How To Know When Your Kid Is Ready For a Sleepover

At some point, your child will ask to stay at a friend's house, but how do you know if they're the right age for a sleepover? We have some expert tips ahead.

School girls having slumber party.

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After two failed attempts at sleeping over at a friend's house—including being driven home at 1 a.m.—Ava Kramer, age 9, happily made it through the night a couple of months ago. "My husband and I did FaceTime with Ava just before she got ready for bed, and it reduced her anxiety about being away from us," says her mom, Alicia, of Atlanta. "She ended up having a blast."

While there might not be one specific right age for a sleepover, they are a big step for all children, and a common part of socialization as they grow. "If your child likes sleepovers, chances are they're growing more comfortable with separation from you," notes Fran Walfish, Psy.D., author of "The Self-Aware Parent." But how do you know when your child is ready? And how do you make that transition easier if your kid is a little apprehensive to sleep away from home? With these tips, you can increase the odds that your child will have a ball at their first sleepover—and that they won't want to bail around bedtime.

Talk About What to Expect at Your Child's First Sleepover

Getting cold feet before or even during a sleepover often stems from the unknown. Your kid may wonder where they'll sleep, whether it's okay to call you before bed, or if bringing along their favorite stuffed animal will make them look babyish—and you may have some of the same anxieties too. So before you accept an invitation, find out how the sleepover will unfold and bring up any concerns you have.

However, try to limit requests of the other family where possible. For instance, it's not necessary that the hosts make sure your child takes a vitamin in the morning if you're picking them up after breakfast. But it is crucial to let the hosting family know about fears (if your kid is bringing a flashlight because they're afraid of the dark, for example), allergies, and any reminders that your child might need (like using the bathroom before bed). If there's a routine at home that helps your little one doze off, like reading a story or playing a game, it may be worth mentioning too.

Another thing to discuss with your child is how you plan to say good night. "Some kids might do better with a short text, whether from their device or the host parent's, but ones who tend to be more sensitive or clingy may prefer a phone call or even a video chat," says Dr. Walfish.

Lastly, come up with an action plan if your child wants to go home. Perhaps there's strategies you can discuss ahead of time for those emotional scenarios, like a special memory they can think of if they're feeling sad or homesick.

Offer to Host Your Child's Sleepover

Before you okay a sleepover at a friend's house, let your child test the waters by inviting their pal to yours. "That way, you'll see if your child grows tired of being with her friend or starts to squabble with her after a couple of hours—a sign that she may need more social-skills practice before staying over at another family's home," says Dr. Walfish. Or if both kids are sleepover first-timers, try a "sleep-under" where you plan dinner and common sleepover activities (like crafts or watching a movie), but the other child goes home in pj's before bedtime.

"Your child may ask to invite two or three friends, but it's better to start with just one to minimize conflict," points out Dr. Walfish. If possible, let your child have one-on-one time with their friend, and occupy siblings with other activities.

Help Everyone Get Along

If you're hosting a sleepover with more than one other kid, decide how you're going to handle who gets to sleep next to the birthday child or play the first round of Just Dance. "After I foolishly let a bunch of girls choose where to sleep at my 7-year-old daughter's party—and it got dramatic fast—I came up with the 'Cup of Destiny' for future sleepovers," says Alison Risso, of Silver Spring, Maryland. "Kids write their name on a slip of paper, I put them in a gold plastic cup, and I pick names to determine the order of games and where they sit at the table or sleep. When the assignments were random, there wasn't any bickering."

Be Prepared For the Phone Call Home

Even with all the planning, it's possible your child will still want to come home from their first sleepover. If your kid wants to come home for a reason that can't be fixed ("I miss you and I can't fall asleep" or "Their dog is barking and scaring me!"), it's best just to pick them up rather than try to persuade them to stay.

"Doing so establishes the trust that you will come get him if he needs it," Dr. Walfish explains. "The next day, you can talk about how he felt, and what might make it better in the future. But dwelling or overanalyzing will only make him feel like he failed."

The Bottom Line? Trust Your Gut

Don't feel like a boring parent for declining a sleepover request. "We're just not comfortable with having our kids stay over at their friends' houses," says Catia Dias, of Ontario, Canada. "I always make it clear that it's just our family policy rather than singling out a friend.

Even if you're open to sleepovers in the future, it's smart to skip one if you think your kid isn't quite ready. As Dr. Walfish puts it: "It's better for kids to have a positive first experience than to risk an embarrassing or upsetting incident that might turn them off altogether."

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