Should my child have a sleepover?

What age is the right age for your kids to start having sleepovers with their friends? Supernanny expert Dr Martha Erickson answers this tricky question - one asked a lot by demanding children

Once your child starts school, they'll make a whole lot of new friends, and pretty soon will be pestering you for a sleepover. But while the idea of a child-free night is the stuff dreams are made of, how can you ensure 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? One of the questions we get asked most regularly is this one:

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 practise for longer separations such as summer camp or special school trips. What's important is that the child feels ready for that separation and knows that it's okay to decide they'd rather stay home and sleep in their 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, 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.

Staying inside after a certain hour This 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 (if any) use of phones and the Internet.

Rules about noise level and physical activity Pillow fights can be fun but you don't want your house destroyed!

Guidelines for acceptable movies Scary movies are a popular slumber party activity, but can be really frightening for young children. Choose something age-appropriate, and let everyone help decide what to watch.

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.


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