Parents naturally want to protect their kids and keep them safe and out of trouble. Trusting your kid will be safe at school or with babysitters can be hard enough, but when it comes to sleepovers—even with family and close friends—it can be difficult to let go and trust your kid to someone else’s care.
However, almost every child is going to want to spend the night at their best friends’ homes, go to an overnight camp, or have friends over for the night at your home at some point.
Mentally preparing yourself for sleepovers can make them easier to accept and much less stressful for both parents and kids alike. Here are a few sleepover tips so that slumber parties won’t make you pull your hair out..
1. Make sure your child is ready
As the parent, you will be the best judge of whether or not your child is ready for sleepovers, and whether or not a particular sleepover is a wise idea. Some kids may be perfectly fine at seven or eight while others might not be ready until their teen years.
If they don’t sleep easily on their own, if they wet the bed, or if they still wake up and come to your bed for comfort they might not be ready quite yet. Basically, they should have good “sleep skills” before attending sleepovers: able to fall asleep themselves without your help or much fuss and be able to sleep through the night with few interruptions.
You can always try out a few “late-overs” first (letting your child stay late but picking them up to sleep at home), or a sleepover with grandma or cousins to see how they handle being without you.
Some parents or kids may never be comfortable with sleepovers for whatever reason and that is fine, too. It’s ultimately a decision for you as a parent and you have to trust your gut.
2. Chat with fellow parents
One of the best ways to have an easier time with sleepovers is to coordinate the details with fellow parents and get to know them in advance.
Think about it like this: do you know them well enough to loan them your car for a night? If you would have objections about giving them your keys then sending your kid over may not be wise!
If you are the host, reach out to the parents via phone or in person, make sure you have their current contact information handy, ask if there are any allergies to be aware of, or if there are any other things you need to know about their stay with you. Make it clear if you are planning activities like swimming that would require special clothes or gear so there’s no upsets.
If you are sending your kid to a sleepover, check in with the other parent let them know the same thing. See what the evening will entail so you know what to pack. You might also want to ask who else will be in the house, their house rules and supervision plans, and other important questions.
For kids with dietary restrictions, it’s always appreciated (and less stressful for you) if you send a ready-made meal and a few safe snacks along with your kiddo. Other parents may not be savvy with gluten-free/nut-free meals, despite their best intentions, and it’s often easiest just to avoid that stress for both parties.
3. Explain sleepover etiquette and safety to your child
Whether you’re hosting or sending, explain the rules and boundaries of sleepovers ahead of time to your child.
Minding manners, being polite, and respecting rules and the homes of host parents are important points to cover. Kids can get mischievous in groups, so making it clear that they are still subject to normal rules and consequences can be a good idea.
Safety is often the number-one concern for parents. When your child is going to someone else’s sleepover, make sure your kid has your phone number memorized and knows that they can call you at any time if they feel uncomfortable.
Many parents also like to go over the basic aspects of physical safety with their kids. Parenthood.com has an excellent article on smart sleepovers, and safety expert Pattie Fitzgerald has a good short video and an article covering some of the concerns parents might have.
4. Simple is best
When you are ready to plan a slumber party, remember that simple is always best—that goes for activities, food, or planning.
You don’t need to have a three-ring circus in your living room to keep kids entertained. Often a few board games, a movie, crafts, or free play are more than enough. Don’t stress yourself out planning an action-packed night or a difficult outing.
The same goes for food. You might be super proud of your cumin-scented pot roast and root vegetables that got 100 likes on Instagram, but the gaggle of grade-schoolers you’re serving may not appreciate it as much.
So keep the food simple. Chicken strips or nuggets, veggies and dip, cut-up fruit, sandwiches, and pizza are just a few classic kid-friendly standbys that will make meal times smoother.
If you have older kids over, you could also get them in on the fun by having them make their own pizzas, subs or tacos.
5. Lay ground rules from the start
One of the best ways to avoid arguments and problems during the night is to set firm but reasonable rules from the beginning. This might include where kids can play, indoor rules for your home, outside boundaries, soda limits, and internet/phone boundaries.
Also, don’t forget to set a firm lights-out time to ensure everyone gets enough sleep. The last thing you’ll want to deal with are a bunch of cranky and tired kids the next morning. Plus, other parents will definitely thank you!
Keep in mind age-appropriate bedtimes for your group and plan accordingly. Remember, kids under 12 need at least 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night, and even teens need around nine hours.
6. Keep contact information in a central location
Many savvy parents will already have contact info for the parents of their kids’ friends. But it can be extra helpful to print out all the names and numbers of parents whose kids will be at your sleepover ahead of time and keep it in an easy-to-find location like your purse or the fridge.
This way if an issue or emergency pops up, you won’t have to search around for contacts or call dozens of numbers while dealing with a stressed or rowdy kid.
7. Pack the essentials, but get your kid’s input, too
The core sleepover kit for younger kids includes a toothbrush and toothpaste, hairbrush, pajamas, and at least one other outfit. Check to see if they need to bring their own sleeping bag and/or pillow.
If your child likes to sleep with a specific stuffed animal or blanket toss that in, too. Don’t forget to ask them if there’s a specific toy or other item they want to take with them (within reason) so there’s no regrets or tears later. Run through a quick inventory checklist before you leave the house just to double check.
8. Supervise, but don’t tyrannize
If you are the host parent, it’s obviously your responsibility to supervise the kids in your care and make sure they don’t get hurt or do anything too crazy.
But most kids, especially in the middle school years, will want to spend some time giggling and playing with their friends without mom and dad looming over or leading every single action.
Definitely check in from time to time, lay clear ground rules and keep both ears and eyes open, but don’t stress yourself out about watching them every single minute.
If your child is away, you can also request a call before bed so that you can check in and make sure everything is okay without being too “embarrassing.”
9. Expect the unexpected
Expect the unexpected is the perfect saying for dealing with sleepovers and kids. You can plan the perfect slumber party to the T, but the kids might be more interested in an activity you didn’t plan, one or two kids might get homesick, the pizza might show up wrong, and someone might scrape a knee.
Be flexible with your plans and be prepared for deviations. If you are sending your child to a sleepover, make sure your phone is charged and handy and that you aren’t too far away in case something pops up.
For hosts, in addition to keeping parents’ contacts handy, keep a backup kid-friendly movie and a few extra snacks around, have basic first aid stuff and emergency numbers on hand, and remember—simple is best!