to discuss that. I acknowledged the parents’ feelings, and I still do.

From that point on, I don’t take my children’s invitations to parties or play dates for granted.

I acknowledge how lucky they are for the invitation and discuss with my children that there are children that did not get invited. We discuss that to not hurt others’ feelings, it is best not to talk about the party at school. It doesn’t mean they can’t be excited about it, but contain the excitement at home and at the party.

As a teacher I also know what a big deal parties and invitations to them are for children young and old as well as for their parents.

A parent of a 15-year-old female student I worked with contacted me about her daughter not being invited to a peer’s birthday party. As I also worked with the peer, the parent wanted to know if there was anything I could do to intervene.

I certainly couldn’t dictate whom the birthday girl was inviting to her party, nor would I. I did discuss with the girl and the others involved with the party to talk about the party at home or over the phone, etc. Parties are a big deal!

As parties are wonderful social events for children to play and interact with others, they (or the lack of them) can be stressful events for others, when they don’t receive invitations.

It is good for children to be aware of others’ feelings. This is not always a skill that comes naturally. When your child is hosting a party, discussion of the party should be kept to a minimum at school, and maybe we could go a step farther and have our children invite someone that they may have never thought about inviting before. Just a thought.

Birthday party extras

Does your child have grandparents, other relatives or friends that live far away and may miss your child’s birthday milestones?

Have your child make a “birthday tape/cassette or video, and send it to grandma and grandpa or whomever the special person is.

Your child would be the one giving the best present ever.

Recycle the leftover birthday hats, goodies, and napkins to have a party for a household pet, stuffed animal, or doll.

Save wear and tear on your nerves and your home. Consider renting a neighborhood or nearby community room for your child’s party. An open area where children can let off steam is great, especially during the cold months!

Food for thought

“Children are like sponges. They absorb all your strength and leave you limp. But give them a squeeze and you get it all back.” (Reader’s Digest, February, 1982)

So give your “sponge” (whatever the size) a squeeze.

Happy November to all of you. Have a great week!