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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.

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:

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

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.