My son is at a sleepover tonight, and I am sure I will most likely pay for allowing him to go. He will come home tired, cranky, and quick to retort with impatient answers to basic questions (such as Are you hungry for lunch?). Oh yeah – and he’ll come home slightly stinky because this was an impromptu slumber party and he didn’t even have so much as a toothbrush. Reasons like this make sleepovers a bad idea – and many parents agree. But somehow, sleepovers still exist in our home – and I’m OK with that – as long as a few ground rules and expectations are in place.
Sleepover Basics – What Do I Need to Know?
My Child – I have to know that my child is ready. There is emotional and social intelligence required for slumber parties, and it is my responsibility to my child, as well as to the family who invited him, that my child is ready for a sleepover. He needs to be able to take care of himself, as well as his basic manners (taking care of used dishes, putting bedding away, and helping with family chores).
The Family – Call me judgmental, but I’m not going to let my kids go to sleepovers just anywhere. In fact, even though my kids have all been to sleepovers, there is a finite list of homes where that happens. And despite the fact that my kids are homeschooled, this lack of sleepover-list-mania is not because my kids are socially deprived (they’re not – you’re just going to have to trust me on this one as I struggle to balance their busy schedules). It is because these are my precious babies and when I drift off to sleep at night I need to feel good about where my baby is drifting off to sleep.
My son is at a sleepover, but I am good with that – great with that, in fact. The home is also home to one of my dearest friends, and I know she’ll deliver all of the momisms I would be delivering if I was there. She’s texting me with updates and I’m checking in via Facebook. I know all of the people in the household, not just my son’s friend.
The Rules – Just who’s rules are followed at a sleepover? Does one family’s rules trump the other’s? Make sure you communicate with both the other parents and with your child about the rules. Younger children have a hard time discerning which rules to follow, and which expectations might make them uncomfortable.
When in doubt, go for the more rigid rules – and if you feel that the other rules are too lenient, maybe that is your signal that this sleepover is a bad idea. Before my son left for his sleepover, I told the other mom that we say no texting after 10:30. She smiled and said Good, because in our house the electronics get placed on the table at 10:00. Problem averted – my son heard this and knew that his new rule for the night was 10:00.
Why Sleepovers are a Good Idea
Allowing kids to safely experience the rules and mojos of other families teaches them more about their own. Maybe now my son won’t complain quite as much about the 10:30 no texting rule because he sees firsthand how other families have similar rules. He also gets to experience friendships at deeper levels. He gets to build relationships with the parents and siblings of his friends, which can actually make children safer. Remember the good old days when everyone knew your name… in the neighborhood? When you know your kids’ friends and their families, your children have an extended family. Yes – this can be a concern when there are too many opportunities for private time. However, this is why the issues listed above: my child, the family and the rules, are so important to discuss very clearly with everyone involved.
There will also likely be a time in your life when you will need to be away for the night – for a family emergency or hopefully an impromptu surprise night away for your anniversary. Every family needs a back-up family they can call and ask for a sleepover favor. If your child has never been allowed to stay anywhere else, this could be a difficult time, especially if the reason you need the sleepover is because there is an emergency and your child is left feeling out of sorts. Years ago when my kids were much younger we had a family emergency and it was so valuable to me to know that I could leave all 4 of the kids with another family (bringing the total of kids under the roof to 8!), literally at a moment’s notice and know that my kids felt safe, and I knew what to expect from the sleepover.
Planning a Successful Sleepover
There are things you can do to keep your kids safer and help yourself feel more comfortable if you choose to have your kids participate in sleepovers.
- Talk with your kids. Communication and honest conversations about privacy and sexuality are a must.
- Whether your kids are the guest or the host, make sure that all of the kids know the basics of fire safety for the home, where the telephones are, and where the home address is listed.
- Make sure that both families are agreed upon the kinds of music, video games, television shows, and movies that kids are allowed to watch, play, or listen to during the sleepover.
- Amend sleeping arrangements. We usually opt to have sleepovers occur in where the kids are in the family room – sprawled on sofas or bean bags. It lessens the intrusion on the privacy of bedrooms and the awkwardness of who sleeps where.
- Get to know the families of your kids’ friends. This is one of the best things about being a homeschool family – we all know everyone else and we get to spend lots of time together. Invite your kids’ friends’ families over for a BBQ or game night. You’ll get to see the dynamics and understand the relationships a bit more. Who knows – you just might find those dear, close friends you never knew you were missing and you all gain bonus family members.
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