I still remember my first sleepover. I was 13 years old and invited my best friend over for a night of fun. We binged on chick flicks (including my favorite at the time, Never Been Kissed), painted our nails, did makeovers, and consumed more than our fair share of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
Slumber parties and sleepovers can be a memorable part of childhood. Hallmarks of a slumber party include playing sleepover games like “light as a feather, stiff as a board,” prank-calling crushes, and staying up way too late. And for most kids, sleepovers equal fun. But today, parents need to consider certain aspects before agreeing to host a sleepover or allow their child to attend one. We’ll discuss everything parents need to know about kids’ sleepovers with expert advice.
When Are Kids Ready for Sleepovers?
Kids will usually begin to express interest in sleepovers at around the age of eight. However, all children differ, of course. Dr. Robin Hornstein said that if sleepovers are held with older siblings or at a relative’s house, they might be interested in attending at a younger age. “While kids often ask for what older kids are doing, they do not have the capacity to evaluate how they will manage missing their parents or routine, so we have to do that for them,” said Dr. Hornstein. “One 7-year-old may be ready while an 11-year-old is not. This is not a necessary rite of passage to become a fully functioning adult, so trust your kids’ interest and development to decide when to start sleepovers.”
For most children, as long as they know what to expect and feel comfortable, they may be ready to attend a sleepover, explained Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta, PhD., LMHC. “Most importantly, children should be at an age where they can verbally express themselves and share any information with their parents,” said Dr. Gulotta.
Are There Benefits to Sleepovers?
To put it simply, yes. Plenty! Sleepovers give children a feeling of independence and can be a wonderful rite of passage to experience.
Sleepovers give children a feeling of independence and can be a wonderful rite of passage to experience.
“It is a way to learn new social skills, even boundaries,” said Dr. Hornstein. “It is a way to feel big and a great way to practice for overnight camp if that is in the future. Kids feel big and trusted when they do sleepovers. They also learn the consequences of small choices, like how one feels with less sleep than normal. These are good life lessons. Finally, kids get to see how other family systems operate, enlarging their world view about family.”
Safety Considerations for Sleepovers
Let the parents of the child hosting the sleepover know that you will call to find out how your child is faring sometime during the night. Additionally, Dr. Hornstein gave some guidelines to ask the parents of the child hosting the sleepover, even if the questions are uncomfortable:
- Are there any firearms in the house, and how are they stored?
- What adults will be present?
- If your child has allergies, are the parents in attendance aware of this?
- Confirm that no drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes will be offered to your children.
It’s also important to know if other adults who do not live in the home will be visiting. “Some parents have told me they check the sex offender registry,” said Dr. Hornstein. “While this may seem like a lot, we know that somewhere between 35-50% of kids who are sexually abused are abused by older teens, so it is important to have some sense of who is in the house and if there were any reports on anyone in the home. Generally, this is overkill, but sometimes it is shocking to find someone’s name on a list.”
Talking With Kids Before a Sleepover
Talk to your children and ensure you are clear about what is expected and acceptable. Make sure your children know they can call you at any time. “Kids should know that if they feel uncomfortable, they can call you to come get them at any time—for instance, if the parents leave an older sibling in charge or they cannot sleep. For those calls, you can also create a code word that means they don’t feel safe. And don’t try to be the cool parent, be the proactive one,” said Dr. Hornstein.
It is also important to teach your children, well before the sleepover time, how to keep their bodies safe. They should know that their private parts (the parts under a bathing suit) as well as their whole body if they decide, are not to be touched by anyone—unless it is a parent helping them, a pediatrician, or a trusted family member. Children need to know they have a right to say no and to seek help if they feel uncomfortable.
“Despite all of these concerns,” said Dr. Hornstein, “most sleepovers are a great way for kids to bond with each other and feel part of the crew.”
What Are Fun Alternatives to Sleepovers?
Depending on the age of the children, there are fun alternatives to sleepovers. Dr. Gulotta says you can have a daytime slumber party if you have younger children. This may include setting up tents—outside or inside—and playing games while wearing pajamas.
Both Dr. Gulotta and Dr. Hornstein suggested “half-slumber” or “sleep-under” parties to build your child’s sleepover muscles. Essentially, it’s all the fun of the sleepover until the actual sleep, when parents can pick them up later in the evening.
“Kids can go to their friend’s houses in pj’s, do the activities of the evening like art or movies or playing, have dinner at the house, even brush their teeth and are picked up a bit later than their bedtime,” said Dr. Hornstein.