Growing concerns: slumber party
Once your child starts at school she’ll make a whole bunch of new friends
and pretty soon she’ll start pestering you for a sleepover. But while your first child-free night in years might be your dream come true, how can you make sure you won’t be making that PJ-clad midnight mercy dash to ‘rescue’ your child or deliver her weeping friend back home to her own bed?
Is our child ready for a sleepover?
Our seven-year-old is talking about having sleepovers, but we're not sure she's old enough. We're especially uneasy about the idea of slumber parties, and yet that seems to be a big thing with our friends' kids. At what age is it okay and what can parents do to make sleepovers manageable?
Dr Erickson says…
Sleepovers and slumber parties are big events for children – a time to feel grown-up, to enjoy a special closeness with friends, to tell silly jokes or scary stories, to laugh until they cry. And yes, sleepovers can be big headaches for parents!
There’s no set age when it's okay for kids to begin having sleepovers, and children vary greatly in terms of when they (and their parents) feel ready. For many children, a sleepover at a friend's house is their first time away from home. It's a chance to spread their wings and practice for longer separations such as camp or special trips. What's important is that the child feels ready for that separation and knows that it's okay to decide she'd rather stay home and sleep in her own bed, despite peer pressure to do otherwise.
The first time your daughter does decide to stay at a friend's house, do assure her that she can call you if she changes her mind (if your child is the one hosting a sleepover, you might let guests know in advance that at a certain time you'll check to be sure everyone wants to stay – then offer a lift, or call the parents, if anyone wants to go home).
When planning sleepovers, it's important that parents of both guests and hosts communicate clearly about when kids should arrive and leave, where parents can be reached in case of an emergency, and what the plan is if a child gets scared or homesick or misbehaves. As for misbehaviour, even the most well-behaved kids sometimes get wound up and do foolish things in the excitement of a slumber party. Crank phone calls and sneaking outside in the middle of the night are all-time favourites among older kids. In fact I remember doing the same when I was a kid, and it came back around to me a few years ago when I caught my son and his friends sneaking out after curfew. So, the best thing is to anticipate the possibilities and lay down clear ground rules in advance. These might include:
- Staying inside after a certain hour, which will vary depending on the age of the kids.
- Rules about what to eat and where (but be liberal folks... this is a time for treats!)
- Limited use of the telephone.
- Rules about noise level and physical activity (pillow fights can be fun but hazardous to your household).
- Guidelines for acceptable movies Scary movies are a popular slumber party activity, but can be really frightening for young children
In general, when you do muster the courage to host a slumber party, work with your child to choose fun games, DVDs, and special snacks. Simplify your job by asking each guest to bring a sleeping bag. Then as they arrive, clearly tell them your expectations, rules and the consequences if anyone doesn't follow the rules. Let them know that if everyone plays by the rules, everyone can have a great time!