When my eldest daughter was a tween, I fielded a few calls from parents about sleepovers that didn’t include enough sleep. When the other girls were ready for some shut-eye, my daughter resisted quiet time. Once she even melted into tantrum mode at 1:30 a.m, balking at the transition from party to sleep mode.
Regardless of when and why the parents called me, I always felt this unanswered question floating between us on the call: “What are you going to do about your daughter?”
Nearly as loud were their opinions about the situation: We don’t let our kids go on sleepovers. The other girls decided they’d be respectful once most everyone wanted to go to sleep; your 10-year-old wasn’t respectful. Did you punish her? Oh, your daughter was disruptive and wouldn’t go to sleep at our sleepover either, but we didn’t call you because she’s 10 and that’s OK.
I could empathize, to a point. I had hosted enough sleepovers to know my daughter was no saint. At the sleepovers I’d hosted, I’d rolled out different “rules.”
I’d pulled electronics at 11 and tried to stay awake until every girl was asleep. The staying awake made me a witch, so I forced myself to fall asleep long before the girls slept. I’d wake up and play the role of the sleep police (read: witch) at 2 a.m. None of it quite seemed to work.
So what was I going to do about my loud girl? I didn’t know but I did know this: She has always loved sleepovers. Taking them away — which my husband and I did for awhile — wasn’t going to work long-term.
Thankfully, I took some advice from a neighbor: My daughter would learn respect for the other girls’ sleep wishes in her own time. Friends getting mad at her at 1:30 a.m. would affect her more than any punishment or rule I could devise.
It’s so easy to listen to parental anxiety and step in with the wish to control behavior and avoid drama. Letting your kid make mistakes in real time with the hope that they learn along the way? Now that’s hard.
It was my job to make a safe place for her tears as she figured out how to act at the next sleepover.
But I listened to my neighbor and I talked to my daughter. I asked her what it was like when she got upset in the middle of the night when the other girls were mad at her. She replied with a flood of tears.
It was my job to make a safe place for her tears as she figured out how to act at the next sleepover. Struggle leads to human growth, right? At least that’s what clinical child psychologist Ross Greene told me recently.
So the next time a parent called me about my daughter and sleepovers, I had an answer ready for them. What was I going to do about my daughter?
My answer: I’d let my daughter experience the natural consequences from her actions, always making room to talk about her experiences. And I’d love her through the hurt.
Does it work? Maybe. The truth is that I’m asleep long before my daughter and her friends during the frequent sleepovers she hosts as a 16-year-old.
I’ve officially aged out of the sleepover dilemma. Here’s to hoping you will, too.