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Sleepovers: How to prepare kids for overnight stays

Sleepovers are a rite of passage for kids — and parents — that signal a big step toward independence and responsibility. It’s definitely an exciting occasion, but also can come with its share of worry and anxiety. How will Johnny do in a different home all night, under someone else’s rules? Will Jane be OK having to eat food that isn’t cooked just the way she likes it?

If you’ve decided your child is mature enough to handle a sleepover — and age often isn’t the biggest factor in this decision — there is plenty you can do to prepare to make sure it’s a pleasant experience for everyone involved.

Separation anxiety

If your child is worried about being away from you for the night, make sure you let the hosting parents know ahead of time, so you can work together toward solutions. Also, you can try these tips:

  • Accentuate the positive: Talk with your child beforehand and focus on all the fun things about getting to stay the night at a friend’s house. They’ll get to hang out all night long! Most likely eat pizza and play games most of the time. And remind them that you’ll see them again in the morning, excited to hear about how much fun they had.
  • Familiar comforts: If your child has a favorite stuffed animal, toy, pillow or blanket, encourage her to take it to the sleepover. Having that little piece of home could help ease the strangeness of being away from home.
  • A phone call away: While you don’t want to undermine your child’s growth toward independence, or keep them from doing fun things with their friend, it’s OK to let them know you’re still around and available if they need you. If necessary, set up a time during the night that you can talk, just to check in and make sure everything is going well.

Hosting a sleepover

If you’re the ones doing the hosting, the priorities shift a bit. Still be sure to talk with the other parents and listen to any concerns they have, or special needs or considerations involving the children. But generally speaking, your focus should be on fun and safety, both physical and emotional.

As fun as it is for kids to spend time together, overnight stays present plenty of chances for conflict to arise. The combination of later bedtimes, possible treats like sugary food or drinks, and developing emotions can be volatile. Here are some ways to minimize any potential drama:

  • United front: Let the kids have their space, but if you notice any pairing off, leaving another child alone, or if your child is ignoring his guest, it’s good to make sure there isn’t any bullying going on.
  • Know the rules: If there are rooms in the house that are off limits, or if you have a cutoff time for noise, let all the kids know that upfront. That will give them time to prepare and possibly prevent a last-second meltdown.

In the end, it’s certainly not the worst thing in the world if you get that phone call in the middle of the night from your child asking to come home. Someday it’ll be all you can do to keep them in the house, so just make sure to enjoy the ride.