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5 Tips for Successful Sleepovers
By Marcia Passos Duffy
Sleepovers should be called
“stay awake-overs.” At least that has
been my experience with my own two children.
The “wide awake” factor includes not only the kids –- but often the parents as well.
But, sleep deprivation aside, sleepovers are a wonderful way for kids to share their homes
with friends, bond, share secrets, play games, and just have a great time.
“Sleepovers can be a fun and exciting time for kids,” says Janine Lake of Keene, NH, who has
hosted countless sleepovers for her three children. “Exhausting as they can be, I enjoy them
very much,” she said.
Barbara Richter of Keene, NH, mom to a son and daughter, agrees that sleepovers are fun, but
adds, “…I have had some sleepover disasters so I have learned the hard way what works and
what doesn't.” She adds: “Pillow fights can turn bad real fast!”
How can you make sure that your child’s first sleepover is a memorable and fun event? Here
are some tips from local parents and some experts on how to make sure your kids have
Tip #1: Make Sure Your Child is Ready for a Sleepover
One sure way of knowing is that your child is asking for a sleepover. When this happens, you
may want to start slow by inviting a cousin or a best friend first before hosting a big sleepover
Angy Lombara of Gilsum, NH says that she knew her oldest of her three children was ready
for a sleepover because she had slept over her grandparent’s home with no problem.
“Plus, she was eight years old and we just felt she was old enough,” says Lombara.
But first sleepovers can happen at an even younger age, Richter says. “The first sleepover my
oldest child had was in Kindergarten. Yes (that) seems so young … but I think the begging to
go was my tip that they were ready to spend the night away.”
Kat Eden, director of marketing communications at Education.com says that first or second
graders seem to be about the average time when kids start to ask for sleepovers. “But your
child may be ready sooner –- or much later than that,” she says. Younger siblings, in
particular tend to be ready earlier if they have watched their older siblings “survive”
“If your child is sleeping through the night in her own bend, tends to handle separations and
transitions well during the day and indicates that she wants to do a sleepover, she’s likely
ready,” says Eden.
“Kids are always ready for this step before we are,” notes Lake. “It's never easy for a parent
to let go.”
Tip #2: Know the Parents and the Children
Knowing the parents –- and talking with them first –- is important to get information that is
helpful for a good sleepover.
For example, Richter’s son is allergic to dogs, so she always asks if there is a dog in the house.
It is also helpful to find out what a child’s sleep preferences: Do they like to have a light on in
the bathroom? Do they need to listen to music to fall asleep?
It might also be helpful to give a heads up to the parents about calling them if your sleepover
guest is feeling uncomfortable and wants to go home.
On a more serious note, you should also not be shy about asking host families if there are
weapons of any kind in the house and how they are stored.
“You should also ask whether or not the family plans to entertain adults or teenagers you
don’t know while your child is there,” adds Education.com’s Eden.
It’s also important to talk to a child’s families about your expectations and rules about
television, video games, and movies.
“Just because you know, trust and even like the host parents, you can’t assume they’ll handle
each of these issues in the same way you do … you owe it to your child to find out
explicitly,” says Eden.
Also make sure that you all have each others’ landline and cell phone numbers, plans for the
evening, and any health information about the child.
Tip #3: Make Sure Everyone Knows the Rules
Remind children to follow the rules of the house, even if they are not the same rules as their
own homes, says Marianne Cohen, vice president of Manners for Minors, an etiquette
consulting firm based in Marblehead, Mass.
Make sure that there is a beginning –- and definite end –- to the sleepover. Keep the time
short, maybe start around dinner and end by noon the following morning. Make sure you
have a definite time for “lights out” and “quiet.” If things get out of hand, you may want to
separate them so they can sleep (particularly if the noise goes on past one or two in the
Tip #4: Keep Them Busy & Entertained
“Don't think that the kids have come over to actually SLEEP!” says Richter. Rent a movie or
make cookies, or build a fort or set up a tent in the living room.
What you have planned will depend on the type of sleepover –- if it is a regular sleepover or
birthday party sleepover.
“A birthday sleepover (might include) a craft or game to do, maybe hang Christmas lights in
the room they will be sleeping in to make it fun,” says Lombara.
As for you, try and not to hover too much, advises manners expert Cohen. “They certainly do
not want you hanging out in the same room with them, but check in frequently to ensure they
are not prank calling China on your phone!”
Tip #5: Be Prepared for Disasters and Morning-After Crankiness
Be prepared to end the sleepover if things are not going well. If a child is sitting by himself, or
crying, take the hint and ask if he wants to call his parents. Sometimes just a phone call will
reassure him and he’ll have the courage to stay.
Also be prepared for wet sleeping bags (from accidents at night). Some kids might want to
sleep fully clothed because they are hiding their pull-ups. Make sure you have your
antennae up for this because you do not want to embarrass your children’s friends. It might
be a good idea to label trash bags for every child to gather up their stuff in the morning so
they can handle this discreetly.
Try to keep the next day low-key. Your kids will be cranky from lack of sleep. Prepare a
protein-filled breakfast, send the sleepover kids on their way, and maybe even suggest your
child take a nap in the middle of the day.
Marcia Passos Duffy, a freelance writer who lives in Keene with her husband and two children, has
hosted more sleepovers than she cares to count.
This story originally appeared in Parent Express.