A Parent’s Guide to Sleepovers

by Jill Morgenstern

My son’s first sleepover was at the home of a nurse. “He’ll be safer with her than he would be with me!” I reasoned. His sister was upset that he got to go. She considered it unfair that she was two and a half years older, but had never slept at a friend’s house. But her invites had generally been by parents I didn’t know. And not only was my son going to be in the care of a nurse, the nurse was someone I interacted with on a daily basis and knew fairly well. The difference between the sleepover that he got to attend and the ones that she had been deprived of was a safety issue. I felt good about sending him and it wasn’t a matter of his age.

Sleepovers can cause anxiety in even the most seasoned parents. How old should children be? How do I know they’re safe? Will they have a good time, or be cranky? And although some parents ban them completely, others consider them an indispensable part of a normal childhood. To be fair, sleepovers have many benefits:

Kids get a longer unstructured time to socialize. Especially with our busy schedules these days, unstructured play time is to be treasured. This larger block of time than they usually get with each other can provide needed time to socialize more deeply and engage in more intricate play scenarios.

Children get to see how other families function. Getting to see how other families eat dinner or getting to see other bedtime routines, can expand your children’s horizon. Whether it is different foods to try at dinner or different expectations about bedtime, children get a peek into a whole new world.

Sleepovers promote independence. As children grow older these experiences of being away from their parents will benefit them as they ultimately tackle the wider world by themselves. When your child wants to go on a school trip or to camp, he or she will already have the experience of being away from home.

Sleepovers increase responsibility as children learn how to navigate a new situation by themselves. Normal routines are suspended as they take charge of packing and getting ready for bed themselves.

How do you know if your child is ready for a sleepover?

According to clinical psychologist Samantha Rodman, there are a number of signs to keep in mind. Readiness for a sleepover is highly dependent on the individual child. According to Rodman, “If a child does well when traveling and sleeping in other beds, that is a good sign. If they are independent and view the sleepover as an adventure, allow them to try it out. Kids with social anxiety may be more hesitant and try later than other kids. Overall, by 4th grade most kids will be ready to sleep at a good friend’s house.”

Before the sleepover

In his book “Protecting the Gift,” Gavin DeBecker recommends treating the family of a potential sleepover with as much scrutiny as you would a babysitter. One easy way to accomplish this is to insist that before you send your child on a sleepover, that child spend the night at your home. This gives you a chance to get to know the family and find out more about them. Even if it’s a family you know well, you will want to verify details, such as who will be home on the night of the sleepover, whether there are weapons in the house, and what types of media are allowed.

Discuss your expectations in advance. Of course you want your child to use their best manners, to go to bed when expected, and to use polite table manners. But it is equally important that your kids know that they can call you at any time if they are uncomfortable.

During the sleepover

Most children will be happy with the additional time to play together. But if you want something more structured when you host, try a themed sleepover. Maybe it’s a movie night or baking night. Or perhaps an indoor camping party is more your child’s style.

After the sleepover

Discuss how the sleepover went afterward. What were the ups and downs? This information can help you plan the next sleepover or let you know if there’s anything you need to discuss with the other parents.

Plan for an easy following day. Most kids don’t sleep much on the night of a sleepover. They stay up well past bedtime and are often up at the crack of dawn due to the excitement. It’s better to plan a sleepover when your child can rest and recover the next day than to have to attend an important event with a crabby child.

With a little preparation, it’s possible to not only survive your children’s sleepovers but help your children make great memories! By keeping these ideas in mind next time your child asks for a sleepover so you can do your best to ensure that your child has a good experience.

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