"Mom, can I please have a sleepover?"
If your child hasn't pleaded for one yet, trust us—she will. After all, sleepovers don't just hold out the promise of late-night secrets and premium junk food. They also signify a child's arrival on the big-kid scene. Is yours ready to have an overnight guest or to spend the night at a friend's? Here's how to tell—and how to host the big event.
7 Steps to At-Home Sleepover Success
1. Talk it over with your child. Discuss who—and how many—to invite, along with ideas for activities and food. For 5- and 6-year-olds, one guest is best; for older kids, more can be better, but keep the group small enough to easily supervise—six to eight kids, max.
2. Nail down the details. Invite the guest(s) well in advance, specifying the starting and ending times, and tell the parents what to bring (a sleeping bag, a stuffed animal, etc.). Offer younger kids the option of staying overnight or only for the evening.
3. Tell the parents what's planned, including any videos and outside activities. Get a contact number if they'll be out that night, and ask about their child's food allergies or other important information.
4. Set limits. Tell children your house rules (no running, jumping, or screaming; where snacking is allowed; what's off-limits) as you give a rundown of the fun that's to come. Hint at a surprise or two. Let them know when lights-out will be (and give a ten-minute warning before it comes).
5. Keep 'em busy from the get-go. Have a simple crafts project ready, or get everyone dancing in the family room.
6. Feed them early and often. Serve a finger-food meal soon after guests arrive. Get them involved in the preparation: Do-it-yourself pizzas (using prebaked crusts and prepared toppings), subs, a taco bar, and fruit smoothies are all great options.
7. End with a flourish. Have an easy breakfast, such as juice and muffins. If everything clicks, try one last activity. Bring it to an early finish, at around 10 a.m.
READY OR NOT?
Age alone doesn't determine sleepover readiness. And sometimes kids say they're ready when, in their hearts, they aren't. The following signs will let you know if the time has come:
- Expresses unqualified enthusiasm (but be aware of zeal accompanied by trepidation).
- Has successfully "practiced" at a relative's or a family friend's.
- Sleeps at home without repeatedly asking for water or using other sleep-stalling tactics.
- Handles separation easily, whether parting for school or being left with a babysitter.
- Voices mild doubt that's easily resolved—say, an issue of not knowing where the bathroom is.
- Needs elaborate bedtime rituals, such as three stories, a bedside lamp on, a door open, or a certain tape playing.
- Depends on middle-of-the-night comfort in your bed.
- Regularly wets the bed.
- Only wants to host a sleepover, not be a guest.
- Clings when you leave him, and seems averse to new experiences.
- Displays anxiety that the friend is a bully (or some other concrete sign of discomfort).