What you need to know before letting your child go for a sleepover
If your child wants to go for a sleepover at a friend's house, there are some important precautions you should take to ensure her safety and well-being
I went for my very first sleepover at my childhood bestfriend’s house when I was in the second grade (Primary Two), and I remember feeling very excited about being away from my family and having the freedom to play to my heart’s content without having to say goodbye at the end of the day.
As I grew older, I would sleep over at many more of my friends’ houses and was thrilled by the tiny taste of independence I had, especially if my friend had very liberal parents!
During these sleepovers, my friends and I would stay up late chatting, singing songs, cracking jokes and just goofing around.
It was a fantastic way to bond and also figure out who I could truly click with in my social circle.
Now that I’m a mother, I’m anticipating the day my daughter starts Primary school, makes lots of new friends, and asks for my permission to spend the night at her bestie’s house too.
But with alarming news such as the recent case where a 9-year-old boy was allegedly sexually abused by a friend’s father while staying over at their place, it brings out the worrywart in me.
If my child is spending the night at her friend’s house, how will I know that she’s alright?
Would she get enough to eat at dinnertime? Did her friend lend her a blanket so she would stay nice and warm? What sort of mischief could she possibly get up to? Is there anyone at the sleepover who might harm her in any way?
Sleepover safety measures
Although we shouldn’t ban our kids from ever going for a sleepover, there are some crucial steps we can take as parents to ensure their safety before letting them attend one:
Wait for the right age
Once your child starts going to Primary school (seven-years-old and up), makes some friends and becomes more independent with each passing day, this is when she might ask to go for a sleepover.
You should also consider your child’s level of maturity, ability to take care of herself (for basic things such as going to the toilet) without your supervision, and communication skills so she is able to let you know if anything goes wrong.
Dr. Judith Owens, a pediatrician and Director of Sleep Medicine at the Children’s National Medical Center (in Washington, USA), also reminds parents to be mindful of your child’s separation anxiety.
“Clearly, kids who have separation anxiety issues — it’s not a sleep disorder per se — may have some difficulty negotiating the sleepover experience. I certainly have had some kids come to our house who I ended up driving home at 10 at night”, she shares.
Get to know the other child’s parents
Your child might have slept over at her grandparents’ house before, or spent the night at her cousin’s place while growing up, but you probably didn’t even think much of it because they are family and the level of trust is there.
But before your little one goes for a sleepover with a friend from school, get to know the other child’s parents and siblings first to have a feel of how they are.
Trust your gut instinct if one of them is giving off a weird vibe that makes you feel uneasy and perhaps ask your child’s friend to sleepover at your house instead.
Ask about the sleeping arrangements
Some children share the same room with their siblings, their domestic helper, or even their parents.
Maybe the slumber party will take place in the livingroom instead as there are a few other kids from school joining in the fun too?
Or will they be pitching up a tent in the backyard and sleeping under the stars?
Find out where exactly your child will be resting her head at night and whether you’re comfortable with that particular arrangement.
Ensure it is strictly non co-ed
As open-minded and forward as some parents are, as Asian parents we tend to firmly disapprove of our child going for a sleepover that has a mix of girls and boys together.
Psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, Dr. Fran Walfish also advises parents against co-ed sleepovers.
“I would not personally, nor professionally, recommend allowing a child to attend a co-ed sleepover. Hormones begin raging as early as age 9; and by late tweens and teens, hormones peak. Why would you put your kids in a situation where they could act out?”, he says.
Set some ground rules
Different families have their own set of ground rules, but make sure your child knows that your rules still apply even if she’s at a sleepover.
This can include:
- A curfew when she needs to be indoors and not roaming about outside after dark
- Avoiding sugary treats or unhealthy snacks before bedtime
- Keeping all movies and games PG rated
- No sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night
Always be contactable
Your child might already have a mobile phone, so let her know that she can call or message you at any time, and vice versa.
If she doesn’t have one yet, consider lending her your phone just for the night (she can call your partner’s phone, or your home’s landline), and get the contact number of your child’s friend as well as her parents’.
Let your kid know that if something goes wrong or she suddenly feels like she wants to go home, you’re only a phone call away.
Find out what activities have been planned
Talk to your child, her friend, and her friend’s parents about what exactly will be happening at the sleepover.
Will they be watching movies at home? Running around at the playground? Cooking dinner together? Going out to eat with the whole family? Or left to their own devices at home under the supervision of a domestic helper or older sibling?
It will give you a peace of mind to know what exactly your child is up to while she is away from home, and it could also hint to the other parents about your level of expectation when your child is under their care.
Benefits of a sleepover
I may be somewhat of a Nervous Nellie at the thought of allowing my child attend a sleepover, but I’m not going to deny the positive side of letting her go to one, such as how it helps to:
1. Build up her independence
2. Strengthen her friendships
3. Expose her to new cultures, foods, and way of living
4. Improve her social and communication skills
5. Learn how to behave and be well-mannered
6. Have some good old fun
7. Give mummy and daddy a (much needed) break!
I still have another year or so to go before my daughter might start asking to go for a sleepover, so for now I’ll be perfectly happy with her hosting slumber parties for her pile of plush toys in the safety of our own home.
How old were you when you had your first sleepover? Would you let your child spend the night at a friend’s house? What are your thoughts on co-ed slumber parties? Tell us by leaving a comment below!