Your second-grader returns home bursting with big news: She's been invited to her first sleepover. You know she'll probably have the time of her life eating pizza and giggling with her friends, but you're still uneasy. What if she gets homesick? What if the host family stages a showing of Scream 3? What if she's just not ready?
"There's no set age for kids to begin having sleepovers," says Dr. Martha Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth, and Family Consortium. "What's important is that the child feels ready for the separation and knows it's okay to decide she'd rather stay home, despite peer pressure to do otherwise."
Erickson suggests parents look for these signs of readiness:
- Your child feels comfortable playing at a friend's house for several hours without you.
- She's independent about her bedtime routine.
- She wants to do the sleepover and seems confident it will go well.
Still not sure? Mimi Doe, author of the book Busy But Balanced: Practical and Inspirational Ways to Create a Calmer, Closer Family (St. Martin's Press), suggests asking your child to close her eyes and imagine staying overnight at a friend's home. "Ask her how she feels," says Doe. "If your child doesn't like the 'feel' of falling asleep away from home, she isn't ready."
What if your kid is rearing to go, but you have reservations about the hosts? "It's important for you to feel confident that the host family is completely trustworthy, has behavioral expectations consistent with your family values, and will be sensitive and responsive to your child's needs," says Erickson. Parents have every right to call the host parents and ask in a nonthreatening way what activities are being planned. Offer to help by providing movies or board games. If you feel uncomfortable with the host family for any reason, keep your child home. You can always have the next sleepover at your house.
Before She Goes
When your child is ready, Dr. Martha Erickson offers these tips to ensure a successful sleepover:
- Let your child choose a favorite stuffed animal or another special object to bring along.
- Arrange a time for a phone check to find out whether she still wants to spend the night. Don't make her feel ashamed if she gets cold feet.
- Talk about what to do if she gets scared. Suggest she tell her hosts, for instance, or call home.
- Discuss important details with the host, including approximate bed time, transportation, emergency numbers, and house rules.
You can also prepare your child spiritually for the big event. Author Mimi Doe suggests writing out a special prayer for your child and tucking it in her overnight bag. Remind her that God is with her, no matter where she falls asleep.
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