The Sleepover Guide

Oh, so you made it back! Welcome to part two of Growing Tree’s five part Sleepover Guide. If you missed it, last Wednesday I discussed some positive developmental aspects of sleepovers. Today I’m offering some guidelines to help identify when a child is ready for a sleepover away from home and how to prepare everyone for that first big step.
Part Two: Preparing Children (and Parents) for a First Sleepover Away from Home
There is no “right” age for children to start having sleepovers away from home. Children typically begin to get invited for sleepovers and sleepover parties between the ages of 7 and 10. Between close families, it’s fairly common for sleepover invitations to be extended to preschool aged children.
The most basic requirement for sleepover preparedness—children should be able to handle their bedtime routine and bathroom activities by themselves. Kids might not feel comfortable asking for help away from home and other parents might not feel comfortable helping them. (But for older kids who have trouble with bed wetting, I did find this helpful article on Surviving Sleepovers)

Letting kids sleepover at grandparents and relatives’ houses prepares them for sleepovers with friends. (The first night I was separated from my parents, I stayed with my cousins at our grandma’s house. My grandmother is an amazing cook, but the following morning one of my cousins threw-up after eating her blueberry pancakes. Since then I haven’t been generous enough to give blueberry pancakes a second chance.)
Blueberry peril aside, sleepover practice with relatives isn’t always possible. If you have doubts that your child is ready for a whole night away, a lot of families are trying the “sleepunder.” (Clever name, right? I’m not sure who first coined the term.)
For a sleepunder, kids get to stay over with friends later than usual. They can dress in pajamas, watch movies, tell scary stories and do all of the typical sleepover activities, without spending the whole night. A good sleepunder ending point is typically 10:30 p.m. for preschool and elementary school aged children.
When kids can act independently at home and when they have some sleepunder or family sleepover experience, they might be ready to try a “real” sleepover…but are you ready to let them go?

Sleepovers can be just as nerve-racking for parents as they are for kids. There are so many things you could worry about. “Will my child be safe? Will she watch movies I don’t want her to see? Will he play violent video games? Will she gorge on candy?” It’s normal to be uneasy.

But some concerns just aren’t worth stressing over. Remember it’s just one night and letting children make these choices for themselves is good practice for making later decisions.

It’s alright to talk about some concerns with the host parents. Express how you feel about movies and internet access, but don’t go overboard. It can come off as rude or pushy to micromanage your child’s sleepover from afar. Restrain from commenting on minor details like the food to be served. (Unless your child has a religious or serious health restriction.)

Make sure you meet the host family at least once. Try to have coffee or meet up with one of the host parents to talk before the sleepover. Just get to know each other better. After talking, if you don’t feel comfortable putting them in charge of your child—then DON’T! But, be tactful. Go home, think it over and then come up with a reasonable excuse. There are very few things more likely to upset a fellow parent then saying, “I don’t trust you with my child.”

If possible, let kids borrow a cell phone. Many homes don’t have landlines any longer and the phone will be a comfort even when your child’s biggest problem is missing the usual bedtime story.

To end on a more positive note, the most important thing you can do to help your child get ready for a sleepover is to be available by phone. Knowing that you’re a call away will help kids feel safe and happy. And be sure to let them know that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to come home early.

This has been Part Two of the Growing Tree Sleepover Guide. Next Wednesday’s topic is more cheerful; it’s Hosting a Sleepover for a Group of Boys! If you missed Part One: Developmental Benefits of Sleepovers, then check it out!
Thanks to Ronit Baras of Family Matters for her post, “The Right Age for a Sleepover” which inspired the direction of Parts 1 and 2 of our Sleepover Guide. Photo of Kids in Pajamas from YoungKids.Us. Photo of boy with space pancakes from the My Readable Feast Blog.

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