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The Sleepover Survival Guide

Sleepover, noun: Also known as a "slumber party" in some locales, if multiple participants are included. A social gathering intended to entertain and promote interpersonal bonding among those involved. Primarily enjoyed by children and teens; greatly feared by many adults. Somewhat of a contradiction in terms, as very little sleep actually occurs during the event.

The Best-Laid Plans

For the uninitiated parent, it's downright intimidating to have other people's children to entertain, feed, put to bed (good luck with that), and wake up to the next morning. The successful slumber-party organizer will anticipate multiple challenges and be well prepared to face the highly energetic participants. Should you decide to accept this mission, here's what you'll need to know:

Choose participants wisely 

First, decide if this will be a one-on-one sleepover or a team event. Can your child entertain several guests over an extended time period? If he still struggles during singleton playdates, delay the group challenge a bit longer. Start with just one guest. Later, advance to three invitees, which is plenty tough. Especially brave parents can slowly work their way up to eight to ten children. Aim for an even number of participants for team activities and to prevent the "odd kid out" syndrome. Ideally, sleepover guests will be comfortable staying away from home overnight, which may occur as early as age 6 but more commonly around age 8 or 9.

If possible, invite children for sleepovers only after observing their behavior at a daytime playdate, says Adam Nelson, a Richmond, VA, dad of two daughters and a slumber-party veteran. "If a child is a 'wild one' on a playdate, she will likely be wild at a sleepover, too," he notes.

Select the best date 

Saturdays are considered the prime night for sleepovers, as young guests may have engaged in tiring sporting events earlier in the day (thus promoting the possibility of actual sleep). However, also consider Friday night: Challengers will be worn-out from a full day of school (another aid to sleep) and will have both Saturday and Sunday to recover from the overnight event. Plus, churchgoing families may require their kids to attend religious services earlyish on Sunday morning—thus thwarting plans for later wakeup (yours and theirs).

Prep the home squad 

Warn other family members of the impending event and arm them well. Rent special movies for siblings or corral a close friend to take them on an outing for a portion of the big night. Do not even think of having your partner take them out; you will need all hands on deck at home. Later in the evening, consider special dispensation for younger children to "sleep over" in your bedroom (on the floor in sleeping bags) if they feel left out of the action. Best bet: Just get 'em outta the way. Ask a relative to take younger siblings for a sleepover of their own so they're completely removed from the scene. At least some family members may get a bit of sleep.

Assemble provisions 

Less-than-healthy snacks are expected and encouraged at sleepovers. Offer easy-to-vacuum-up foods like popcorn, chips, and pretzels. If you must, round out your snack bar with fruit and cheese cubes (but don't expect anyone to actually eat them). The next morning, you may have visions of a hearty pancake or omelet breakfast they'll go home bragging about, but trust us: You're just going to want to get them out the door. Stick to the quick stuff—cereal, muffins, bagels, frozen waffles—served on paper plates, of course.

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