When the replies began rolling in, most began with, “Yes, my child can attend your son’s birthday sleepover, but are you crazy?” Seems that many parents have observed the same phenomenon I have, namely that eight-year-old boys have a lot of energy, they tend to use that energy to bash each other a lot, and they don’t often listen to instructions, requests, or pleas presented to them verbally by adults.
So inviting five of them to occupy our house for 17 hours seemed genuinely insane to our friends.
But I had secret weapons. In planning this slumber party, I made sure the following were in place:
1. Schedule for Daylight Saving Time’s start. Sure, the 4pm-9am child-free window we offered looked quite appealing. But it was a lie. Those parents had to get their children by what used to be 8am. Earlier than school starts. We win!
2. Push bedtime as late as is reasonable. Then push it a little further. My kids go to bed at 7:30. So last year I tried to put all the kids into a dark room by 8pm. Terrible idea. They were up, being silly, jumping around, then hysterical until 10:30. The next day was horrifying. So this year we ran them around, showed a movie, and gave them a big snack. Then we put them to bed at 9pm, a full hour passed every other kid’s bedtime. Every single kid was asleep by 9:10. We win again!
3. Do nothing. For the first seven years of my child’s life, I planned a great number of games and projects for birthday parties. Because my kids can’t sit still and don’t always make great choices when left to their own devices. But this time we had eight-year-olds. They’re self-policing, I told myself. And I ditched the little one and his father on a preschool potluck so it was just second-graders. When the guests announced, three minutes into the party that they were bored, I pointed to the backyard, I pointed to the board games, and I went to the kitchen to cook. They figured it out. Sure they needed some guidance (“boys, only two at a time on the hammock and no jumping on each other, please”). But nobody told me they were bored, and nobody broke anything.
4. Feed them. A lot. Big dinner. Popcorn during the movie. Cake. It’s hard enough to get children to fall asleep, but hungry children will plague you all night.
5. Choose a movie several years younger than the birthday kid. If you’re looking for sleep, don’t show something with a complicated plot or lots of special effects. Sure, eight-year-olds could probably watch Star Wars or Harry Potter (though not with my nightmare-prone guy). Instead of something allegedly age appropriate, I chose something for 5-year-olds because they needed to be able to relax without missing key plot points. It worked. When someone talked, nobody shushed them. When one could not sit still for the life of him, he bounced around and got up and down but nobody cared. The movie was so simple that they could still follow.
6. Invite only children you know pretty well. This doesn’t mean only children you’ve seen behaving well in class and this doesn’t mean only children who’ve been to your house before. It means children who know you well enough to not be worried and whom you know well enough to tell them to knock it off when you have to. Because you will have to.
7. Prepare for an early morning. We all pretend that going to bed late will make kids sleep in. But they’re not college students. Sleeping over ends at the very first glimmer of dawn, regardless of how late children finally crash. So know it’s coming. Have a stack of library books nearby, a couple of decks of cards handy, and your coffee ready. There is no willing them back to sleep, and the sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be.
8. Have one big project for after breakfast. Undirected, the time after about 7:30 can go seriously wrong. Tired kids and adults with no plan is not a good scene. We always have a backyard egg hunt, but do what works for you. Twister. A walk to a park. A craft project. Charades. Something where they focus and move and get some space from each other. Otherwise, the half hour before pickup will be too close to The Hunger Games for anyone’s comfort.
Now, go invite a handful of kids over to play and sleepover. You’ll earn their parents’ gratitude, your child’s severely limited joy, and a well-earned second helping of cake.