A rite of passage for American children is a sleepover. A sleepover is where a guest or guests are invited to stay overnight at the home of a friend. My six-year-old daughter will have her first sleepover this month.
Few words strike more fear into the heart of a parent than these: “Can I have a sleepover?” Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, wrote about her strict rules which included denying her children the experience of attending a sleepover. Her viewpoint was that nothing good could come from attending a sleepover.
So what’s the big deal about sleepovers, anyhow? Sleepovers are big events for children – a time to feel grown up, to delight in special alone time with a friend, to joke around and share laughs with friends until they cry!
There’s no set age when it’s okay for kids to begin having sleepovers. Children vary greatly in terms of when they feel ready to attend a sleepover. My six-year-old invited her close friend to watch a movie at our house on Saturday night. The little girl’s mother informed me that her daughter was very excited about the invitation but was hoping that the invitation would turn into something more… a sleepover at our house. I thought to myself, why not! Admittedly, I was actually happy that the sleepover would be at our house so that I can witness the special moment of my child having her first sleepover experience.
Have you heard of the sleepover folklore? It seems every parent has a nightmare story to share. The kids don’t sleep and then they are in a rotten mood the following day, their child got head lice, bed-wetting, bullying, sleepwalking episodes. I, myself, never experienced any of those issues or was witness to any of those problems in my youth during a sleepover. I did, however, get my knickers put in a freezer at a slumber party because I was the first one to fall asleep. But, that was a slumber party where there was more than one person in attendance, not a sleepover.
I do believe that there is more opportunity for pranks and bullying, by way of gossiping, to occur at a slumber party since there are more people present.
One of my fondest sleepover memories happened with my childhood best friend. We were curled up in a recliner chair watching The Empire Strikes Back. At the time I am guessing we had to be anywhere between 7 and 9 years of age. We both had a huge crush on Harrison Ford’s character, Han Solo. When Han Solo kissed his love interest, Princess Leia, my friend and I, holding such anticipation for that moment, were overcome with pure joy and nervousness which lead to us rocking the chair too hard and we tipped the chair right over! That particular sleepover moment taught us about romance and exposed us to a new world of men wooing women.
I guess that is another concern of parents with the whole sleepover dilemma. What will my child be exposed to during a sleepover? It is recommended that if your child will be sleeping at a friend’s house, you as the parent should speak with the other parents involved and inform them of what your children can and cannot watch via DVD and television shows.
To make the first sleepover and/or follow-up sleepovers hassle free, here’s how:
1. Choose participants wisely: First, decide if this is going to be a one-on-one sleepover or a team event. Start with just one guest. You can advance to more invitees as your child gets older and you get more brave! Aim for an even number of guests to prevent the “odd kid out” syndrome.
2. Select a date: Saturdays are considered the prime night for sleepovers. Your child can recuperate the following day and catch up on some sleep.
3. Find out if the guest or guests have any food allergies in advance.
4. To prevent any accidents, make sure any young guests know where the bathrooms are located before ushering them off to sleep.
5. Have a fun but practical menu: Less-than-healthy snacks are expected at sleepovers, it’s part of the fun! Offer easy-to-vacuum-up foods like popcorn, chips, and pretzels. You can have your child call their friend in advance to find out their favorite ice cream and snack foods. The next morning, you may offer up a healthy but easy breakfast — fruit, yogurt, bagels, muffins and cereal.
6. Check lighting and temperature comfort in advance where the kids will be sleeping. I recommend putting a nightlight in your child’s room if she/he doesn’t already have one.
7. If possible, talk with parents as they drop off their kids about whether their kid is susceptible to homesickness, and steps to take if this becomes an issue.
8. Plan fun activities: I am letting the girls watch a G-rated movie. I plan to have painting activities on hand in case they want to channel their inner artist.
9. Establish ground rules: No leaving the house without asking. Stay in designated areas or rooms.
My daughter is absolutely over the moon excited about her upcoming sleepover. As her mother, I am grateful she has such a good friend to share this experience with. I am still best friends with the Han Solo loving friend that I mentioned above. We’ve been friends since we were six years old. We still get together for sleepovers in NYC once or twice a year. They are more fun now as an adult, throw in some wine, pampering, shopping and yes, even a little Harrison Ford, and you have the makings of a fun-filled ladies night/sleepover!
Are sleepovers part of children’s youth where you live? Do you have any fond memories from your childhood of sleepovers that you attended?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Courtney Cappallo of Massachusetts, USA. Courtney can be found homeschooling on her blog, Table of Four.
The photograph used in this post is attributed to the author.
My mom was “uber” strict so no sleepovers for me until I was about 16 years old (and then only at one girls’ house whose parents were as overprotective as mine)!
I didn’t want to deprive my kids as I felt I was. The first sleep overs (at the home of an aunt) they were around 3 years old. Sleepover at a friend’s house from about age 6. We once had to fetch our son from a slumber party cos the other boys put toothpaste in his hair while he was asleep and he got really upset (age 8). My daughter never had any bad experiences.
My son is 19 years old and my daughter is 16 years old now, and they both regularly attend slumber parties with the group of friends they’ve had since primary school. When “the gang” sleep over at our house, we “retreat” to our room and let them have the lounge / dining room to watch movies and / or play games. They’re a lovely bunch of kids and I honestly rather have them “camping” under my roof than “out in the big bad world”! 🙂
My kids are 12, 10 and 7 and seem to have sleepovers almost every weekend. I think it is an important part of childhood, but I can see why some parents are strict. The “sleepover shrapnel” (as we call it) is brutal. My oldest now just plans to take a nap the next day, but with the younger two we tell them that one condition of the sleepover is that they will need to rest/read the next day and that they have to go to bed early the night before and the night after. The other thing to be prepared for with elementary school kid sleepovers is that they will be tempted to talk late into the night, so you have to be near them to make sure they go to sleep (we’ve also run into problems with other parents who just say goodnight and walk away – we don’t let our kids stay with families who aren’t “sleepover certified” anymore but invite their kids to sleepover at our house). Finally, be prepared for the kids to get up early. There’s always one early riser and they can’t help but wake up the others. So you almost need to have a morning activity planned as well, even if it is just a dance party in the basement. That’s my two cents – sorry it was so long. Good luck! Jennifer
Thank you Human Rights Warrior for your comment. The sleepover was last Saturday night. It went so smoothly. You are right, the girls did wake up early. I believe they woke up at 6:30!
This past week the same friend and another friend came over for for an impromptu play-date. Just with one girl added in the mix the decibel level in our house tripled! I am so glad I started out with a one-on-one sleepover versus hosting a slumber party!
This brings back such memories. I loved sleepovers, but I was one of the only kids who organised them (the big ones that is, not just the one-on-ones). They weren’t all that popular among my friends in South Africa when we were little, but they always turned out wonderfully! My parents were really relaxed about it but I’m sure they secretly kept an ear out for us.
I hope your daughter enjoys it!
Barefoot Medical Student, sounds like you have some really fond memories! My daughter thoroughly enjoyed her sleepover. I do believe it was one of the best days of her life!
Mamma Simona, thanks for your comment. What a bummer for your son to get toothpaste put in his hair. Like I wrote in my article, I believe there are more opportunities for bullying to occur at a slumber party, with multiple attendants versus one-on-one sleepovers. I agree with you that having your kids and their friends under your own roof is more comforting than wondering what in the world they are up to at another persons home. There is so much children can be exposed to that is negative. If the children are under your own care, you can monitor what they watch, what they say, etc. Thanks again for posting a comment!
Such a cute story and thanks for the tips! I know they will come in handy some day!
Big Girl attended her first sleepover at age 4. Sounds young, right! A brave neighbor had a sleepover birthday party for her daughter that was turning 5. Most of the attendees lived next door or across the street in the case anyone was homesick. Yes, they ate junk food, stayed up late and got up early. They took long naps the next afternoon to recoup. But all the girls still talk about the experience.
It made such an impact on Big Girl that she has been asking for more sleepovers ever since!
But I will note, as a child, I do recall having lice and my parents having to call my best friends parent who happened to sleepover the previous night. Lice happens! Although (touch wood/knock on wood), we haven’t had it yet!
Angela, my daughter’s best friend lives right next to us too. Our neighborhood is really a fantastic neighborhood to grow up in. The next morning after the sleepover was Earth Day. I took the girls out in the neighborhood to pick up trash. We saw the girls parents while we we were out cleaning up the planet. We waved and said hello. I think it was nice for her to see her parents and then get back to playing with my daughter.
We have sleep-overs at grandparents and aunts from about three, but have held off with ones with friends until the boys are nine or so. I’m passionate that our kids leave us when they really want to and not because of us pushing independence, peer-pressure or what society expects…
Karyn, sleepovers are grandparents are fabulous! My girls have done that a few times and love it!
Courtney — thanks for the tips! My oldest is always asking for sleepovers with Grandma, but she had her first sleepover this past September. My awesome friend Monica took her for the evening while I was at the Social Good Summit in NYC. My girl is still talking about how much fun she had!!
They were a great part of my youth, too. It was a great way to bond with your friends!
Jen, sleepovers are some of my favorite childhood memories as well. There is just something so exciting about hanging out with your friends in the nighttime!
I too read Amy Chua’s book with a tinge of horror and a hint of wonder about her parenting choices. I remember sleepovers as the gems of my youth. I think I had my first in Kindergarten. Our oldest (now 6) had her first sleepovers at very young ages but mainly because her best friend’s parents were also our dear friends so we would get dining and drinking and laughing and the next thing we’d know, we were all sleeping over.
Though as far as planned sleepovers, we didn’t let her invite a friend for that until she was 5. It was all going along swimmingly until I tucked the girls in at 8:30 (expecting them to chat with the lights out for another 30 minutes or so). I noticed her friend looking a little weepy so I asked if she wanted to call her mom and say goodnight [BAD MOVE] as soon as she got on the phone, the tears started rolling. Withing 10 minutes her mom was out front to pick her up and I was left consoling my tear-stricken child as she called after her friend “Don’t go, please don’t go!” (lesson learned).
Now we allow the occasional sleepover (mainly during school breaks) and they have been real treats for all of us. It’s a joy too to witness our child interacting with a good friend and to get to know our child’s friends better. I’m ALL FOR the sleepover. Congrats to your big girl for her milestone moment.
Growing Muses, I agree with you that sleepovers are gems! I too think that they should be regarded as something extra special for our children. I definitely won’t be doing it every weekend. I stayed out of sight as much as possible to let the girls have their freedom. That alone took some work on my part to try and stay out of their way! Therefore, rewarding my children with the occasional sleepover will make them cherish the experience even more!
I love sleepovers myself and used to beg my mum to allow me to do so but she only did so when I reached 12 years of age. I suppose I’m ok with letting my girl have sleepovers or hosting one myself, as long as I have a good relationship with her friends’ parents. I dont want to be in a position where I dont trust them or they blame me for not taking care of their child. It’s just a sticky situation.
Mad Psych Mom, I agree that having a trusting relationship with child’s parent is imperative. My daughter’s friend is our neighbor and we know their family very well. Her parents are incredible and we would trust them with our children anytime and vice versa.
Hi Courtney, thanks for those helpful tips. In Singapore, I think the sleepover phenomenon only begins at around 10-12 years old, but of course that varies from child to child. But I too think that it’s a wonderful way for kids to build deeper friendships, and for parents to also get to know their close friends. I think for me, ‘choosing participants wisely’ will also include making sure that the child’s parents are comfortable with us as a family (assuming the sleepover is at our place), and will trust us to a certain extent, before taking the little leap! 🙂
Mama Wear Papa Shirt, thank you for sharing how sleepovers work in Singapore. When I was writing the article I was curious how other countries dealt with sleepovers.
I agree with your point that both parties involved in the sleepover should feel comfortable with one another!
Wow this took me back! Sleepovers were such a big part of my childhood. Although I had one friend who always played gory horror movies at hers. I chose to sleep in the other rooms but felt like a wuss. Luckily, I had some other fellow wusses to talk late into the night with 😉
My oldest son had his first sleepover (other than camping with other family friends altogether) this past winter. We had a blackout in our neighborhood, and we had a generator to keep our house warm and certain lights on. Our neighbors next door came to spend the night, and their daughter camped out with my son in his room. They had headlamps on and slept in sleeping bags and had a blast!