Many young children love the idea of attending a sleepover party. Pinkalicious had one, the Strawberry Shortcake gang waxed poetic about how much fun there is to be had when you spent the night with friends, and visions of purple sleeping bags, giggling all night and digging into big plates of blueberry pancakes with their buddies in the morning often dance in their heads. But that doesn't mean they're always sold on the idea when it becomes a reality — some may completely balk at the notion when they realize you won't be sleeping in the room down the hallway from theirs.
While some children are born ready to climb out their bedroom windows and explore the world, others need a little encouragement and lots of patience on our parts so that they can ease into the idea of separating from their comfort zones.
"Sleepovers are a big part of childhood — it is a great chance to develop stronger friendships, socialize and gain independence, in addition to experiencing how other people live," says Dr. Stephanie Mihalas, a licensed psychologist who works with children, adolescents and families in Los Angeles. "It is also a learning experience for parents, as they must deal with their child leaving the nest. Though sleepovers can be beneficial to your child's social development, it is important to know when they are ready and how to prepare."
Mihalas says there isn't one specific age at which a child is suddenly ready to pack up her teddy bear and go — some may be ready as young as 5, while others need a few more years to get used to the concept. But if we're in tune with our child, we can more easily assess whether or not they're ready for this big step.
"They should be able to care for their own night rituals, such as brushing their teeth or going to the bathroom alone, and have no trouble sleeping through the night," Mihalas says. "However, the most important aspect of sleepover readiness is if the child wants to have one. A child ready for sleepover fun will be excited and may want to host their own sleepover party."
The easiest way to find out their feelings about it is by simply asking them, says New York City-based clinical psychologist Dr. Jephtha Tausig-Edwards. It's important to then take their word as law and not force them to do something just because you fear they'll miss out on a good experience.
"Children will let you know if you ask them open-ended questions about what they would like to do," Tausig-Edwards says. "It’s rarely a good idea for parents to push their children to either attend or host a sleepover. This is a social activity, and one that some children may need some coaching on in terms of how to be a good guest or host, but it’s not something which should feel compulsory or required."
If your child or teen is mulling over a sleepover invitation, but is still on the fence about it, Mihalas offers four tips to keep in mind:
Give your child tools for the sleepover — "Let them know they can talk to an adult about any issue, and it is always okay to call home," Mihalas says. "Sleepovers can be scary, and knowing they can call home may give an extra sense of comfort."
Host a sleepover at your own house instead — To help your child to get a sense of what a sleepover party is all about, allow her to host a party at your home first so that she can test the waters in a comfortable space.
Make sure you're comfortable with the situation — Yep, sleepovers can cause anxiety in parents, too. Mihalas recommends using your judgment when assessing the situation and getting as much information as possible, such as how many kids will be there, who will be supervising, if your child is comfortable with the friend group, and if they feel comfortable speaking with the supervising adult if needed. "If you feel uncomfortable with any answers, such as if you find out the friend's older brother is also having some friends over, or if a parent you don't trust is supervising the party, have them sit this one out," she says.
Stress that it's okay to decline an invitation — Just because your child chooses not to attend this sleepover party doesn't mean she'll be banned from future fun. "If you feel your child is still not ready, maybe skip over one of the sleepovers," Mihalas says. "Your child deserves a good first impression of sleepovers, and an embarrassing event may deter them from trying again."
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