By Christie del Amo Johnson
Tips for Making Your Child’s Sleepover a Success
Five-year-old Samantha Simons of Macon loves having slumber parties at her house. For now, her mother, Rhonda, has limited it to just one friend at a time. “I still think she and her friends are too young for a group sleepover,” says the Macon mom. “There would be too much excitement for them to calmly go to sleep and there would be too many children to talk to one on one if they were to get scared. It will be a few more years before we prepare for that idea.”
Whether it’s just a couple of kids or a bigger bunch, sleepovers are a great way to celebrate a birthday, get to know your kids’ friends or just have fun.
Is Your Child Ready?
Simons says she knew her daughter was ready to have a friend over when Samantha started talking about it. “I figured if she was smart enough to grasp the idea and wanted to do it, then why not try it.”
But while she was ready to have friends at her house, Rhonda says sleeping away from home was a different experience. “She just didn’t make it past 10 p.m. I think she is just a child that it takes a few tries at something before she is comfortable. She needs adjustment time,” says Simons.
Lisa Rouleau is a psychology professor at Wesleyan College in Macon. She is also a mother of two children ages nine and six. “They have both had sleepovers and attended sleepovers, which started around Kindergarten,” she says. “I use sleepovers as a way to give my kids independence and the chance to experience other families.”
Rouleau says deciding whether or not your child is ready for a slumber party isn’t always about age. Here are a few things to consider:
- How independent is your child at home? “If a child is making poor choices in the presence of his or her parents, he or she will likely make poor choices elsewhere,” she says.
- Are they sleeping through the night? If your child ends up in your bed every night, it’s a sure sign they’re not ready to stay at someone else’s house.
- What are they afraid of? If your child shudders at anything that goes bump in the night, you may need to wait for them to try a whole new environment in the dark.
- What are their bathroom habits? Think about if they need an escort to the bathroom every night. Or if they’re still wetting their bed that could be embarrassing for them—and a hassle for the host family.
The American Girl series actually has a book that deals with sleepover etiquette. “Reading a book with your child will also help a parent gauge readiness based on their child’s comments,” says Holtzclaw.
Katherine Holtzclaw, a family therapist in Macon, says for children who may not be ready for a full night away from home, parents may consider doing a “half” sleepover.
“Everyone brings pj’s and a sleeping bag, and after a late night movie, all return home around 10 pm,” she says. “It’s a great idea and an easy way to assess comfort level. Also, this helps everyone have a successful experience!”
Ideas for the Big Day & Night
When hosting a slumber party, have plenty of options. Parents say you don’t want a house full of kids with nothing to do. Here are some ideas:
- Arts and Crafts: Hit dollar stores and craft places. Buy construction paper, markers colored pencils, stencils, glue . . . anything you can get your hands on for cheap.
- Movie Night: For older kids, make sure you have a good selection of home movies they can pop in. Pick a theme for the night, all comedies, cartoons, or science fiction.
- Scavenger Hunt: Make a list of items kids can find throughout the house, as they locate them have them leave the item, but make a note where they are. The person who finds them all first can get a price.
- American Idol: Have the kids put on a talent show with the parents as judges. In the end, give them each a surprise for their efforts.
- Bake-off: Baking is always fun. Give each child a task . . . and in the end, they can enjoy the fruits of their labor. They can also make their own snacks for the night—like Smores or trail mix.
- Musical Sleeping Bags: Play some music and when it stops, each child has to hop in and zip themselves into a sleeping bag.
When you’re hosting a slumber party, don’t forget that the trick to having a successful slumber party for any age group is to allow the party to appear “wild” while actually being completely controlled by parents.
While sleepovers are a lot of fun, they are also a lot of work. But Simons says it’s all worth it in the end. “Be prepared to make many trips to the room to tell them to go to sleep,” says Simons. “It will be a long night, so make sure you get plenty of rest the day before.”
Proper Etiquette When Your Child Is a Guest
While there are no steadfast rules about what’s appropriate at a sleepover (after all, they are supposed to be about fun), child experts and parents say there are things moms and dads should consider.
- Parents Need to Talk First: This means going beyond getting the okay from the host family for your child to spend the night. Do not make special food requests for any reason other than allergies. What type of movies are they allowed to watch? Can they call to go home early?
- Talk to Your Child: Lay down ground rules. Tell them to clean up after themselves. You can even do a little role playing to help your child understand the right and wrong decisions to make. Make sure they understand, when you are not around, the host parent is in charge.
- Ask for Pick-up Time: Don’t leave your child at someone’s home all day. “Remember, the host family has probably had a very long night, so pick your kids up early so that the generous host can relax,” says Rouleau.
- Leave Emergency Contact Information: That includes any relatives that are nearby in case parents cannot be reached.
Slumber Party Risks
While slumber parties are considered a rite of passage by most parents, a few alarmists consider slumber parties just too risky these days. Their biggest concern is that they would be placing their child at risk for serious things including sexual molestation, suffocation games, alcohol, drugs, viewing inappropriate movies, and more when you leave them with another family. Discussing potentially dangerous situations before they arise might be the most important step parents can take in keeping their child safe. Meaning months and/or years before as well as the day before. One comfortable way to do this is to give your child a hypothetical situation and ask how she would respond, then discuss that response.
Once the invitation is on the table, questions should be asked of the host parents such as: what’s on the agenda; what movies will the kids watch; is television viewing supervised; will parents be sleeping in the room with kids; what are the ages of kids attending; is it co-ed, are guns in a safe place?
Another option is to allow your child to attend the party with the understanding that you will pick her/him up before bedtime or volunteer as an extra “supervisor.”
The bottom line is that most kids attending slumber parties are never going to experience anything worse than a possible social mishap.#