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.
It 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?