by Jenn ThorntonWhile many a yesteryear parent allowed their children to pack up for a sleepover without much concern, modern-day moms and dads are giving more thought to factors like readiness and safety. So, how do you know if your child is ready for the almighty overnight? Dee-Anna R. Dreier, Psy.D., MFT, in Placerville, provides us with the A-to-Zs.
READY…OR NOT?To truly determine your child’s sleepover readiness, it’s best to tap your own parental instincts, but “when children can express a genuine interest in staying over at a friend’s home, it’s a good time to explore the option,” notes Dreier, recommending you take into account the child’s level of separation anxiety. In other words, the last time you two lovebirds flew the coop, did your baby bird spread her wings or fail to come out of her shell?
Put another way, “When the child stays with a family member, a parent might question how they react,” Dreier explains. “Do they have fun? Do they become upset when dropped off?” While answers will provide a good gauge, also factor in bedwetting issues (a sure way to fuel a child’s embarrassment if an accident were to occur while sleeping over at a peer’s house), along with frequent nightmares or sleepwalking—all signs of whether or not a child is sufficiently steeled for a sleepover. Also consider factors such as child development, maturity, and one’s ability to handle responsibility and respect rules. For Dreier, “When children are able to speak up for themselves if feeling uncomfortable, and know the difference between right and wrong behavior—their own as well as adults’ and peers’—this is a good indicator that they are mentally ready to attend a sleepover.”
If the answer to a proposed overnight is “no” (or not yet), “inform the child of your decision in a clear and concise way,” with the understanding that, though he or she is likely to be upset, it won’t last forever, says Dreier. Or maybe you concede to the level with which you are comfortable. In the case of a slumber party, consider allowing the child to attend for a few hours, not all night. In the end, a little compromise is likely to go a long way until your child is ready.
MEET THE PARENTSIf the answer is “yes,” do your research—know where your child is spending the night and exactly who is running the show. Do house rules mirror your own? Are both sets of parents on the same page? If not, are little differences in rules acceptable or a total break with your family’s values? Capture a full picture of the situation, which might involve issues like unsecured firearms in the home, pets that might affect children with allergies, or unrestricted Internet and cable access. Also, where will your child be bunking? Will siblings be involved in the sleepover—and do you know them?
Address these and other reasonable concerns with hosting parents and your children gingerly, advises Dreier. Casual inquiries “shows the parents of the child hosting the sleepover that you care about the safety and well-being of your child and entrust them with their care,” she says. And though modern times call for modern measures, “As a therapist, I’m not a big fan of coed sleepovers,” Dreier says. “I don’t hear of many parents allowing their child to sleep over at a friend’s house who is of the opposite sex—especially in adolescence, as they might indulge in more risky behavior when their parents go to sleep.”
PREPARE FOR THE BESTHelping a child pack for a sleepover is a good time to address minding one’s manners, respecting house rules and even homesickness. If prone to the latter, suggest your child pack a comforting item, such as a blanket or stuffed toy, along with their pajamas. And by all means, talk about safety. Finally, send them off knowing you’ve prepared them for a successful sleepover. Now, for a little adult time…
SET PARENTAL CONTROLS. Know and trust the other parents—meet them in person prior to sending your child to their home.
TAKE CHARGE. Confirm that other parents will be in the home during the sleepover—especially crucial for adolescents prone to “sneaking out” and going to areas potentially dangerous or off-limits to your child.
MAKE SLEEPING ARRANGEMENTS. Will the parents be having their own friends over during the sleepover? Will other children or siblings also be there? Know before your child goes.
PUT THEM AT EASE. Tell your child where you’ll be (even if that’s at home). Reassure her that it’s OK to come home. Make sure she knows all your phone numbers in case of an emergency. Discuss a safety plan so she knows what is and is not appropriate, and what to do if there is an uncomfortable situation.