If you’re into coordinating cupcakes and crafts, it’s easy to get swept away by the hundreds of sleepover themes, activities, and treat ideas on Pinterest. But as a parent, you know the really important planning for tween and teen sleepovers has more to do with supervision, rules, and knowing the families involved. After all, you want this childhood tradition to be a memorable event for your child, while also being safe and secure.
Tami Selvig, a school counselor at Liberty Middle School in West Fargo, says sleepovers have become a favorite pastime for her two oldest daughters. Recently, they each had a friend stay for the entire weekend.
“The sleepovers we have done in the past have gone very well,” says Selvig, who lives in Fargo with her husband, Daron, and three girls, ages 11, 10, and 6. “I have three girls, so I know to expect a lot of giggling and I’m OK with that. I’ve always wanted our house to be a home where kids feel comfortable and want to hang out.”
That comfort comes from providing a fun home to hang out in, founded in respect. “Basically, my ground rules are about respect—respect each other, respect us, and respect our home,” Selvig says.
Whether you are hosting a sleepover or sending your child off to another home, the following tips will help make it enjoyable for everyone involved.
Is Your Tween/Teen Ready?
Just because your tween is begging for a sleepover doesn’t mean she’s necessarily ready for one. Before sleeping at a friend’s house, try a few practice sleepovers at relatives’ homes. Make sure your child can fall asleep on her own without needing an elaborate routine. Also, watch for any separation difficulties during shorter periods of time, such as school drop-off.
Many children are more comfortable having their first sleepovers in their own home. Invite over a good friend or two (who have experience with sleepovers) and you’ll be off to a great start.
“It’s common to try a sleepover for your child, and then learn from that experience whether your child is ready,” says Kelly Olson, division director for Minnesota offices of The Village Family Service Center. “For instance, if your child fought with the friend, didn’t play with the friend, and complained about the friend the entire time, it may mean your child is not ready to spend that significant amount of time with a peer.”
With time, age, and maturity, your child will be ready to stay at a friend’s house next. “The more responsible a child is in all aspects of life, the better he will do at a sleepover,” says Susan Quamme, coordinator for NDSU’s Parenting Resource Center in Fargo. “Most tweens and teens should be ready to stay overnight.”
Know the Other Families
Sleepovers work best when the kids and parents all know each other well. Your child will feel more secure if he’s played at the friend’s home before and feels welcome enough to ask the parents questions or speak up if he needs something. As a parent, you’ll rest easy knowing your child is in familiar territory.
“The best sleepovers we’ve had have been with kids of family friends,” says Jess Almlie, who lives in Moorhead with her husband, Ross, and two children, ages 12 and 9. “These are the people we spend a lot of time with, so the kids are very comfortable at our home.”
If your tween is asking to stay at a friend’s house whom you haven’t met, you have a couple of options. Suggest the friend stay at your house instead and take some time to get to know the child. Alternatively, you could invite the other family over for ice cream or meet at a park. Tell them you are happy the children have become friends and would like to get to know them, too.
If getting together with the other family feels too awkward, try a phone call before the sleepover. Check on times for the sleepover, as well as what the children will be doing and plans for supervision. (See sidebar for sample questions.) Keep your tone friendly and warm. Most parents will be understanding and likely have made similar phone calls themselves.
Janelle Leiseth, mom of children ages 13, 11, 7, and 5, likes to ask the same questions again at the sleepover drop-off. “This can lead to a lengthier drop-off conversation, allowing for a window to know the other parents better,” says Leiseth, who lives in Moorhead with her husband, Matt.
You don’t want to clog up a sleepover with a list of rules, but it is important to have a few house rules at your own home while hosting, and for your children to follow when sleeping elsewhere.
The Almlies have a rule that a sleepover must be requested 24 hours in advance. This rule takes pressure off both families to say yes to last-minute requests from pleading children. Many families limit sleepovers to one or two guests—though even numbers may prevent a child from being left out.
Quamme suggests ruling out co-ed sleepovers, as well as leaving the house after dark, or sleeping over at a home without an adult present. “Non-negotiable rules should be the ones that deal with physical and emotional safety,” Quamme says.
Be consistent with rules you typically have for your kids, says new dad Brody Clarke, youth minister at Bethel Evangelical Free Church in Fargo. “Don’t have loaded expectations of your child while at sleepovers,” he says. “Hold to rules that would regularly be expected of them.”
If you are hosting a sleepover, run through the house rules with all of the children at the beginning of the evening. Here are some rules you might consider setting:
• Be respectful of people and property.
• Lights out at ____ p.m.
• Only watch movies and games with ___ rating or lower.
• Computers, tablets, and phones can/cannot be used if ____.
• All food should be eaten ______ and the kitchen closes at ______.
• You may sleep or play in these rooms: ___________.
Before your kids head off to a sleepover, review your family rules with them. Explain they apply even if the rules are different in their friend’s house. Here are some rules you might include:
• Be respectful of people and property.
• Use your manners.
• Clean up your messes.
• Follow your family rules for media. (Keep in mind this might be a lot to expect from a child when peer pressure presents itself.)
• Call home if anything makes you uncomfortable.
Leiseth has plenty of conversations with her kids about what to do if they feel uncomfortable at a sleepover.
Consider having an escape code for your child, says Quamme. “Kids should know that any time they are uncomfortable in a situation that you will go get them, no matter the time,” she says. “My daughter used to call home and ask how her sister was feeling. That was my cue to say, ‘She doesn’t feel good. You better come home tonight. When should I come pick you up?’ This relieved her anxiety from staying in an uncomfortable situation, and she got to save face in front of her friends.”
When they review sleepover rules, manners are key, says Melissa Pickering, youth and family minister at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Moorhead. She and her husband, Brian, are parents to children ages 13, 10, 10, and 1. “We encourage our kids, and remind them repeatedly, to say please and thank you, to pick up what they take out, and to clean up their messes,” she says. “I love being a mom, but when my kids go to stay overnight at a friend’s, I am so thankful to the other parents for giving me a little peace and quiet. I make sure I say thank you over and over.”
Questions to Ask Before a Sleepover
Our experts and families strongly suggest knowing families well before hosting or attending sleepovers. When you already have a connection, you likely have a sense of their family values, rules, and expectations. Here are questions to ask the host family:
• What time should I drop off and pick up my child?
• Will an adult be home the entire time?
• When, approximately, will lights be out?
• What activities will the kids be doing?
• If there are games or movies, what are the ratings?
• Will kids be supervised online?
• Will kids be allowed to have phones or tablets in their room at night?
• Where will the kids be going?
• Are there firearms in the house?
Try to ask these questions before dropping your child off at the home, so you don’t have to back out of the sleepover if you are uncomfortable with the answers. Leave your contact information with the host family. Be certain to make it clear to your child and the host that you can pick your child up at any time.
You can host a sleepover with a theme and matching activities or just keep it simple. Here are a few fun ideas for inspiration:
• Movie night with popcorn
• Make your own pizzas
• Tea party
• Dance party
• S’mores in a fire pit
• Crafts: duct tape projects, loom band, friendship bracelets, tie-dye
• Photo booth pictures: dress up and take silly photos
• Fort building with furniture and sheets
• Spa night: paint nails, fun hairstyles, pedicures
• Nerf wars
“We do Pancakepalooza at our house the morning after a sleepover. I make the pancakes and the kids are left to decorate as much or as little as they like with fruit, whipped cream, sprinkles, chocolate chips, syrup—whatever we can find in the pantry,” says Janelle Leiseth, mother of four.
As the host of the sleepover, you’ll need to find a balance between supervising the children and giving them some space. Food seems to play an important role. “Bring them snacks, snacks, and more snacks,” Leiseth says. “You get to check in more often and the kids just think they’ve hit the jackpot.”
Selvig uses a similar “check-in” approach. “We have a large downstairs family room where the kids spend most of the time, so we can walk through the room and see how things are going quite easily,” she says. “Offer to bring snacks downstairs. Knock on a bedroom door, walk in, and just ask what they are doing. Keep the communication open. Make sure they know you are not trying to catch them doing anything wrong. You are just interested in what they like to do.”
Don’t forget to monitor media as well. “If kids have access to YouTube and such, you should definitely be checking to see what they are doing,” Selvig says. “Kids can innocently be exposed to a lot of garbage. When you are the one hosting the sleepover, it’s your job as a parent to protect all of the kids in your home. When you are taking on the responsibility of other people’s children, you don’t get to just sit back and let them keep themselves busy.”
Even though supervising a sleepover requires some work on your part, keep in mind how much it means to your child. “If you supply a comfortable place for kids to hang out and have some good food, they will be happy,” Selvig says.
Amanda Peterson is an award-winning writer with a love for the Web, social media, and magazines. She lives in Moorhead with her husband and two children.
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