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March 19, 2015
The Real Issue
Should I Invite the Teacher?
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


My daughter is turning six this month. We are having a party for her kindergarten classmates, and she wants to invite her teacher. I doubt the teacher wants to come, but I don’t want to crush my daughter’s belief that her teacher loves her.

So do I tell my daughter that the teacher doesn’t want to come, or do I send the invitation and let the teacher tell her?


To answer your question, I consulted an elementary school teacher. And you are right: Your daughter’s teacher does not want to attend your daughter’s birthday party.

What’s more, she may dread even being invited to her students’ birthday parties, because it puts her in the position of telling her students, “I’m sorry, but I can’t.” Or in other words, “I don’t want to come to your birthday party. I like you, but I have more important things to do.”

The key here is that no matter how loving and nurturing your daughter’s teacher is, she and your family have a professional, not social, relationship. The teacher has a million things to do during non-work hours, including attending her own family and social events.

An invitation to your daughter’s party might feel like pressure to attend a work-related event (the birthday party) on her personal time.

Even if you and the teacher had a particularly warm relationship, and she thought it would be fun to attend the birthday party, her professionalism might prevent it. Social and professional behaviors are different.

And she might choose to avoid any opportunities for misunderstanding by declining social invitations from her students and their families. Also, if she attended one birthday party, she would have to attend all of the birthday parties, and there’s no way she has time for that.

Your daughter’s teacher probably receives a few invitations from her students every year, and she probably has a gentle script for declining them. But her ability to decline an invitation with grace is not a reason to put the job of declining on her, especially if you suspect that her refusal will disappoint your daughter.

But you cannot flat-out tell a beaming kindergartener that her teacher has better things to do than attend her birthday party. So how can you communicate these ideas to your young daughter without implying that her teacher does not love her? I suggest a lesson on invitation etiquette.

First, teach her that not everyone she invites will come to her party. Being five, she is probably operating under the misconception that everyone she invites to her birthday party will be excited and will come. This is an adorable misconception in a kindergartener, and we are glad that young children don’t yet know any different.

However, you — as an adult — know that not everyone wants to or is able to accept every invitation. It is your job to kindly align your daughter’s expectations with this reality.

So as you make your guest list for the party, you need to say, in an informational and positive tone of voice: “We are going to invite everyone in your school class. But not everyone will be able to come. Some of your friends will say, ‘No, I can’t come,’ and they won’t be at the party.”

She may have questions about this bit of information, which you can answer simply and directly. Your goal is to teach her that it is perfectly normal for people to decline invitations. It is disappointing, but it is to be expected, and it is not the end of the world. Indeed, you might add, even she, some day, will have to say no to an invitation.

Second, teach her how to respond when someone declines her invitation. Social scripts are comforting. They give a person something polite to say in the face of disappointment or dismay. In this case, you can start positively by giving her the happy script: “When one of your classmates tells you he or she can come to your party, you should say, ‘Oh, good! I’m glad you can come!’”

Then, move on to the disappointing script: “But when someone tells you he can’t come, you should say, ‘Oh, that’s too bad. We will miss you.’ You shouldn’t ask why the person can’t come — that’s rude because it makes the person feel uncomfortable. You just say, ‘Oh, that’s too bad. We will miss you.’”

Then, practice these scripts with your daughter. You pretend to be a friend saying yes or no, and she will practice her response. Keep your positive tone going, and when she is successful, tell her that you are impressed that she can master this grown-up skill.

Third, when you make the guest list, explain that the party is for her similarly-aged friends and classmates. “Your birthday party will be for children,” you might explain. “So we will invite your kindergarten class and the Johnson boys from our building.” If she asks to invite her teacher, you can say, with a smile, “No. This is a party for children, and Miss Prism is a grown-up.”

Finally, a caution. In your explanations, be sure not to say anything to your daughter that you do not want repeated to her teacher in a garbled form. Although it is true that you are professional and not social acquaintances, for example, you would not want your daughter telling her teacher: “My mom said I can’t invite you to my party because we don’t socialize with you.”

That is neither what you said nor what you meant, and it will probably offend the teacher even though she doesn’t want to come to the party.

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