Your child’s first sleepover is an important milestone in their young lives and you’ll want it to be a good experience for all involved.
Not without reason, many parents assume that the dreaded sleepover is going to be a nightmare of arguments, disrupted sleep and over-tired, over-emotional little people. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
What are the benefits?
Despite the potential for chaos and sleep deprivation, a well-managed sleep-over can be hugely beneficial for the children concerned, not to mention lots of fun.
It offers a great opportunity for kids to boost their self-advocacy and social skills, as well as develop a sense of independence. Also, a change in the normal bedtime routine can help children learn to cope with and adapt to different situations, especially in other people’s homes.
If you’re not sure your child is ready to sleep ‘away’ start by hosting a sleepover at your house. Once your child has managed a sleepover at home you can then be more confident that they’ll cope when invited to stay the night at a friend’s house.
Then, of course, you yourself will start to see the benefits of having a ‘night off’ when your child is sleeping away.
When the time is right
How do you know when your child is ready? You’ll know when they’ve talked about it, asked you several times and even started planning activities and games. Interest often starts from the age of seven or eight onwards. But only you can decide when the time is right for your child.
Do consider if your child already has good ‘sleep skills’ before you invite others over to stay. If you know your child still struggles to make it through the night without incident then it’s unlikely that they’re ready and it wouldn’t be fair on all concerned to go ahead.
Here is an article from the NHS with some tips on healthy sleep routines for children
The temptation to hold the first slumber party for your child’s birthday may be strong, but that puts a lot of pressure on you and your child for everything to be perfect. It may also bump up the numbers which can add to the potential for chaos, anxiety and overwhelm.
Keep the guest list short
The best advice is to keep it simple and start small with your first hosted sleepover. One or two friends, or cousins, that you know will get along is a good number to start with.
Too many kids and too many personalities will be harder to manage and overwhelming for some children. This could be a recipe for sleep deprivation and disappointment.
Once you and your child have worked out the guest list it’s a nice idea to get them involved in planning the activities and creating sleepover invitations.
Communicate with the parents
It’s really important to communicate with the other parents prior to the event on any activities you’re planning, bedtime routines, food or pet allergies etc.
Check in with them about what movies they might consider appropriate or whether they are happy with the idea of a makeover or a ‘midnight feast’. And then honour their wishes. After all, you’d want them to do the same for you.
Be clear on the invitation about pick up and drop off times and stipulate anything that they need to bring with them such as sleeping bags, pillows, cuddly toys or comforters etc.
Set some ground rules
It’s absolutely fine to lay down the law a little bit in your own home, so be clear about the ground rules with the children and the parents from the start.
No devices in the bedroom? No devices after a certain time? What time is lights out? What’s your policy on late night snacks. Work out your stance on these issues ahead of time to manage expectations and to get parents onside.
If you are going to allow screens, you may decide to relax the digital curfew a little as a special treat. However, do consider that devices are known to be psychologically and physiologically stimulating and can adversely affect sleep.
Go for healthy snacks for the ‘midnight feast’. Here are some great healthy snack ideas including popcorn, smoothies, humous with pitta dippers and frozen fruit sticks. Also, ‘midnight’ doesn’t actually have to mean midnight.
To manage expectations, be clear about bedtime from the get-go and do factor in some ‘chat’ time before lights out.
Try to relax and leave them to it as much as possible.
Not only will you take the pressure off yourself a little by standing back a bit, but it’s good for their development in problem-solving and people skills to work things out for themselves.
Of course, you must be prepared to step in when you have to. Here is some good advice on helping your kids and their friends deal with disputes.
Plan some activities
In terms of sleepover activities, try to let them entertain themselves but do have some ideas up your sleeve in case they come to you for inspiration. Tried and trusted ideas include truth or dare, charades, baking, watching a movie (age appropriate), crafting, makeovers, board games etc.
It almost goes without saying that you should try to prepare for every eventuality. Have on hand extra bedding and pyjamas in case of an accident in the night. Have a supply of toothbrushes and toys for children who may have left something at home.
Be prepared for little people knocking on your door in the middle of the night and don’t bank on having your best night’s sleep ever. Be sure to let your little guests know where they can find you in the night and that you are available if they should need you.
Keep all parents contact information close at hand in case you need to make a late-night phone call.
And of course, don’t plan anything too onerous for the next day. Tired children and grumpy parents are not an ideal combination.
Make it special
And finally, remember how important this event is for your child. It’s a landmark you’ll all want to remember fondly.
Make it special by buying a gift for the bedroom. Fairy lights will turn any room into a magical space and can help anxious kids who’re afraid of the dark settle down for the night.
You could also make a gift of some new pyjamas, a bedding set, or a sleepover bag.