I grew up having countless sleepovers. In fact, my mother used to say that she knew who was sleeping over by which shoes were still in the entryway at bedtime. I’ve carried on that tradition with my daughters, as I believe sleepovers give kids their first taste of independence. They discover how to be away from their parents and a familiar bedroom for the night — and survive. They also get to take on new responsibilities, like packing a small bag with various necessities and then having to remember to bring everything home. It also teaches a child how to be a gracious and thoughtful host — or guest.
Sleepovers usually start around the age of 5 and can continue into the teenage years. Each age can bring its own challenges but there are two common sense rules to follow at any age.
Know the family. You’d be surprised to find out how differently another household runs — from TV rules to supervision. I once picked up my 7-year-old daughter from a sleepover where the parents were still asleep at 10:30 a.m. and the children had not been fed breakfast despite having been up since 7 a.m. AND the older brother had “playfully” locked the two girls out on the back balcony — in late November! Obviously, she never had another sleepover at that house. So take the time to call the parents or arrange for a coffee and chat before agreeing to a sleepover.
Be clear about pick-up and drop-off times. Don’t treat the other family like a babysitting service and drop off your kids early in the evening or pick them up late the next morning. Families have other commitments so be respectful of their time. Emphasize to anyone staying over at your place that you appreciate people being on time.
As kids get older, the kind of sleepovers they organize or attend will change – as will their attitudes about them. Here are some situations you might encounter:
This is the age range when you are likely to get requests from your kids to have or attend a sleepover. It’s important to find out some specific details about the bedtime routine at this age. For example, does he or she need his stuffed animal to sleep at night? Should a nightlight be left on? Should the door be left open? And be sure to ask about bathroom habits too (does he or she still wear a pull-up?)
Be prepared for a midnight run. When the lights are out and the giggling has stopped, a case of homesickness sometimes hits hard. You will no doubt be driving to someone’s house in your pyjamas at least once with this age group. Make sure you’ve talked this over with the other parent. Some people think their kids should tough it out, especially when they are sleeping over at a good friend’s house – but I find it heartbreaking to watch a child crying for their parents. A trip back home is the only answer at this point.
No scary movies! Even Scooby Doo can be too much for some younger kids. You can always call parents to approve movie titles (my 4-year-old once came home after watching Austin Powers, and suddenly I had to explain the term shagging). Make sure the movie has a G rating to avoid any unnecessary fears before bedtime.
Pick up time the next day. For children under the age of 8, I think around 10 a.m. is a good rule of thumb. Both children will be tired and parents are likely to be anxious to get on with their day too.
Expect requests for pyjama parties. For many girls, sleepovers mean lots and lots of friends staying over. You don’t have to treat each group sleepover as a party, but you might want to plan an activity or two, just for fun. You can pick up inexpensive pillowcases and fabric markers (less messy than paint!) and let guests get creative. A package of men’s T-shirts will work nicely too. There’s always “Spa Night” — some gentle face masks, cucumber slices on the eyes plus a bit of nail polish and you are good to go. Also, have some board games available — you’d be surprised at what a novelty this can be for kids, particularly the over 10 crowd.
Be prepared for a co-ed sleepover request. If your children have good friends of the opposite sex who they have known for years, they may want them to sleepover. It will most likely be an innocent request but you’ll need to be clear about rules. Talk to the other parent involved and get their feedback – this is a decision you need to make together. If everyone is comfortable with the idea, I’d suggest everyone in their own sleeping bags and the bedroom door stays wide open.
Decide on time for lights’ out. Discuss the time with your child, so even if he or she pleads for an extension, you’ll have clearly stated the rule. While a dad’s voice is often enough to squelch the chatter as midnight approaches, not everyone has the luxury of a man’s deep voice at the ready to stifle the giggles. There is nothing wrong with letting your child know that if the rules are not adhered to, no more sleepovers will be held for some time.
Cook a fun breakfast. If you can manage it, waffles or pancakes are nice, (frozen or homemade). Remember to add a few chocolate chips as a treat. What the heck — you’re sending them home anyway!
Pick-up time the next day. For kids in this age group, I think a pick-up time around noon works well — sometimes the host parent is happy to have lunch to mark the end to the event.
13 and over
Talk openly about the rules. As your children move through the teen years, they still need clear rules about staying over at a friend’s house. Every family will have their own expectations and rules, but state them clearly — and discuss consequences too. If you don’t want your teen staying over at a friend’s home when the parents aren’t there, say so. Ditto for sleeping over with a friend of the opposite sex. This is where knowing the parents of your children’s friends really helps as a quick phone call can reassure both families that rules are being followed.
Have movies and games on hand. Teens like to “hang out” but a thoughtful parent might rent a few interesting movies (check in with your child beforehand for some ideas). And you’d be surprised at the number of “cool” adolescents who will happily play old-fashioned board games like Monopoly or Clue. Just pile the games in a visible place and let them make the first move.
Discuss arrival and departure times. The older kids get, the more likely they are to arrive or leave from a sleepover on their own. But you should be clear if there are family obligations that mean a guest should depart by a particular time. As well, remind your teen that sleepovers shouldn’t interfere with getting schoolwork and other projects finished.
Offer treats. If your child is sleeping over, send along a batch of baked goods or even some bagels for the next morning. Teens have big appetites and food is always appreciated.