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Summer Sleepovers: How to Combine Fun and Safety

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

With summer approaching, your child may ask to host a sleepover. This is usually not much of a problem for the under-10 set, who do eventually wind down and fall asleep. A movie, some popcorn or ice cream, and space for sleeping bags and usually everyone’s snoring by midnight, including you!

But if your child is a preteen or older, sleepovers may be a bit more complicated. If you’re planning on hosting a sleepover this summer, here are some tips to make the evening and the middle of the night go more smoothly.

Invite the right number. Sure your child has lots of friends and no one wants to be left out. But better to host several sleepovers with one or two other children than to host one sleepover and invite 10 kids. What is the most children you care to have responsibility for? Fewer is better than more.

Plan the right activities. The first word here is “plan,” and that’s a good place to start. Even if your child and her friends are fine without your planning, having a couple ideas ready will smooth things over if people get bored. But make certain what you have ready are “right activities.” You don’t want anything that’s too juvenile but you also don’t want anything that’s too adult or too dangerous.

Set the ground rules. Be nice about it but make your expectations clear right from the start and make gentle reminders throughout the night:

  • No one in. Nobody who wasn’t on the guest list may be around during the party.
  • No one out. No one leaves the yard without your permission and supervision. This means no wandering the neighborhood in the wee hours.
  • No photos. You might consider collecting cell phones and tablets upon entry but even if you don’t, remember that an online photo is forever. Kids shouldn’t be tempted to post embarrassing pix of each other. Make sure that doesn’t happen.
  • No unauthorized web browsing or television. Even if your own devices don’t have parental controls in place because you trust your child, remember that under peer pressure an entire group of “good kids” can go exploring online and on the TV. Just for this night, if for no other time, restrict access to where kids can go electronically.
  • Deliver children back to their homes personally in the morning. When the party is over, it’s over. You can make sure this is so by cheerfully promising other kids’ parents that you’ll drop them off by 9 or 10 the next day.

Good rules for children, yes, but there are also a few rules for you:

  • Stay home. Don’t even think of leaving the children alone at the sleepover while you take in a movie somewhere yourself.
  • Stay cheerful, firm and accepting. Remember these are all nice kids, just a bit noisier and sillier than they usually are. While you’re helping them have a good time, help them also to follow the house rules and stay safe.
  • Stay awake. Remember when your child was a newborn and you and your partner took turns being “on watch” on those nights the baby was fussy. This is one of those nights, even though your child is long past the newborn stage. As much as you can, make sure an adult is always available to help the kids or to settle things down.
  • Lock up the dangerous stuff. This is the one night when your alcohol, your medications, and your firearms absolutely must be under lock and key.

If your child is not the sleepover host but a sleepover guest some night soon, review with him ahead of time what your expectations are for his behavior in someone else’s house. Let him know that you will always come pick him up, no matter what the time, no questions asked, if he feels uncomfortable with what’s going on. Make certain the adults are responsible and plan to be on hand – which means you’ve got to ask them how the party will go. A too-casual attitude on their part should be a red flag. Don’t let your child fall into a situation that gets out of hand.

Sleepovers are fun but they take some thinking through. Imagine what can go wrong and take steps to head it off ahead of time.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new 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.