Is Your Child Ready for a Sleepover?

The first overnight stay can be scary for even the most outgoing child. Here's how to determine if your little one is ready

Six-year-old Lexa was invited to a sleepover at a pal’s house, her mom, Dominique, was convinced Lexa wouldn’t last the night. “She’s the shy, quiet type, so I warned the hosting mom early on that she would likely end up wanting to come home. The night came and went, and I didn’t get a call. I couldn’t believe it. I was happy Lexa proved me wrong,” says the Sudbury mom of two.

But for six-year-old Evan of Corner Brook, N.L., sleeping away from home is not even on his radar. “He’s a bit anxious and doesn’t really like being away from me, so we haven’t pushed the idea much,” says his mom, Alexandra. “His idea of a sleepover is staying on the bottom bunk in his older brother’s room, and for now, that works.”

Sleeping away from home can be an experience fraught with emotion for both kids and parents, but it can also be a ton of fun, says parenting expert, author and mom of two Alyson Schafer, who provides these tips for a successful sleepover.

What is the Right Age for a Sleepover?

“In my mind, every child should discover the joy and sense of self-satisfaction that comes from sleepovers by age six,” says Schafer. Because a sleepover is about pushing the boundaries of early independence, it’s nice to have a child experience her first slumber away from home with people she knows well. Gauge your child’s willingness to fly the coop for a night by arranging a trial run with family members or a close family friend. Nolan’s older son, Donil, had his first sleepover at his aunt’s house, which helped reduce any nervousness. Conversely, you could also invite a good friend of your child’s to stay over. “This works because it gives them a bit of insight as to what a sleepover is like without them actually leaving home to experience it,” says Schafer.

Who and How Many?

Does you child prefer one-on-one playdates or group events? Is she an early-to-bed type while her pal is a night owl? Do you feel you know the parents of the other child well? The answers to these types of questions will help dictate which of your child’s friends to invite over, or whether your child will enjoy going to a multi-kid slumber party. If you’re hosting, try to keep numbers even to prevent any odd-man-out feelings among friends.

Read more: How to Keep Your Toddler’s Bed Dry

What to do if They Want to Come Home

Worried your offspring will ask to be picked up in the middle of the night? Schafer suggests a “show must go on” attitude about sleepovers. “If they go in knowing leaving is possible, they may build up their reaction to help reach their goal. If they know leaving is not possible, they’ll use the same energy to be creative about how to make the best of the situation,” says Schafer. Another good prep step: talk about respecting different routines, set expectations for behaviour and discuss strategies for the night. “We had various rooms available during sleepovers, and kids often bailed from a room, but not from the house,” notes Schafer. Sometimes all it takes is a call or text with Mom or Dad to settle nerves. However, if your child is desperate about coming home, talk to the host parent to understand the situation fully and decide if a pickup is required. “Every parent should decide what is best for their child, situation to situation,” she says.

When You’re the Host

When signing up to act as host, stay calm and employ the everything-in-moderation rule. Start by making sure you have contact information for the visiting child’s parents on hand, as well as allergy information or any dietary restrictions. Also discuss their preference about what to do if their child wants to go home before the night is through. Next, plan a night of fun, but don’t go overboard. “You can do things like let your child choose the dinner menu, snack and morning breakfast, and where—and in what—they’d like to sleep,” Schafer says, but be strategic so there’s control over when excitement will peak and wind down. And have a set time for “lights out.”

Plan the Exit

Whether you’re hosting a gaggle of kids or one lone BFF, when morning dawns following a sleepover, keep things low-key but organized. Arrange for a pickup time that isn’t too early so you don’t have to wake the kids. When they do get up, keep breakfast simple. “Kids at this age have likely reached their limit, so it’s best to minimize excitement and get them ready to go home.”

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