Dear Carolyn: Two of my closest friends have a son, 6, who is a year younger than ours. This is the second year in a row that my son has not been invited to their son’s birthday party. Every year we invite their son to our boy’s birthday and he comes and has a good time.
I'll be the first to admit my son is not the easiest kid in the world. He has ADHD and is full of energy. He’s way ahead academically, but behind socially. He wants friends — and has one or two — but struggles keeping them because he’s extremely sensitive.
We see our friends five or six times a year. They live about 30 miles from us, not too far for a birthday party. Each time the kids get together they have a good time.
I don’t know if I’m being overly sensitive or if my friends are being insensitive. I’m feeling kind of angry and don’t know what to do about it.
You are putting all the weight of your son’s ADHD and social struggles on this one birthday party — understandably, but not helpfully. Your sons’ social future does not hinge on this party. Going would offer an hour or two of needed social practice, yes, and might give him a temporary (albeit welcome) shot of confidence, but that’s it.
It is the nature of special-needs parenthood (or just parenthood) to live and die by each chance to ease your child’s pain. I get it. That’s especially true when the source of pain itself blocks access to healing: Kids need peer interaction to develop social skills — and the ones who need social skills are most excluded by peers. It’s brutal to watch, and no doubt there are days you’d rather these peers just rip your heart out and get it over with.
But besides being a bad mental image over our corn flakes, it’s not what your boy needs. He needs you to (with apologies, if you’re already doing these things and I’m overreaching):
▪ Take the longest possible view, versus overthinking one party.
▪ Promote independent sources of confidence — art, puzzles, reading, pets — to counteract the bruising by peers.
▪ Give him regular, regulated, alternative ways to develop social skills. That could mean a hobby or sport he’s good at (that aids acceptance), a therapist-run social skills group, or just some extra parental fanning of friendship sparks. Your son likely can tell you who’s friendly to him at school and needs a friend or two him- or herself.
▪ Focus on the physical. ADHD + high energy + sensitivity = a kid who can benefit greatly from a physical outlet, be it sports, martial arts, scouting, dance, a climbing-gym membership. Just take direction from his strengths and devote regular blocks on your calendar.
These efforts will help your son and help you brush off the birthday snub, which I strongly advise — along with assuming it’s not really a snub. Little-kid birthdays tend to be about convenience. Just neighbors, say, or his whole class.
You can also exercise “closest friend” privilege, if experience says you can, and explain your kid needs the social practice … as long as you can mean it when you assure them “no” is a fine answer with no hard feelings attached.
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