Classmate birthday exclusion, parenting advice from Care and Feeding.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 7-year-old is about to be 8, and we are planning the celebration. I’m a fan of either “invite everyone in the class” or invite just one or two kids. My son wants the big party but he wants to invite everyone except one kid. This kid has been violent in class. He broke all his pencils one day. He threw a chair another day. Today he shoved a desk. We have talked to the teacher, and my son is not seated near him and can move away from him in the course of the day if he ever feels unsafe. My son is an anxious kid, so this situation has been especially hard. He talks about this kid fairly often and feels overwhelmed by him. He has told me that the kid in question lives with his grandparents (we are unsure what happened to the parents). Clearly he’s acting out, and there’s stuff going on that we don’t know about. I’m sure he feels isolated. Do I call off the party? Make a small one? Invite this kid despite my son’s very appropriate concerns?

—Worried Party Planner

Dear Party Planner,

Do not invite a child your son is afraid of! But you cannot exclude one child if the whole class is invited, either. Your son’s desire to have a big party, inviting everyone in his class but this one troubled child, is not one you should fulfill. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing for your son to learn at 8 that we strive not to hurt anyone’s feelings even if we dislike them. Even if they make us anxious. Even if we are downright afraid of them. That there is never an excuse for doing something clearly unkind. I also think this is an opportunity to talk to him about why some people lash out and behave badly. You can emphasize that this doesn’t mean we should put up with it, or that it “shouldn’t” make us nervous or upset—your son’s feelings are valid too. But contextualizing the actions of others and offering up opportunities to feel compassion are excellent birthday gifts for your soon-to-be 8-year-old.

I would say that if you’re going to throw him a party—and I certainly don’t think you should cancel plans for a party, which seems punitive—his only option is to invite just a few of the kids he’s closest to. (I don’t think you have to limit it to one or two; you can invite three or four without getting into the issue of exclusion, depending on how many kids he genuinely feels close to and often sees outside of school.) Make sure he knows why this is his only option. And if he would rather not have a party at all than do that, so be it.


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