Your kid comes home from school all excited and tells you that their friend invited them for a sleepover. Immediately, you go into panic mode, imagining 100 different (and scary) scenarios. What if your child gets frightened in the middle of the night and wants to come home? What if your child has an allergy and eats something dangerous for dinner? What if the family are ax murderers? Okay, well not that maybe, but the real question is: how will you know when your child is ready for sleepovers?
It’s not an easy question to answer, and like almost everything in parenting, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. In order to assess if your kiddo is ready to pack their overnight bag and snooze at a friend’s house, you’re going to have to check not just your child’s emotional readiness, but your own. “We all want our kids to have a great experience and create memories which includes having a sleepover,” says Irene Little, a marriage and family therapist in Frisco, TX. But even though a sleepover at a bestie’s house is a rite of passage for most kids, it’s important to not rush the process, either.
Here are some guidelines that can help you know when your child is ready for sleepovers
Your Child Sleeps Through The Night
If your child tosses and turns at bedtime, heading over to a friend’s house for a sleepover might not be the best idea. “It really depends on how well your child sleeps through the night,” says Little. So if your child needs frequent bathroom breaks —or wants to snuggle in your bed in the middle of the night— it might be better to hold off on sleepovers for a year or two.
You’ve Spoken To The Family
Letting your kiddo be in someone else’s care can be scary. After all, you never really know everything that goes on people’s homes. And there’s nothing wrong with knowing about what will be happening at the sleepover. For example, you should ask about potential drinking and driving and other safety issues. “It is important to ask, ‘Where are the guns in your home? Are they locked up or just hidden in your home? Do you have medicines locked up?’” says Little. The answers to these questions will help you decide if you want your child to spend the night—or not.
Your Child Knows About Body Safety
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. Sadly, letting your child sleep over at a friend’s house can possibly increase their chances of sexual assault. That’s why you need to help your child understand body safety. “Children need to know what is appropriate touch and what is healthy touch,” says Little. “We don’t know everything that goes on in people’s homes and most kids who are abused have been violated by someone they know and trust.” Make sure that your child understands that keeping a secret isn’t acceptable and that they can come and talk to you about anything, no matter what.
You Do A Dry Run Ahead Of Time
If you’re concerned that your child might be freaked out by things that go bump in the night at a friend’s house, try letting them sleep over at a trusted family member’s house. “Whether it be a grandparent or a favorite aunt or uncle, let them spend the night in a different place where they still feel connected and safe,” advises Stephanie Burstein, MS, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “If they make it through the night consistently (7+ visits) over time, you can then venture to a close friend’s house.”
You Have A Plan B
Although your child might be gung go to go over to their friend’s house, they might not feel the same way at 1:00 a.m. when they miss their bed—and you. “Decide how you will be available if your child struggles,” says Burstein. “Remember, if your child is learning this new skill, you must plan for discomfort and be available for them should they need you.” Although a night off from parenting sounds pretty good, you might need to be prepared for a 3:00 a.m. pick up if your kiddo is crying and wants to come home.
You’ve Set Some Expectations
Just because your child is sleeping over at a friend’s house doesn’t mean that they can do whatever they want. You should speak with the parents ahead of time to see what kind of ground rules they have for their own home. “It is okay and important to ask the other parent about their house rules,” says Burstein. “What do they allow their children to watch/listen to or what are their screen time rules?” Remember, it’s okay to tell your child no to the sleepover if the house rules don’t align with yours. But if you decide to let your child sleep over, you’re essentially saying yes to how that family runs their home.
You’ve Informed The Family Of Important Safety Issues
If you decide to let your child have a sleepover, it’s important to disclose any information you’d like the other parents to know before drop-off time. For example, you should let them know about any safety or medical concerns like allergies, medications, and medical conditions. After all, you don’t want the other parent to panic and not be able to administer medication if need be.
You’ve Set A Start (And End) Time
Just as important as making sure that your child is safe is establishing a start and end time for the sleepover. Because if your kiddo has a great time, they’re not going to want to leave right away—if at all. Having a set time before they go over to their friend’s house will avoid the “Just one more hour, Mom!” pleas.
You Keep It To A Minimum
If your child has a great time at their first sleepover, chances are they’re going to want to do it again—and soon. But you don’t want sleepovers to take over every weekend—and crimp on family time. “You always want to make sure that sleepovers do not impact your family’s connection,” says Burstein. So set some limits on how often sleepovers occur so that your child knows what to expect.
You’ve Equipped Your Kid With Everything They Need
In order to ensure sleepover success, you need to set your child up for anything—and everything. You might want to pack a couple of pairs of pajamas (just in case), and things from home that might make them feel better. “Bring one item from home such as a pillow, blanky, small stuffed animal, that comforts them should they feel homesick,” says Burstein. And make sure that your child has their personal info memorized (think cell number, home address, and parents’ phone numbers), and that they understand that they can reach out to you…day or night.
For any parent, it can be hard to know when your child is ready for sleepovers. Certainly, letting your child go to their first sleepover can be exciting (and scary) for both of you. But as long as your child shows signs of readiness and you’ve clearly communicated expectations, they can go snooze over at a friend’s house—and you can catch up on some much-needed rest yourself.