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Sleepover Shenanigans: When One Child Is a Bad Influence

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


Oh, my. You invite a child in for a sleepover. Things seem to be going just fine. Then this kid starts something you never anticipated. Something you never would allow. What now?

This “something” could be anything from viewing porn on the Internet to running naked down the hallway. It could be swearing like a sailor or singing vulgar songs at the top of her lungs. It could be sneaking out with your child in the middle of the night, egging a neighbor’s home or abusing your cat.

Now that I’ve set your imagination in motion, you realize that you could invite in a child who turns your evening into a bad movie plot, either a can-you-top-this comedy or a tragic drama of a sleepover gone wrong. What now indeed?

To add to your angst, let me point out that you are the responsible party here, even though this bad kid has parents of his own. You, not the kid’s mom and dad, are legally liable for anything that happens on your watch. Hosting a sleepover (or even a play date) is not a casual thing.

So how can you keep a sleepover from turning into a nightmare? Here are some things to think about.

  1. Know the child or children you’re inviting. A sleepover isn’t something to host when you first move into a new neighborhood. It’s not a way to get to know other kids better. Only invite children you already know well and whose families you’ve had a chance to observe and evaluate.
  2. Stay home. For goodness sake, don’t leave your child and his friends alone.  You might add “stay awake” to this, or at least a plan to get up every few hours (set an alarm, please) to check on the kids. You are responsible whether you’re present physically and mentally or not. So stay home and stay alert.
  3. Check in often. Stick your head into the family room frequently and see what’s going on. Bring in snacks once in a while. Make it clear to everyone that you’re keeping an eye on things. And, by the way, site the sleepover in a public space, like the family room, not a private space, like a child’s bedroom. Doors should be kept open.
  4. Intervene swiftly when there’s a problem. Don’t wait to see if something you think might be a problem really is a problem. Instead, speak up immediately. Say, “That’s not okay. I don’t want to see that again. Got it?” Get confirmation that the message was received. A smirk and a shrug don’t count here. Expect respect.
  5. Shut the sleepover down if things get out of hand. Your ultimate weapon is returning a child to her home no matter what the hour. Phone the child’s parents to let them know what has happened and that you will deliver the child to them right now. Don’t worry about inconveniencing another family and don’t argue with the other parents. Just make certain someone is there to open the door and take the child home.
  6. Of course, make certain your own child isn’t the instigator. Before the sleepover happens, lay down the ground rules with your own kid. Let him know that you will not look the other way if he acts out, just because there’s company in the house. Realize that your own child and his friends surely will plan out the evening ahead of time, so make it clear to your own kid that he should squash advance talk about adventures you’ll never approve.

Remind your child that hosting a sleepover is a privilege that comes with responsibility for him and for you.  It can be great fun and a growth experience for everyone but only if everyone cooperates.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.
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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.