Kids love sleepovers. They love the idea of spending the night away from home, not having to say goodbye to their friends at bedtime, getting some time away from parents and chores and normal life. And for parents it means a little time off (from a kid or two, anyway). Of course, once your child has a sleepover at a friend's house, reciprocation might be expected ...
So how do you know when your child is ready for a sleepover? And what ground rules do you need to set up beforehand? It will depend a little on your own family's policies and beliefs, but here are a few tips for successful sleepover experiences.
Age isn't everything.
When it comes to deciding whether a child is old enough for a sleepover, it can vary dramatically from child to child, so an arbitrary age or date might not be good enough. You will need to take into account how good they are at falling asleep on their own, sleeping through the night and taking care of their own basic needs. You might try a trial run at a family member's house before letting them spend the night at a friend's house.
Know the friend's parents.
Sure, little Susie from Sarah's class is nice enough, but what kind of home does she come from? Make contact with the friend's parents prior to agreeing to the sleepover. And a phone call might not be enough - you may want to visit the home itself, look for child-proofing and possible dangers (unsecured weapons, big dogs, busy streets, etc.), and talk to the parents about their rules and expectations.
Provide information about your child.
You'll also want to be sure they know a little about your son or daughter. Let them know about any food allergies, fears, special circumstances or hygiene habits to look out for. Though they have children of their own, they aren't going to know your child's wants and needs like you do. Provide a list of emergency numbers and your own address, even if your child has those memorized already. You never know if there might be an emergency or accident that prevents the child from telling them how to reach you.
Set up expectations and limitations.
Sit your child down before the sleepover and let him know that just because he's at another person's house where the rules are different, doesn't mean he can break the rules he would have at home. Sleepovers are sometimes the first exposure a child has to alcohol, drugs, sex and pornography, so tell them what you expect them to do if they come in contact with any of these things.
You might also remind them that as a guest, they need to be on their best behavior, which means helping clean up from meals, cleaning up after themselves and not being mean to siblings, pets or the parents. Here are some tips for talking to your teen about dating.
Stay up late.
Keep the phone nearby with the ringer turned up and don't go to bed any too early the night of the sleepover. Children are known for getting cold feet when they realize they have to sleep in a bed that isn't their own. Or they might wake up from a midnight nightmare and decide sleepovers aren't as fun as they thought. Be patient and understanding if this happens and don't give up after one try. When they're a little older or less fearful feel free to try again.
Talk about the sleepover afterwards.
Sleepovers can be some of your child's best childhood memories, but they can also be the worst if they come in contact with media or influences that scare them or tempt them to break important rules. Don't forget to talk to your kids about their experiences when the sleepover is over and watch for any changes in their behavior or moods. Sometimes, it's what they don't say that speaks louder than words.
It's fun as a kid to explore new places and make new friendships. Making sure you have your expectations set up ahead of time will make sleepovers into those fun memories your child will never forget. Here are 5 lessons kids from the 90's should pass on to their children.
Katie Nielsen is an adjunct English faculty member at Brigham Young University - Idaho and mother of one.