Brilliant Idea

Why The Sleep-Under Is The New Sleepover

The faux-sleepover is a great compromise, according to a trauma and attachment therapist.

by Eli Harwood
Originally Published: 
The faux-sleepover is a great compromise, according to a trauma and attachment therapist.

For many parents, an invitation for their child to join a sleepover party recalls fond memories and excitement for your kid. To some, your personal experience of sleepovers was a rite of passage and an adventure away from home. But for a substantial percentage of other parents, the sleepover invite comes with dread. Sometimes that apprehension is practical (they don’t sleep!!!), and sometimes it’s more serious, like managing homesickness and possible overnight accidents.

I’m sympathetic to all these worries, but I also think there is something magical about the sleepover that we don't want our children to miss out on. And so I offer another option: the sleep-under. Aka the stay late. It’s a faux-slumber party without the slumber or the unsupervised time. And it’s a perfect compromise.

The party can start exactly as a sleepover does, with a backpack full of pajamas and the anticipation of the goofy group fun. After dinner and cake (or pie if you’re at my house), the kids can change into their pajamas and stay up late eating popcorn and watching a movie. And the adventure element becomes staying up past bedtime (which they would have done anyway), and then once they have all hit the giddy delirium of being overtired, parents come to pick them up and put them to sleep in their own beds.

The sleep-under also helps to include our highly sensitive kids who struggle with overnight separation or bed-wetting. This set of kids is usually left to decline the invitation, keeping them from the bonding of the event. Or, if a parent does decide to send them to the party, they likely have a separation meltdown or an accident clean-up in front of their friends and need to be picked up early.

I’ll admit, I am a sleepover skeptic. I’m a trauma and attachment therapist, which means I’ve held the trauma stories of so many survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Now I’m certainly not saying your child will be abused at a sleepover by any means, but the chance is there: according to the CDC 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys experience childhood sexual abuse. And of those sexual abuse cases, 91% of them come from someone the family knows. And 33% of them occur at the hands of other minors. Unfortunately, the reality is that key ingredients for sexual abuse makes a sleepover a particularly vulnerable setting for such things.

But the thing is, I LOVED sleepovers as a child. I loved the energy that took hold of us as we cherished the permission to stay up late and spend special time together. I loved the silliness that ensued as we all settled in for a longer-than-normal hangout. I loved the exploration of my identity outside of my family and in the context of my friends. In fact, I was introduced to one of my life’s great loves while at a sleepover: Nachos. Thank you to the father of Jill Hottschedder. Truly a life-changing event for me.

As with everything, what feels right and comfortable for every family and community is different. While my family has made the personal choice to stick to sleep-unders until my kids are fully aware of bodily autonomy and boundaries, I fully get that other families have different priorities and kids mature at different ages.

If and when you do decide to allow sleepovers, make sure to equip your children with a solid understanding of body safety boundaries, an awareness of grooming behaviors, and an anatomically correct vocabulary to describe all of their body parts so they have words to use if something ever does happen to them.

So keep the sleep-under in mind for your kid. I promise, the silliness and nacho consumption will be there, too.

Eli Harwood is a licensed therapist, author, and educator who is passionate about helping people develop secure attachment relationships with their children and partners. Eli has worked with individuals, couples and families for the past 16 years in her therapy practice and is on a mission to give every parent a chance to create secure bonds with their children.

Eli has three children and can be found running her mouth about all things connection-focused on her popular social media accounts under the handle @attachmentnerd on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook. Her first book, Securely Attached, hits shelves via Penguin Random House in January 2024.

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