Sleeping away from mom and dad for the first time is a milestone for both parents and children alike. While a sleepover with a friend, family member or with a summer camp is exciting, it can also bring some anxiety for all involved. What should parents keep in mind to help make the experience just a tad easier and less stressful for their kids?
First, make sure your child is capable enough to take care of themselves on their own.
“They need to be comfortable with basic self-care like showering and proper dental care,” says Dr. Mary Callahan, a pediatrician with Preferred Pediatrics. “They need to understand who and how to ask for the help they need. We, as parents, tend to step in to fulfill our children’s needs before they even ask. It’s just our nature. Even the best camp counselor or friend’s parent will not know your child as well as you do, so you need to make sure they can speak up if needed.”
Next, consider your child’s temperament and maturity level.
How do they react when they spend time away from you? Is your child able to enjoy time on her own with her friends and feels confident to spend the night on her own without you? While most kids are able to spend the night away from mom and dad around the age of 8 or 9, some may be ready earlier.
It’s important to start small with a sleepover of perhaps just one or two friends.
Parents can eliminate worries about what happens at a sleepover by walking their son or daughter through the events of the evening. Let your child know what typically happens at a sleepover from dinner to bedtime and everything in between. Make it fun and have a mock sleepover at your own house beforehand. Don’t forget the sleeping bags and popcorn.
As part of the sleepover prep, pack for the big night together.
Allow kids to take any games, books, movies, activities or a lovey or stuffed toy that may be familiar to them as well as special treats or anything else they may wish to share with their friends. Make sure they have everything they need for a night away from home, including a way to reach you just in case. Before drop off, also be sure to review etiquette and safety rules.
Children should also be made aware that there may be a moment during the night when your child may miss you, and that’s OK.
“Even the most fun and busy camps or sleepover parties will have down time,” Dr. Callahan says. “There will be times of the day when your child will feel a little tug on their hearts wishing you were there. Make sure they have some coping strategies ready for when those feelings arise.”