Overnight Success

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Whether you’re hosting a first sleepover or sending your little one off, these tips will help make the evening go smoothly.

A RITE OF PASSAGE FOR MANY CHILDREN IS THE FIRST SLEEPOVER AT A FRIEND’S HOUSE. A similar rite of passage for many parents is going to that friend’s house around midnight in their pyjamas to pick up their child, who it seems is not yet ready for that first night away from home. Sleepovers are a great way for your child to develop a little independence, and (who’s kidding who) for you to get a night out without paying exorbitant babysitting fees. (You will, of course, reciprocate the favour.) Sleepovers, however, are not part of every family’s culture, so don’t be alarmed or offended if your overtures go unrequited. “Around age six, children are learning to separate comfortably from loved ones and build friendships,” says Dr. Patricia Corson, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s developing School of Early Childhood Education. “It’s an opportunity to learn how to be a host or how to be a good guest, to see how other families do things differently and that that’s OK. It’s social learning.”
Some kids seem to be able to handle any curve ball that’s thrown at them, including sleeping in a strange bed. Others, not so much. If your child seems a little anxious about spending the night in a different bed, or is an anxious child in general, be prepared to make a night time retrieval. In fact, letting your child know you’re willing to pick her up if she wants can sometimes go a long way to easing anxiety. Before you retrieve your child, try talking to her on the phone, says Patricia. “A child may subconsciously just want to be reassured that her parent is OK and once she talks to you, everything is fine.”

Things to consider

THE OVERNIGHT BAG A different backpack or overnight bag can make the occasion special. Include one or two favourite stuffed animals, a pillow and perhaps a flashlight to make night  time bathroom visits easier. These touches from home will help ease any anxiety or homesickness.

GET FAMILIAR “If a child comes for a sleepover who hasn’t been to your house, do a brief tour and make sure he knows where the bathroom is and where you’re sleeping,” says Patricia.

FOOD Ask the host parents what’s on the menu so you can let your child know, especially if they are not adventurous eaters. If you’re sure they won’t like that food or won’t want to try it, feed them ahead of time and encourage them to take a small portion of what’s being served, then tell the hosts not to worry if your child doesn’t have a big appetite. Whether you’re hosting another child or sending yours, don’t forget to cover food allergies with the other family.

ITINERARY Are the hosts planning any activities or outings? What time are the kids likely to be getting to bed? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you prepare your child for the evening and avert upsets. “(With my children) I liked to make the evening a little bit special,” says Patricia. “Maybe have a ‘midnight’ feast at around 8 p.m. Let the guest choose a movie or bedtime book.”

SLEEPING ARRANGEMENTS Little ones can usually manage together in a single bed but if your child moves a lot in the night, you may want to recommend setting up a bed on the floor. In which case, pack a sleeping bag.

THE CALL GOODNIGHT Work out with your child and the host parents ahead of time whether you will phone to say goodnight. This can backfire if your child is having a great time, but suddenly hears your voice and wants to come home.

GOOD MORNING! Ask what time you should arrive to pick up your child. Bringing some muffins or double-doubles is a nice touch. Don’t assume the sleepover continues well into the next day and if you’re hosting, don’t be afraid to tell the other parent when to arrive if it’s important to you. Plan to feed your little guest breakfast and involve your child in creating the breakfast menu, whether it’s a special cereal or fun pancake recipe.

Published in October 2010.

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