David Coleman answers: Should I allow my children to sleep over with their friends?
I'm living in Belgium and my mum sends over your articles.
My husband is Belgian and we have three children, aged 13, 11 and nine. I'm interested in hearing your opinion regarding sleepovers?
Here in Belgium, it is becoming increasingly popular to organise a sleepover to celebrate birthdays.
I do not feel comfortable about these and have never allowed my children to go.
I have a number of reasons why.
Firstly, my parents never let us sleepover as children.
Secondly, I don't feel I can ever fully trust the parents (who does one really know?!)
Thirdly, I'm afraid my children will come home feeling shattered by a lack of sleep, crap food and an overdose of computer games! What do you think about sleepovers?
Answer: I think sleepovers can be great fun for children and for teenagers. It always seems to me that the main goal of a sleepover is to extend the time that children can spend with their friends.
There is something exciting about being able to stretch out a visit beyond what is usual so that it seems like the fun doesn't have to stop.
Then, as an added bonus, children get to wake up and start playing or hanging out straightaway in the morning without having to wait until a "reasonable time of the day" to visit their friends.
I understand your concerns about sleepovers and they are all valid.
If you have never had the experience of sleeping over as a child then you may just not know some of the really positive experiences that children can have staying with friends.
Your concern about children coming home wrecked, having over-indulged in many ways, is accurately realised. Mind you, the over-indulgence is sometimes the point of sleeping over! It is also a very temporary state for children and they can quickly get back into their home routine.
You are right to always consider the responsibility and behaviour of the parents who are hosting.
Even if they are not harbouring dark thoughts of abuse, they may just be laissez-faire in their attitude and may not supervise the children appropriately.
In my experience, the most significant factor to consider in letting your children go on sleepovers is indeed the attitude and nature of the parents.
It is crucial that the host parent(s) take the visit seriously and acknowledge that they do have a vital supervisory role.
It sounds like there might be a lot of peer and other social pressure on you to revisit the notion of sleepovers.
If so, then there are things you can do to reduce some of your anxieties.
The first thing may be to offer to host a sleepover before letting your child go to someone else's house.
This gives you a lot of control over what happens.
You can start by just inviting a single child over to stay. Then you can plan, with your own child, what they might do for the evening to break up a dependence on games consoles or the TV. Pyjama hikes, trampolining by moonlight, torchlight treasure hunts and the like can all add some fresh air to the mix.
While children might prefer to trash these limits, they will still get the main benefits of sleepovers even if you hold the limits and they end up getting more sleep than they had intended!
If your child is going for their first sleepover, arrange it with some close family friends where both you and your child can feel more confident that they will be well cared for and minded.
A successful trial run with good friends may help you to feel more relaxed.
If you are anticipating an invite for your child to a group sleepover, then perhaps see if you can arrange for your child to go to sleepover on his or her own first.
This is especially helpful if you don't know the family very well. That way they (and you) can get familiar with the friend's home and family.
Spend some time at the drop-off chatting to the parent(s) about their plans for the night, the sleeping arrangements and so on. When your child comes home, you can get some feedback about their comfort and sense of ease.
This may give you some reassurance that all will be okay if they go to what may be a little more manic affair, as part of a birthday group celebration.
How do we stop son from hitting classmates?
Our five-year-old son (the eldest of three boys) started in Junior Infants in a Gaelscoil this year.
He is very happy and seemed to settle in very well. We had some problems at home, from the age of four and a half to five, with tantrums, shouting and frustration, but it improved.
I then went back to work after almost a year on maternity leave and he started in a new after-school. However, there have been incidents in the schoolyard recently that his teacher has brought to our attention. In all cases he has hit or pushed another child and denied it when confronted by the teacher on yard duty.
He then screams or shouts in the teacher's face. We have spoken to him about it and given him an earlier bedtime and taken away a favourite toy, but it hasn't worked. He usually feels that the other child did something to him first. I would love to find out why he's doing this and how we can help him to deal with his emotions in a better way.
Answer: I imagine that your son may be acting his age in his interactions with his peers. I think it is quite common for boys in particular to settle their differences with a push or a shove.
In your son's case, I think his acting out, perhaps even aggressive behaviour, is also understandable in the context of all of the changes he has experienced in the last couple of months.
He has started in a new school, a new after-school facility and he has less time with you since you are back to work full time. Any of these changes could have caused him some stress or anxiety.
Displaying such stress or anxiety with a lower frustration tolerance is a very normal thing to do.
His reaction to being caught, of denying his behaviour and arguing with the teacher, is also a very normal thing to do.
Almost no child will willingly admit to misbehaviour when they know they are in trouble. Also he may be frustrated that he can't explain to the teacher adequately what happened as he may not have the skill, as Gaeilge, to express himself effectively.
Even the rows he is having with his peers may be occurring because he can't negotiate, as Gaeilge, with them either.
I am delighted to see that your primary interest is in helping him to deal with his emotions better, rather than simply trying to change his behaviour.
Because I think that your son is showing, in his actions, that he is a bit stressed in his life generally, helping him to cope with all the changes he has experienced will be far more beneficial to him than punishing his misbehaviour.
With that in mind, you may want to reconsider the punishments of early bedtime and taking his favourite toy. He probably perceives these punishments as unjust and they may be adding to his underlying frustration and making him more likely to lash out.
An alternative approach is to talk with him a lot about what it is like adjusting to all the changes. Guess at how he might feel having to speak in Irish all the time in school.
Talk with him about what it may be like to miss seeing you as much and how he might be struggling to rely so much on his own internal resources without the same level of support as he may have had when you were more available to him.
If he feels more understood then hopefully he will be less likely to act out in the ways you have described.
Alongside this empathetic approach, do continue to firmly remind him that hitting and pushing are not acceptable. Give him some alternative strategies for dealing with frustration or upset. It is also really important to stay engaged with his teacher.