What to Do When the Kids at the Sleepover Won't Fall Asleep


To those at risk of drawing the short straw to sleep on the couch behind the big tent you set up in your family room to accommodate your child’s sleepover party, let’s get together on something:

You cannot make them go to sleep.

You can try. You can lead them there. You can get them close. But unless you are medicating them (and let’s assume you are not), you cannot close the deal. Like a great sale to a tough customer, the final urge to jump off that cliff has to come from within the buyer/sleeper, who may protest until the last waking moment.

But do not despair. With just a little preparation, you can edge the wakeful little ones over the railing to the brink of sleep; then, just hope for the best.

Let’s not insult each other by reminding everyone that you need to tire out the kids before bedtime. We know. We’re parents. But it may not be intuitive to disciplinarians (such as myself) that at a sleepover, one of the best ways to tire them out is to let them exhaust their excuses. These can multiply like bunnies, but really they fall within three categories.

1. I have a personal problem.

2. Something is wrong with my environment.

3. Something is wrong with someone else.

Let’s take them in order, shall we?

1. I have a personal problem. Don’t we all. Offering sympathy without assistance will defuse virtually every bogus excuse. “I’m not tired.” Oh, but you actually are so tired that your mind and body are confused. You’ll feel better soon. “I need to blow my nose.” I’m sure we have tissues somewhere, but the house is dark. Be careful. “I have gas from eating all of Aunt Maggie’s popcorn.” That’s okay. Pretend you’re camping.

Whatever the malady, gently putting it back on them corrals them into thinking that the only way to solve their problems (besides not fabricating them in the first place) is to sleep them off.

2. Something is wrong with my environment. Join the club, son; why do you think we’re saving for a down payment? “I made the wrong decision. I should have stayed home to sleep in my own bed.” Aw, I’m sorry, bud. It would make me sad if you left. But would you like me to drive you back? I can take you now. [Crickets.] “Your house has a lot of scary noises.” Yes, but their job is to wake me up if there is a problem, so they are keeping you safe–and sound. “My back hurts lying in the tent on the floor.” Well, here is a special bearskin blanket to place under your sleeping bag for padding. “Is it really made of bear skin?” What would you say if it were? “I would say it’s soft.” Would I lie to you? Wow, I’ll bet you’re comfy now!

A poor workman blames his tools.

3. Something is wrong with someone else. Boy, that’s the truth. “Someone threw my stuffed animal at my face.” I wonder how it got over to them in the first place. I’m glad you have it back! “So-and-so keeps telling me things even though we aren’t supposed to talk.” Thank you for telling me. “I beg your pardon, but the problem is I don’t think you understood me. I said I was nocturnal.” I like your affected British accent. Everyone in England is sleeping right now. You will lose your visa if you do not comply.

There are few things more soothing than surveying the problems of others to make you thankful that all is well with you.

Eventually their excuses will dissipate into a quiet lull–but they will reprise if you do not act decisively. This lapse is your moment to open Spotify on your phone, scroll to Moods and Genres, and queue up the Sleep playlist. “Do you want to listen to some music?” They will be too tired from listening to one another to refuse. Press play, and dream of the tomorrow’s first and second cups of coffee.

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