Sleepovers: Should My Kids Have Them Or Not & At What Age?
Popcorn, movies, pillow fights, pancakes in the morning: wonderful memories come to mind when I fondly think back to my childhood sleepovers. They are balanced by other memories from those sleepovers: late nights, frozen underwear, hands dipped in warm water to make you pee, marker to the face.
I was always a morning person and still am today. I can hardly stay awake after it’s dark outside and often fall asleep during movies. This is a recipe for disaster during sleepovers. I was always the first to fall asleep and as a result usually the target for pranks from all of my night-owl friends. As you can imagine, I was not a fan of sleepovers. My parents are thankful that I wasn’t a big fan of sleepovers, because they weren’t either.
Easing Into Sleepovers
Despite my lack of enthusiasm as a child for sleepovers, I’m still grateful for my experiences. My first sleepover involved spending the night at my grandparent’s house. Once I was used to sleeping in a bed away from home, among other things, my parents knew I was ready for my first sleepover with friends.
My first experience spending the night at a friend’s house was when I was in the 4th grade. My parents made certain that they knew the friend’s parents very well before allowing me to spend the night. Speaking of which, out of every parent I’ve interviewed on the subject, the overall consensus is to know the friend’s parents really well before a sleepover comes to life.
Whether you have good or bad memories regarding sleepovers, as a parent, you should consider allowing your child to have the same experiences. Let’s evaluate the pros and cons of sleepovers.
- Fun: Your child will have a blast! These are childhood memories at their finest.
- Separation: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. A few hours apart will probably bring you closer together.
- Manners: This will give them great real world practice for using their manners.
- Independence: Mommy isn’t there to remind you to brush your teeth. This boost in independence may do wonders for your child. If anything, it’ll make them appreciate how much you do for them!
- Trust: Sleepovers are a great way to build mutual trust between parents and children. You have to trust them that they will listen, be respectful and be do the right things.
Sleepover Details to Consider
- Homesickness: Being away from the comfort of their own home, children may get homesick. Make sure they know ahead of time that you are always available to come get them if they want to leave.
- Different family structure: The rules will be different in someone else’s house. Make sure your child is aware of the different rules and make sure you’re okay with them.
- Safety: You’re trusting another family to take care of your child. Sometimes accidents happen. While it can be caused by lack of parental supervision, kids can get hurt no matter where they are.
- Bad decisions: When you get hyper kids together, they sometimes make bad decisions.
- Sleepover tricks: Frozen underwear, hands dipped in warm water to make you pee, whipped cream to the face — These are just some of the sleepover pranks that your kids may try on one another (at least they did when I was young), especially the ones who have trouble staying awake late.
- Exhaustion: After staying up all night, your child will be exhausted.
You know your child best. Sleepovers will allow them to open up and be their better selves or they may be intimidated by the thought of leaving the comfort of home. As their parent, you need to ask the questions, make decisions and do what’s best for your child. Here are some questions you should ask yourself in evaluating if your child is ready.
Is Your Child Ready for a Sleepover?
- Was it your child’s idea? Gauge your child’s level of interest for a sleepover. Was the idea pushed on them by the friend? Not good. Is your child genuinely excited for the sleepover? Great!
- How well do they do sleeping in different environments? Has your child ever spent the night any place else? I.e. on vacation, at the grandparent’s house. If they’ve transitioned well to sleeping at other places before, then they’re most likely to do just fine at a friend’s house — at least that’s the goal!
- How old is your child? There’s no rock solid answer for this, so use your best judgment. Set an age limit that you feel comfortable and then try it out. Most parents that I interviewed allowed sleepovers starting in the fourth grade (ages 9-10), but some as early as 4 years old with close friends.
- How does your child behave with the friend? Are they silly all the time? Do they egg each other on? Do they play quietly? Do they share? Ask yourself these questions before allowing your child to sleepover. While they’re used to spending limited time with one another, sleepovers mean they’re about to spend 15+ hours with their friend.
- How well do you know the parents? This is a big one! First and foremost, you need to feel comfortable with the friend’s parents. Trust is key here.
- Are you comfortable with the siblings? Sometimes older siblings can be bad influences. Make sure you are aware of who those siblings are and if they will be in the house during the sleepover, especially if they’re of the opposite gender.
If you decide you’re okay with sleepovers, but are just not ready for the big sleepover yet, here are some wonderful baby steps to take towards it.
Preparing Your Child for a Sleepover
- Start with play dates: Not only will this get your child used to their friends and the other parents, but it will allow you to get to know the friend’s parents better. Here are some tips on how to plan the perfect play date! Once you’ve had enough play dates to feel comfortable with the other family, you may be ready to take the next step — a sleepover!
- Practice good manners: This may be more of a southern thing to do, but having good manners is never a bad thing. For the weeks leading up to the sleepover, remind your child what good manners are and how to behave while at a friend’s house. Practice makes perfect!
- Plan a sleepover rehearsal: If your child has a cousin or close friend, have them spend the night at your house first. This will give them a taste at what a sleepover is really like.
- Reassurance: On the big day, be sure to let your child know that if they need you at any time, just to call you. Reassure them that if they don’t feel comfortable or get homesick, you can pick them up and they can try it again another time.
It’s okay if you decide that sleepovers are not the best idea right now. Some families flat out have a no-sleepover policy and that’s okay, too. Instead of completely skipping out on all of the sleepover party fun, here are some great alternatives to sleepovers:
Alternatives to Sleepovers
- Nighttime play dates: Letting your kids stay up past bedtime with their friends is the name of the game. Pull out some tasty sweets and games for the kids to enjoy while the parents get some much-needed adult conversation!
- Movie night: Have the kids over for popcorn, soda and candy and enjoy a family friendly movie in the living room! You can even make a pillow palette on the floor for extra excitement.
- Semi-Sleepover: The kids arrive in their pajamas, play games, watch movies and eat junk food just as they would in a traditional sleepover. The only difference is the parents pick up the kids before they go to bed.
- Breakfast party: Come in your pajamas and eat pancakes until your heart’s content.
Most importantly, you and your child need to be comfortable with sleepovers. Get to know the other parents and use your best judgment when making the decision to allow your child to attend a sleepover. And make plenty of popcorn!