My oldest son, who is now 13, had his first sleepover when he was just 5 years old. His bottom bunk hosted his best buddy and it was a very sweet and drama-free event. When sleepovers are done right, they create a bond between kids that a play date cannot replace. However, if your child is not ready for sleepovers then all hell can break loose. The problem is how do you know when your child is ready for his first sleepover experience? Here are my top 6 tips for pain-free sleepover success:
Be Real About Your Child's Sleep Habits
Is your child a rock star sleeper? Does he fall asleep easily on his own and stay asleep until the morning? If you answer “no” to any of these questions then your child is just not ready for sleepovers. The worse thing to do is to rush your child if it's going to cause him anxiety or a sleepless night. Sleeping in the same room as a friend creates extra distractions, and a different energy and emotion that your child may not be ready to cope with. It’s okay for your child to not be ready, even if his friends are all hosting sleepovers. Everyone is different.
Get The Scoop On Your Guest's Sleep Habits
Once you have asked yourself honest questions about your own child, you need to turn your attention to your guest. Pre-qualify the worthiness of your children’s friends, by asking their parents lots of direct questions. Here are some examples:
"Is your child a good sleeper?”
“Does he have an easy bedtime routine that isn't filled with stories, songs, rhymes, or extra fluff?“
“When he's asleep does he stay asleep?”
“Does he wake up and wander the house or fall into your bed?”
If there are any hesitations to the above questions, then do not be afraid to cancel the sleepover invitation and try again in six months time. There really is no reason (or fun!) in babysitting another parent’s child at two in the morning because he's scared and wants to go home to his mommy.
Listen To Your Intuition
I recommend hosting a long play date first, in order to observe behavior. If your child’s friend cannot even make it through an afternoon play date without shrieking, or having their every move policed, then the sleepover will be more trouble than it’s worth. I like mellow kids because I've raised three mellow boys, and the very last thing I want to do is invite a loose cannon into my home for over 12 hours who may upset my peaceful family dynamic. Listen to your intuition and do not grant a sleepover request unless it feels right - otherwise you will be cringing all night long at the poor behavior of someone else’s child.
Manage The Numbers
I recommend always keeping the guest count limited at sleepovers - two to three kids maximum! You are a not hotel, and not equipped to host an entire football team. Too many kids will rile each other up and your nerves will be in constant overload from the mess and the noise. Keep it simple and in control, mamas!
Communicate Boundaries Clearly
Once all the guests have arrived, you need to communicate clearly the do’s and don’ts of the sleepover. The kids don’t need to freely roam your entire house, so I recommend keeping them corralled in a particular area. I also recommend clearly communicating what the evening and morning etiquette is. For example, when I'm feeding everyone dinner, we discuss what time bedtime is, and then at bedtime, I explain our wake-up ritual - when you wake up, you stay in your room and don’t move until I come and get you. I don’t want the entire house woken up.
Make Your Child Do His Own Packing
If you’ve decided that your child is mature enough for his first sleepover, then empower him with the responsibility of packing his own bags! In my home, I always give the directive to pack clothes for bedtime, clothes for the morning, and toiletries too. However, whatever actually ends up in the overnight bag is not my problem. The greatest sign of parenting success is being patient enough to let your child do things for himself and gain responsibility. If he goes to put on his PJs and he forgot to pack them, there's a good chance he won't make the same mistake again. I always use Mabel’s Labels to keep track of my children’s clothes at sleepovers, so any stray clothes eventually return home safely.
Sleepovers can be an anxious experience for both parents and children. Kids think they want to take part, but the reality can often be very different. In my experience, sleepovers work best for kids aged eight to 14+. However, every family is different. Trust your instinct and follow your gut!
By: Eirene Heidelberger
Eirene Heidelberger is a nationally-renowned parenting expert and founder of GIT Mom (Get It Together, Mom!). Through GIT Mom’s 7-step method, Eirene empowers mothers and mothers-to-be by teaching a “mom-first” parenting approach. She is the only parenting coach in the country who advocates parenting techniques that puts the mother’s needs center stage.
As a mom of three boys, Eirene has experienced the same overwhelm and anxiety most mothers first feel with their children. Her firsthand experiences inspired her to create GIT Mom which has been embraced by hundreds of moms around the world.
Eirene is a mom motivator, parenting champion and all-around expert. www.gitmom.com