Weekend in focus: the sleepover

In Weekend in focus I review the weekend and look at our therapeutic parenting successes and failures, with the aim of learning something each time.

This weekend we took the girls for their first experience of sleeping over at someone else’s house since they came to live with us two years ago. We’ve taken them away to hotels and holiday cottages before, but sleeping at someone’s house was a bit different in Joanna’s head. She was torn between the excitement of wanting to do it, and the fact that the concept reminded her of moving from birth family to foster carers, and from foster carers to us. She was a bit nervous and tearful the night before, but we were confident that when it came to it she’d be OK. She’s familiar with her grandparents’ house, so there was very little that was new to her, really. Charlotte, meanwhile, had no nerves at all. She was just excited, excited, excited.

Bags in the car

Bags in the car

This weekend started for me and Pete at 8.00am on Friday when we dropped the girls at the school’s breakfast club. We were off for a day out, but first we dropped all our bags at Pete’s parents’ house, installed the car seats in their car, and put the girls’ fleecy blankets, teddies and iPods in the back of the car for them, so that as soon as they got in, they would be surrounded by several familiar things.

We then went for our day out – it was blissful. We talked and talked without interruption or hundreds of toilet stops. We went to the Lego shop without being badgered to buy anything, and just stared longingly at hideously expensive Lego campervans and bits of Lego Movie kit like MetalBeard’s Sea Cow and Bad Cop keyrings. We had a lovely lunch and a bit more ambling about – no racing back for the school run – before a leisurely return journey.

Pete’s parents collected the girls from school and took them back to their house. The transitional objects seemed to do their job well, because although Joanna said she was a bit nervous, she managed really well and was happily munching cheese on toast in front of the TV when we walked in. Charlotte was complete unfazed by the whole business and took it completely in her stride. They’d already decided who was sleeping in which rooms and so we went into the bedtime routine pretty quickly after we arrived.

Predictably, the girls took a while to settle. Charlotte, who had her own room, was intent on exploring every inch of it and had no intention of sleeping until that was complete. Joanna, who was sleeping in the same room as us, was just a bit fidgety in her sleeping bag and needed reassurance that we were still around. After an hour they were asleep. Phew.

I didn’t sleep well. Pete snored, Joanna woke up and wanted to come into my bed, she fidgeted… and then I had to keep Charlotte quiet from 6.00am so as to avoid the wrath of the mother-in-law. Pete was oblivious and slept merrily until 8.00am, as is his way. No, I’m not jealous at all. *cough*

On Saturday morning after breakfast we faced the usual homework battle with Joanna. A few times recently we’ve arranged for Pete and Charlotte do do the shopping, so Joanna has my undivided attention and no distractions from her sister. That’s worked really well. But Pete’s mum, thinking she was being encouraging and helpful, told Joanna she wanted to see her do her homework. To Joanna I’m pretty sure this just meant there was another person to fail in front of, and all the stress returned. Pete did it with her to start with, in the same room as his parents and Charlotte. Way too distracting and overwhelming and a massive strop ensued. I took her to another room and we calmed things down. She still wasn’t delighted to be doing homework, but we got it done.

After lunch we went to see Shaun the Sheep. Screen time often works really well for helping our girls to stay calm for prolonged periods, though we have to be careful about the content. What is classified as ‘mild peril’ can be just too scary for them. Paddington fell into this category, but Shaun was just about manageable. It also gave us a bit of a breather from all of the ‘staying with other people’ strangeness, taking us out of that environment and making it just about the four of us as usual. We had some stroppiness from Charlotte beforehand, but this isn’t desperately unusual for her, and by the end of the film she was fine again. See? Screen time. Works wonders!

Shaun the Sheep by Joanna

Shaun the Sheep by Joanna

By early evening, having had very little sleep and no time to myself (both vital for my own self-regulation), I was getting a bit frazzled. We were just about to start on the bedtime routine when Pete’s mum brought out another activity for the girls to do, without consulting with either of us. I was furious and considered leaving the room for a sulk, but instead took a deep breath and set about helping them speed through it in double-quick time so that we could stay on schedule. Thankfully we recovered it and they were so tired they went to sleep much more easily the second night. Me and Pete then nipped out to the pub, and everything felt much better after a cocktail.

On Sunday morning we left after breakfast – a good transition as I’d packed and loaded up the car while the girls were otherwise engaged, so it was quite quick. Again, they had their blankets and iPods to listen to. So far, so good. And then we arrived at church.  The same church we go to every week. We lasted about fifteen minutes into the service before Charlotte had a meltdown. All because I had a bit of a backache from two nights in a not over-comfortable bed, and therefore said I wouldn’t hold her on my hip during the songs as I often do. First came the lowered head and the accusatory ‘You. Have. Made. Me. Sad.’ Then the foot-stamp. Then we could see things were about to hit screeching pitch and so Pete (who was nearer the door than I was) whisked her out to the car, where she screamed at him for 45 minutes. Thankfully once she’d got it all out of her system he was able to take her to the nearby supermarket and buy our lunch. So it all worked out OK in the end.

Once home and lunched, we all piled on to the sofa and watched The Lego Movie together, which  was a nice ‘we’re-home-again-and-all-is back-to-normal’ experience. We then had a Chinese, which the girls have been asking for for a couple of weeks. Success.

All in all, I think it went pretty well, and certainly achieved the objective of helping Joanna experience a sleepover and knowing she can do it. Both girls have said they’re happy to try it without us in the future.



  • familiar transitional objects for the car journey
  • time out for me and Pete
  • screen time at the cinema and at home


  • not doing homework one-to-one
  • Mother-in-law spontaneity
  • deviating from routine in not holding Charlotte at church

Next time:

  • we’ll try leaving the girls with their grandparents overnight
  • we will get some sleep elsewhere
  • we might try drawing up a schedule with timings on for Pete’s parents’ and the girls’ benefit

Do you have any sleepover tips to share? Or are sleepovers out of the question for your child(ren) at the moment? I’d love to hear your comments.


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