While sleepovers are stressful for parents, they are as stressful, if not more so, for the child, especially if it’s their first one. There are things you can do to help make the sleepover less stressful and reduce your child’s fear over spending the night at someone else’s house and away from you.
Reassuring your child that it is OK if they want to come home in the middle of the night is perhaps the best thing that you can do for your child. Let them know that even if they have to call you for a ride, you will gladly pick them up if they get scared or just want to come home, even at 3AM. Children need continuous reassurance that, regardless of time, reason or circumstance, should they desire, at any time during the sleepover, to come home they can do so and that they may call you at any hour and that you will not be mad but you will come get them promptly. Children appreciate this immensely even if they brush it off, trying to be ‘big kids’.
In addition to reassuring your child that they can call you at any time to come home, ask them to call you before they go to bed so that you can say goodnight and take the opportunity to reassure them which typically erases their fears. Sometimes hearing your voice helps your child feel less alone and reminds them, once again, that you are at home and ready should they need to call. Shaking off any feelings of loneliness sometimes helps them make it through the rest of the night.
If your child sleeps with a special blanket or toy, have them take it with them. Most children in elementary school sleep with a special blanket or stuffed animal, so it should not be an issue or abnormality. If your child seems embarrassed about it or declines to take it with them, pack it anyway so they have it; however, instead of putting it in their backpack where someone might see it, pack it inside their sleeping bag so that nobody knows about it but you and your child.
When preparing your child for a sleepover, take the time review basic rules of etiquette with them as it is easy for kids to forget about rules when they are having fun and less conscious of their behavior. Remind your child to be polite always, to use their best manners, to always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when asking for or receiving something. Finally, stress the importance of getting along with others, regardless of what other people are doing.
Take the time, as well, to explain to your child that every family has different rules and make sure your child understands that the let them know that, when staying the night at somebody’s house, they must follow the rules for that house. For example, if your child normally goes to bed at 10:00 pm, but their friend’s bedtime is 9:30 pm, they need to abide by those rules.
When your child is getting ready to come home after the sleepover, remind them to always thank their friend’s parents prior to leaving. Polite, grateful children are more likely to be invited to return because they are a pleasure to have around.