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Is Your Child Ready for a Sleepover?

Preparing For Your Child's First Overnight Invitation

You may realize that your child is ready to take a leap into the arena of independence when he is invited to spend the night at a friend's house and is eager to go.

Before you say "yes" to an invitation, there are two questions to ask yourself: Is your child ready to spend the night away from home? And are you prepared to trust another family with your child?

Spending the night at a friend's house can be an exciting experience for a child. Giggles after dark, two pillows side-by-side and breakfast for two in the morning provides around-the-clock fun. Parents also can appreciate the fact that a sleepover doesn't attack the pocketbook.

Ready, Set, Go

Prior to helping your child pack for a sleepover, ask the other parent if you should provide a sleeping bag and pillow. Some children have a special pillow or blanket they will want to take with them, whether it is needed or not. A soft teddy bear or other bedtime companion is always a welcomed amenity.

Other things to pack are pajamas, outfit for the next day, clean underwear and socks, toothbrush, toothpaste and comb. If you decide to take advantage of the situation and go out on a date with your spouse or significant other, provide the parents with a phone number where you can be reached in the event of an emergency.

If your child has any food allergies or needs for medication, be sure the other parent is aware of them. It is a good idea to put such instructions in writing.

Inquire about a good time to call and say "goodnight" to your child. Even if the children stay up late, it may not be appropriate to call the house late at night unless there is an emergency.

Don't be hesitant about expressing a desired bedtime for your child if you feel the need to do so. Some children need more sleep than others, and the overnight experience will not be pleasant for you or your child if somebody is tired and cranky the next day.

When to Say 'No'

If your child has a tendency to sleepwalk, spending the night in an unfamiliar surrounding may not be a good idea. Reoccurring nightmares can hinder the situation, too.

"My son is diabetic, so it is rare that he spends nights elsewhere, but we have had many good experiences with other kids coming over," says Chip Ingersoll of Lorain, Ohio.

Colleen Faucher from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has three children. The two oldest children, both boys, have been invited for sleepovers but she has declined to let either of them participate due to a hidden disability. Her oldest son also has Celiac disease. Having him spend the night elsewhere "would mean having to put trust into other people that may have no clue about the dietary restrictions that must be followed," Faucher says.

"I think that although the other parents may be well meaning in their intentions, I also feel that they are taking for granted that all kids may fall in the 'norm' as they perceive," she says.

A child who wets the bed doesn't necessarily need to decline an invitation to spend the night at a friend's house. Janet Blaweiss, a licensed professional counselor in Venice, Calif., believes that a straightforward approach is always best.

"I would say, 'My child is having a problem with bedwetting that is very embarrassing for him. We have worked together to come up with a solution. He has protection that works quite well, and he is able to handle this all by himself. There is no need for you to say or do anything. I just wanted you to be aware of the situation. I hope that you are comfortable with this,'" Blaweiss says.

Safety Issues

Dr. Lenora Viscardi, a pediatrician from Bristol, Ind., says there are more important issues involved than a child's age before a parent should give permission for their child to spend the night at a friend's house.

"I think a parent will feel most at ease letting their child sleep over when they truly know the parents of their child's friend," Dr. Viscardi says. "The only way this will happen is if a parent takes the time to meet in person and get to know the parents of their children's friends."

Dr. Viscardi suggests that parents can get to know other parents by offering information about themselves first rather than appearing that they are conducting an interrogation.

Dr. Viscardi has other recommendations for parents contemplating an overnight invitation for their child:

  • If there are guns in the home, how are they secured and who has access to them?
  • Will an older sibling tend to the children because a parent is working a night shift or doing another activity?
  • What kind of pets are in the home?
  • What types of video or computer games are in the home?
  • Are children allowed to surf the Web unsupervised?

It is also important that a child is old enough that he or she won't experience separation anxiety.

"I'm guessing an age range of 8 to 10 is probably average," says Viscardi. "Although the 5 to 7 age range would not be unheard of."

A Night to Remember

A child's invitation to spend the night at a friend's house can be a positive experience as well as a developmental milestone, provided that both parent and child are comfortable with the situation.

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