Sleepovers are a fun and exciting part of childhood, but how can you know when your child is ready to spend the night away from home for the first time? To start, it is important to remember that all children are different and what works best for your child might not work best for another. 

In this article, we will provide research-based best practices and general advice on how to prepare your child for their first sleepover, but the most important piece of guidance is to know your child and listen to them. If they do not feel comfortable or ready for a sleepover, then they are not. You and your child know best and it doesn’t matter what others are doing.

How to prepare your child for their first sleepover

Are sleepovers good for kids?

Before diving into preparation, you might be wondering, are sleepovers good for kids? Is my child safe on a sleepover? These are great questions to ask and they are important to keep in mind as you consider allowing your child to spend a night away from home.

Sleepovers help children grow

As is the case with many parenting decisions, there are pros and cons to allowing your child to go on sleepovers. According to clinical psychologist Maureen Monaghan of Children’s National Medical Center, sleepovers are a healthy and important step in a child’s development. She says, “Even just one night away from parents can be valuable. . . . It definitely challenges kids — it takes them out of their comfort environment — but it’s usually really positive, and we see a lot of growth and maturing.”

When children spend time away from their parents, they get the opportunity to learn how to be responsible for themselves and practice behaviors they will need to lean on later in life. They might get homesick and have to self-soothe or encounter different types of foods, family types, and experiences that they need to manage. Children who get to practice these situations will be more successful if and when they go off to sleepaway camp and/or college.

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How to make sure the sleepover is safe

However, it is important for parents to ensure that they are sending their child to a sleepover at a safe location. It is important to speak with the other child’s parents to make sure that the children will be supervised and no other family members or outside people will be around them. Likewise, you should ask specific questions to help ease your mind. Here are some examples.

  • Do you have a gun in the house and if so, is it properly secured?
  • Is there alcohol, drugs, or other medications in the house and if so, are they properly secured?
  • Will there be any other family members or people in the house while the children are there?
  • Is there a family dog or cat that your child might be scared of? If so, ask if your child can meet the pet beforehand and get comfortable with them. If they can’t, ask the other family if they can keep the pet away from your child until your child is comfortable with them.
  • How do you discipline your child? What will happen if my child misbehaves? This should be an open conversation between you and the other parent to make sure that they do not do anything to discipline your child that you wouldn’t do.
  • If your child has allergies, make sure that the other family is aware so they can dispose of food with those allergens. Likewise, make sure that they know where your child’s EPI-pen is and how to use it.

What age is best for a child’s first sleepover?

Unfortunately, this question is almost entirely determined by your child. Some 6 year olds are ready to spend the night away before some 11 year olds. It completely depends on your child’s comfort level and readiness. 

Likewise, spending a night away with their grandparents might be a whole different experience for your child than having a sleepover at a friend’s house. Let your child determine what they want to do as they get older. The best thing you can do is listen to them and help them prepare.

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Ways to prepare your child for their first sleepover

There are some ways to prepare your child for their first sleepover so that they feel comfortable, excited, and ready to head off for a night away from home.

  1. Talk with your child. One of the best ways to prepare your child to spend a night away from home is to talk through what will happen with them. When a child is prepared, they are much more comfortable. You can call the other parent to learn what they are planning for the night so your child can get the play-by-play before they even go.
  2. Do a trial run. Like getting your child ready for camp, practicing can help them feel more comfortable. Drop your child off for a night at their grandparents or with their cousins so they can practice the experience of being away from home at night. If you don’t have family nearby, you can also do a trial run by inviting one of their friends over and having a playdate sleepover where they pretend they are having a sleepover during the day.
  3. Give them options. Let your child know that they do not need to spend the night if they are uncomfortable. Tell them that if they want to come home, you are just a phone call away. Then, make sure you are awake and available when they are gone! It is a certain possibility that the first sleepover will not be easy for them, so be ready to pick them up if they need it.
  4. Pack their bag together. When your child goes on their first sleepover, they should know where all of their belongings are inside of their bag. Show them where their pajamas, toothbrush, clothes for the next day, and extra items are so that they feel ready to be independent on their sleepover. 
  5. Include a list of emergency contacts. If your child is too young to have a cell phone, include a laminated list of emergency contacts in their bag that they can consult if they need help and for some reason you can’t be reached. Some people to include: your partner, your pediatrician, and a nearby relative, if possible.

We hope this guide has helped you learn a little more about how to prepare your child for their first sleepover. Just remember: sleepovers should be fun and safe for everyone. If your child isn’t interested yet or ever, that is totally fine!

If you are looking for in-person and online activities for your child, check out what our educators are offering on Sawyer everyday. There’s something for everyone!

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