Slumber party 101


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.

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