“Sleepovers are an important topic to consider as a parent,” says Dr. Alisha Carpenter, manager of Child & Adolescent Services at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. “They are beneficial because they create independence, self-advocacy and social bonds. But knowing when a child is ready, and more importantly, that the parent is confident they are safe and cared for, are both vital considerations.”
When it comes to sleepovers, there is no hard and fast rule on what age is right. Children as young as 5 may easily assimilate for an overnight with close family friends. Or children close to their teen years may call, tearfully, for a midnight pickup.
The trick is finding a time that is right for everyone — and being informed and prepared.
Is your child ready?
If your child is asking to attend a sleepover, chances are they’re ready. But there are a few more things to consider:
- Have they already successfully stayed overnight without you?
- Do they (and you) know the friend well?
- Can they get ready for bed independently?
- Can they sleep through the night without issues?
- Do they experience anxiety?
- Do they feel comfortable talking to adults?
Have a test run. Start small by hosting the first sleepover. This will help you see how your child reacts to a change in their nightly routine. You can also coordinate a pajama party with the friend’s parents — where your child stays late without staying over. A practice run will help your child know what to expect, and help you know they can do it.
- Have a game plan. Discussing the sleepover with the parents will not only ease your fears, but also will help you set expectations for your child. If your child knows they can bring their own pillow and blanket, or that they’ll be eating popcorn and watching movies, they’ll feel better about being out of their familiar environment.
- Stay in communication. Make sure your child can contact you directly whenever they want to. This might be a goodnight call or text — or even a more personal video chat. Hearing your voice or seeing your face can help remind your child that this is the plan in motion, that you’re close by and that you are available to them if they need you.
- Don’t force it. If a child isn’t ready, accept and appreciate it. Someday, they will be. And if you get the midnight call, pick them up immediately without question or a sense of disappointment. Showing a history of being ready and waiting can ease anxieties at future sleepovers.
Your child may be ready, but are you? Many parents struggle with the question of whether they’re uneasy about their child’s safety, or they’re unable to face this next stage in their child’s life.
“Parents should always trust their gut,” says Dr. Carpenter. “Saying no, or having rules around sleepovers doesn’t make you a bad parent; it makes you a caring one.”
A parent’s top concern should be the safety and well-being of their child. If this means a no-sleepover rule, so be it. If this means strict rules around sleepovers, go for it. But if you’re considering allowing your child to go to one for the first time, try the following:
- Get personal with the friend’s parents. If you haven’t already, create a clear channel of communication with the parents. Even better, spend some time with them. Knowing their routines and values will give you an idea of what to expect.
- Know who’s in the household. Perhaps the child’s parents are trustworthy, but who else will be around your child? A full house may be a fun house, but older siblings or out-of-town guests may not align with what you’re familiar or comfortable with.
- Be clear on sleeping arrangements. Knowing how the night will unfold, and end, is important. Ask what dinner will be, what the activities will be, and make sure he or she is sleeping somewhere safe.
- Keep communicating. Stay in contact with the parents. Make sure they know you’re interested and available. You want to know they are making your child a priority, and that they won’t force your child to stay in fear of disturbing you.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. If you feel uneasy about any sleepover situation, always feel empowered to keep your kids at home. Some parents may pressure others, to appease the wants of their own children. But only you know what’s best for your child. And that’s OK.