Sleepover myth #1: If you’ve been led to believe that there is some inherent, not-to-be-missed psychological benefit to sleepovers, you’ve been misled. Sleepovers at a favorite friend’s house are not the only way to navigate your children’s significant developmental milestone of separation.
Here’s another belief buster: If you hope that by creating the perfect sleepover experience for your children you’ll banish the horrid (or re-live the happy) memories of your own, forget it. As I mentioned in a recent post on millennial parenting, a key aim for parents is to avoid reflexively reacting against one’s own upbringing.
I’m about to break the third leg on the sleepover stool: Playing with a friend in one’s PJs, eating more treats than usual and brushing teeth side-by-side with a pal are not critical activities for successful socialization. If your child goes to school (or is home-schooled and participates in activities with peers), those needs are being met. Consider siblings and relatives a bonus.
For school-aged kids, sleepovers are essentially extended play dates. With teens, they’re a chance to flex independence muscles. The decision to allow them – or disavow them on safety or other grounds – is entirely up to you.
That’s the huge upside of intentional parenting, which is a largely matter of trusting your instincts and following your values. In situations like whether or not to encourage or permit sleepovers, there is no “right way.” There’s just your way – the way that is reflective of your values and your innate knowledge of your children. Without a developmental imperative at stake, you have the freedom to consider what’s appropriate for your particular kids.
When it comes to deciding if a sleepover is right for your child, remember this maxim: “If you’ve met one kid, you’ve met one kid!” No two children are alike – not even within families.
Say you have a child who, if he or she woke up scared, sick or cold, would be afraid to wake up their friend or their friend’s parents for help. In this scenario, a sleepover wouldn’t be a positive experience – and consequently, one worth avoiding.
But what if you have another child who is flexible, outgoing and embraces change and transitions with ease? For s/he, there’s probably no downside to giving sleepovers a thumbs-up.
Here are 4 sleepover strategies for your consideration:
Your children’s wellbeing is paramount. While it may feel awkward, there are important things to ask the hosting parent. This is what would be on my list:
· Are there guns in your house?
· Is there anyone living in your home besides your immediate family?
· Will you be home or are you going out and leaving the kids with a babysitter?
· Are there controls on accessible computers?
Keep these steps in mind for school-aged children:
· Consider having the first official sleepover at a cousin’s or other close family’s house where there’s already a sense of safety so your child can learn the lay of sleepover land
· Ensure kids’ physical and psychological comfort by encouraging them to take along a favorite stuffed animal or other well-loved object, as well as their favorite jammies
· Your children need to know they are welcome to call home and be picked up for any reason, at any time
✔Preparatory trouble-shooting for teen overnights.
Teens up the ante on several fronts. While some parents may have an entirely different list, these would be my particular additional need-to-knows:
· Will there be access to alcohol?
· Do the hosting parents have any specific house rules my teen should know in advance?
· Will there be other teens there?
· Will there be teens of the opposite sex there?
· Will there be unsupervised access to a pool or hot tub?
✔Sleepover hacks worth trying.
Kids generally come home from sleepovers wrecked. They eat abnormally and sleep poorly. And after being on their best behavior at their friend’s house, they resort to their best crabby selves once home. If you prefer your children well-fed, -supervised and/or -rested, mull over these options:
· Sleepunders offer the perfect solution to sleepovers, as they include all the expected rituals (a kid-friendly dinner, a fun craft, and a movie in pajamas or sleeping bags), after which the guests return home to sleep in their own beds
· Sleep-away camps, many of which are geared to specific topics (aerospace, theatre, leadership, origami even), give kids tons of independence as well as immersion in one of their interests
· If your family practices a particular faith, see if there are weekend or overnight “retreats” for youth; these pack a sleepover and reinforce values into a single package
Like many, many decisions you will make as a parent – to sleep over or not to sleep over is just one for which the right answer is the answer that’s right for your children. As I always tell my clients and friends who come to me for parenting advice, make your decisions based on you and your co-parents values and the outcomes you want. When you use those as your guiding principles, just about everything turns out just fine.