Sleepovers are an important developmental stage for children. However, as a parent it can be difficult to know what age you should allow your child to head off on their first overnight stay without you. While there is no textbook answer as to when the right time is, there are signs you can look out for and steps you can take to prepare your child for their first sleepover. Read on for some more advice…
Why Are Sleepovers Good For Children?
It can be really difficult letting go of our little darlings, however one of the most important jobs as a parent is to teach our children to be independent, self sufficient, and adaptable. And sleepovers play a big part in the development of these key skills. Spending longer periods of time together helps build and strengthen friendships, plus it teaches them about how other people live, and how to be respectful of other people’s rules and routines.
Some children may have spent time with grandparents or other family members, but it always feels different when it involves an overnight stay at a friend’s house. For some children though, a sleepover at their friend’s could be the very first time they have spent time away from their parents, which can be a scary prospect for them (and you, if we’re being completely honest!). Nevertheless, this time apart is the perfect opportunity for them to grow in confidence and to realise that they can do things by themselves, that they are safe without you, and to discover that this small act of freedom and independence feels awesome!
That being said, the last thing you want is to get a phone call in the middle of the night because your child is throwing a wobbly. Aside from the inconvenience to you and the person who’s house they’re staying at, it is likely to make your child even more anxious about being separated from you in the future.
How Do You Know Your Child Is Ready For Their First Sleepover?
According to a survey carried out by Made For Mums, the average age that children start going to sleepovers is 8. You can of course choose to use this as a bit of a benchmark, but as we all know every child is different, and so it completely falls to you as a family to work out what’s best in your situation. Try not to let peer pressure affect your decisions, you know your child, and it’s important you go with your gut on this one.
A key sign that your child is ready for their first sleepover is that they’ve asked you whether they can go on one and that they seem excited by the prospect of it. And it depends on where they will be going for their sleepover. The most important factor is that your child feels comfortable about where they’re going to stay, and who they’re going to stay with. If it’s someone they have been friends with for ages, you know the parents really well, they’ve been round their house already for daytime play dates etc., then you can be rest assured that things should run smoothly.
If however, it is a friend you are less familiar with, it might be worth asking whether the sleepover can happen at your house so that you can test the waters a little first. That way you’ll be able to monitor the situation more closely and see how your child behaves around that particular friend – are there any arguments? do they behave differently/out of character? do they get bored? do they play well together? The answers to these questions will then hopefully determine whether or not your child is ready for a sleepover away from home.
Preparing Your Child For Their First Sleepover
When you feel the time is right for your child to stay overnight somewhere for the first time, there are some things you can do to help prepare your child for this new experience.
- Contact Details – Make sure you exchange contact details with the parents of the child who’s house your child is sleeping at. It’s useful to include an emergency contact just in case they can’t get hold of you.
- Phone and Charger – Of course these days most children have their own phones, so keeping in contact with them is never usually that difficult. You don’t want them to think you’re checking up on them, but equally you want them to know you’re there if you need them to be. Ask them whether they’d like you to send them a goodnight message at a certain time. Another good idea is to have a code word or expression that they can use should they want to come home but not appear rude in front of their friend or friend’s parents. Oh, and remember to get them to pack a charger to make sure their battery doesn’t run out.
- Films – You don’t want to be that parent, but you also don’t want your child having nightmares for the next few months because they’ve watched a 15 rated horror film at the sleepover. Talk to the other parents beforehand about what their plans for the sleepover are, and don’t be afraid to say what you are happy or not happy for your child to be exposed to.
- Ground Rules – It’s a bit trickier when it’s not at your house, but it is your child, so make it clear that just like the film rating thing above, there are certain ground rules you’d like in place. Things like not going out after a certain time at night, ensuring that at least one parent isn’t drinking alcohol, that no other adult friends will be there during the sleepover unless you know about it in advance. These are all very standard safeguarding issues to have in place, so shouldn’t be considered a problem. If they are, it’s a red flag, and you might want to seriously consider whether you’re happy for your child to stay over.
- Times – Check what time your child should be dropped off and picked up. Look, let’s be honest here, sleepovers are a pain in the backside for parents. They’re hard work and none of you are likely to get much sleep. So, do the decent thing and pick your child up at the time you say you will. This will also reassure your child that you haven’t forgotten about them and will help give them confidence for their next sleepover adventure.
- Comforter – Lots of children have a favourite teddy or blanket that they like to go to bed with. Which is all well and good when they’re in the privacy of their own home, but going to bed with a teddy might not seem very cool in front of their friends. Instead, give them a piece of your clothing, that they can pack in their bag. This is something that will remind them of home and of you, and will offer comfort in place of the missing teddy.
- Details – Kids can get very hung up on the finer details of things, so check ahead as to what the sleeping arrangements will be, what things they need to bring with them, who is going etc. This will help your child feel at ease and should alleviate any worries they might have.
There is no right or wrong age for when your child should have their first sleepover. It is something that should be discussed between you and worked out among yourselves. By taking the steps mentioned above, you can help prepare your child for time away from home, and this will then help them when they start going away for extended school trips or summer camps etc.
Sleepovers are fun and the memories of them stay with us forever. But we want those memories to be positive ones, so take the lead from your child and be there to support them if they have any concerns.