Highly Sensitive Kids, Birthdays, Sleepovers and Expectations

As we approached (read: hurtled towards) my eldest son’s ninth birthday we started discussing birthday party options. The ideas ranged from lots of guests to a few friends, holding it at home or going out for the day, hiring someone in to do the entertaining or a movie and a sleepover.

Getting the balance right for birthday parties for highly sensitive children can take some juggling and be a steep learning curve. Party games that put the birthday boy in the spotlight are uncomfortable. Too much noise and activity leads to overwhelm. No quiet time built in can result in overladen buckets. And the aftermath can be too much to bear – for the child and the parents! So over the years we have juggled, and learned.

This year, my son didn’t hesitate – a Harry Potter theme party with a couple of friends and a sleepover.

Birthdays, Sleepovers and ExpectationsIt was an interesting choice because if he was invited to a sleepover he wouldn’t go. It’s a common trait of highly sensitive children that they don’t like staying overnight without parents in an unfamiliar place. (If you own a copy of Langmuts you’ll see he loves his grandparents but won’t stay overnight with them).

In any case, my son was clear about the kind of party he wanted and we made it happen.

Fast forward to the party itself. All went to plan; the kids had fun and very importantly the birthday boy’s bucket remained easy for him to carry. Some of the children went home  and two friends were staying overnight. My son’s first sleepover.

They settled in and started watching the second Harry Potter film (Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets) in the living room on the pull out bed. When my husband and I figured it was way beyond late for a trio of nine year olds the DVD went off and so did the lights.

It wasn’t long before I heard the stomping of feet on the stairs. I saw my son dragging his duvet behind him, juggling cushions in his hands and dumping everything on our landing. I jumped out of bed and went to him.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“They keep chatting. I can’t sleep,” he said.

I couldn’t help but smirk a little as I explained, “But that’s what a sleepover is all about…Are you cross because you want to sleep and can’t or because you think you have to sleep?”

“Both,” he answered, starting to look a little confused.

It was only then that I realised that we hadn’t been clear with him about our and his expectations of a sleepover. It never crossed my mind to explain to him that for once when the lights went out it meant a change of routine, that this evening was different to other evenings when he went to bed. Once he realised that nobody would be getting into trouble because they were chatting downstairs he joined in wholeheartedly. (A bit too enthusiastically as it turned out but that’s a lesson for this naive parent and not for him…)

His strong conscience needed reassurance that he wouldn’t be crossing a line with us if things were different that night than other nights. Lights went out and they went to bed much, much, much later than my son usually does (hours later) so it never occurred to him that the three of them would do anything but go straight to sleep. He needed a safe nudge to know it was okay to have a little fun and step outside his usual pattern.

Every day parenting is another lesson learnt. In this case a lesson for me to lay aside assumptions and clearly talk about expectations……..

Over to You: Will your HSC stay overnight at other people’s houses without you? Have you hosted a sleepover for your HSC?



About Amanda van Mulligen

Mother, writer, author, blogger. Born British, Living Dutch. I have three Dutch sons and a Dutch husband and I blog about Turning Dutch and raising highly sensitive children.
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5 Responses to Highly Sensitive Kids, Birthdays, Sleepovers and Expectations

  1. Pingback: Highly Sensitive Children and Overnight Stays Away from Home | Happy Sensitive Kids

  2. Nav says:

    Hi. My daughter who’s 7 and an hsc has never slept over or had anyone over either. A few months ago she had the option of joining a girl’s guide type club at school and the leader said to me they’d have to sleep over at school for 2 nights. All the other activities they do sounded fun and I thought it would be helpful for her to make friends.However I left it to her to make the decision to join or not after I explained about having to sleep over. The teacher seemed to be saying it’s not something optional but compulsory and that I needed to let her become independent! My daughter decided she won’t join and to tell you the truth I was relieved as I couldn’t understand how a fully grown adult seemed to think it’s fine to force a 7year old to do this! I had a comment from another mum as well about how we need to help them become independent but I just didn’t say anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think they are ready when they are ready and there should not be any forcing it!! My son has a friend who will no longer stay overnight anywhere away from home as she had such an awful experience away at camp. Getting back from that is difficult and I think any parent knows what their child is ready for. A 7 year old also has a good idea about what they can and can’t handle….. listening to that is so important if they are to gain confidence to take steps out of their comfort zone later! Thanks for sharing your story!


  3. DeeDee says:

    My 9 year old HS had a friend sleep over for the first time this past summer. He had high expectations as far as what fun they would have, but really I don’t think he enjoyed it much. It was difficult for him to have another person in his bedroom, playing with his toys, looking at his stuff, hugging his dog, etc. I think it felt too invasive for him in his most intimate space (his room). They did sleep out in the living room watching movies,but I just don’t think my HS felt like he could get space. We’ve had this issue before where he’ll be fine and great playing outside or at someone else’s house, but he balks when someone else is in his person space at home. He has had no desire to do an overnight at anyone else’s house. I think a couple of the grandparents feel that I am not facilitating their relationship with their grandson by not making hims stay overnight, but most of his grandparents understand his disposition at least superficially.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that’s a very good summing up of how a HSC can feel! They generally need time alone to recharge and with a sleepover someone is with them constantly – and on top of that nothing of theirs is sacred! This wasn’t an issue for my son because they slept downstairs and his room was used to get changed in but that was it.

      We used to have issues with grandparents asking about my kids staying overnight with them (my eldest son saw it more as a threat then something fun 🙂 ) but we’ve sorted that out I think and there is understanding now thankfully. It’s a tricky one!! My eldest is already stressing about school camp which is 3 years away………..


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