Slumber party 101

By Lisa Bendall on September 05, 2012
It’s practically a coming of age: your tween is no longer satisfied having just one friend sleep over. Rather, she yearns for the novelty of an all-out slumber party that includes a dozen of her closest pals. How can parents make this supersized sleepover successful instead of an all-night misery?

First off, schedule it sensibly. Expect that the kids will end up overtired and suffering from a junk-food hangover. So don’t plan a slumber party the night before your child’s big karate competition. And make sure that the next morning, when your patience and energy are both flagging, the only thing on the party agenda is an early breakfast and pick-up.

Then, be sure to collect contact numbers from all the parents, and allergy or other medical information for the kids. Be prepared to accept instructions, too: some parents may drill you on sleeping arrangements or snacks. If you’re patient about answering their questions, you’ll help ease any anxiety from both the parent and the partier.

Sharing the rules up front will also help reduce any anxiety. Send out an email ahead of the party, or have a pow-wow when the preteens arrive.

Then give the children a rundown of the evening’s activities and the expectations around behaviour such as use of appropriate language, respecting one another, helping themselves to snacks, raiding the refrigerator, lights-out time and indoor voices. Let them know the consequences: that the party will end for guests who persist in shrieking, or that the ones who can’t settle down at bedtime will be invited to sleep in a separate room.

“We need to take time at the very beginning to set the kids up for success,” says Gail Bell, a parent educator in Calgary. “It’s not about going downstairs at 1:30 a.m. and reacting.”

It’s important to stick to the rules, too. You won’t sound like a meanie if you’re matter-of-fact about them. When two kids argue about the seating plan around the table, says Gail, you can intervene without flipping a lid: “You guys are telling me I need to tell you where to sit. So you’ll sit there, and you’ll sit there.”

If a child won’t stop swearing like a sailor, treat it as though she is choosing, with her behaviour, to leave – you’re not “sending” her home. “You’re not judging anybody,” says Gail. “You’re just saying, this is what I’m hearing, and this is what needs to happen.”

Turn out the lights, the party's over

These tips may help prevent problems in the wee hours of the night.

  • Help kids resolve conflicts. “It’s unfair for us to think that nine-year- olds can manage hours of a social situation on their own,” says Gail. A slumber party makes for a long stretch of time for kids to stay civil. If a quarrel crops up, ask: “Do you need my help here? I don’t want to see anyone sad. How can we fix it?”
  • Don’t relax the supervision. They may be in your home for 16 hours straight, but that doesn’t mean you should stop checking on them after hour four. Listen in and take action when the game of Truth or Dare turns nasty or the TV gets turned up at three in the morning. 
  • Be ready to tackle minor situations. What if a kid wets the bed or comes down with a strong case of separation anxiety? It may not have been on the evening’s agenda, but if you’re relaxed and open about it, the child will be calmer. Emphasize that she’s done nothing wrong and it could happen to anyone. If the kid is clearly uncomfortable, for instance she can’t stop sobbing from missing home, her parents will need to be called for an impromptu pick-up. 
  • Know you can say no. It’s a rare slumber party where all the kids behave like angels, eat nothing but vegetables and get 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep. You may decide that a few hours of fun for your child – and a few cool-parent points for you – just aren’t worth the hassle and exhaustion. “There are alternatives,” says Gail. “You can have the girls come over and just have a pyjama party, but then everybody goes home at 10.” 
  • f you do decide to go ahead with the all-nighter, the tips above may save your sanity. “It’s wonderful how children respond when you tell them the expectations,” Gail says. “It’s an absolute win-win for everyone.”

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2012.

By Lisa Bendall| September 05, 2012

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