Remember getting all psyched up to sleep at your best friend’s house only to wake up midway through the night and wind up calling home for mom to pick you up? Hopefully it never came to that, but spending the night away from home can be scary for young kids.
Take a deep breath. A sleepover is fun, right? (Not to mention a bit of a break for you if all goes well.) Besides, that first overnight at a friend’s is a time-tested rite of passage for kids. And a little preparation can go a long way to ensuring a successful night away from home.
DO get a few practice nights under your belt Have your child spend the night at grandma’s—someone he feels safe with—to get him used to sleeping somewhere other than his own bed. Part of the thrill of sleepovers is being able to participate in another family’s routine. A compromise may be to let him stay right up until bedtime so he can participate in all the other fun stuff, like movie night or card games.
If your child isn’t quite ready but wants to share in the experience his friends are raving about, invite one of his good buds to stay the night. This is exactly what Pat Conrad of Chilliwack, B.C., did to ease her youngest daughter Chrissie, now 10, into the world of sleepovers. “She never wanted to sleep over at anyone else’s house, but she did want to have friends sleep over. And that’s what we did until she decided she was ready.”
DON’T rush it “A sleepover is optional,” says Jennifer Raymond-Bhatt, a registered child psychologist in Calgary. “It should be something your child really wants to do.” If you’re worried your child is avoiding a sleepover because of separation anxiety, don’t. “Some kids, like many adults, just want to sleep in their own beds,” says Raymond-Bhatt. “And that’s ok. Sleeping at a friend’s house is not a developmental milestone your child needs to pass. Sleepovers may simply not be their thing – at least for now.”
DO choose the sleepover hosts carefully “Knowing and trusting the other family is key,” says Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco of Oakville, Ont. Her youngest daughter, Alba, now 13, was five when she first spent the night at a friend’s. “Our families were very close, and our daughters were always playing together,” says Lopez-Pacheco. “Alba was used to being around the family and liked the parents. She felt safe there. I think that’s why it went so well.”
DON’T make the outing an all or nothing proposition If your kid wants to cut his stay short, let him. What’s the point if he’s not having a good time? And be sure to let the other parents know beforehand that it’s not their job to convince your child to stay the night. “Be explicit,” says Raymond-Bhatt. “Tell them you are fine with a late-night rescue call.”
Conrad’s daughters know their mom will pick them up at any time – and has – no questions asked. “You don’t want to make them explain why they feel creepy or upset,” says Conrad. “Just say, “ok,’ and go get them.”
DO pack a little piece of home Lopez-Pacheco always made a point of involving her kids in preparing the overnight bag. Alba would pack her favourite pjs and whichever toy she was sleeping with at the time. “This gave her a sense of empowerment. She would take all the things that made her feel safe.”
And when it comes to saying goodnight and driving off, be sure to keep it light, positive and quick. After all, you’ve got some Making a Murderer episodes to catch up on.