When our children were little, saying no to sleepovers was easy. Mostly because our kiddos were extremely tethered to their nighttime routine and preferred to stay at home. I was able to push the issue off for a few years.
Once we moved into the school years, however, it seemed as though every kid we knew was sleeping somewhere other than their own beds each weekend. And suddenly I was the weirdo parent who hated fun.
When I was a little girl, Fridays meant calling up my best friend who lived a block away and deciding which of our moms would be hosting that week — we’d stay up too late, create music video routines and eat way too much popcorn. But as I moved into junior high, sleepovers became social landmines. I ended up on the receiving end of a lot of bullying, and I regrettably dished out my fair share as well. I did not want my own daughter to go through this torment.
In truth, I was also an exhausted mother who had another baby and didn’t particularly want to manage someone else’s kid in addition to my own. Nor did I feel okay letting my kids sleep over at someone else’s house without ever offering to reciprocate. But my extroverted firstborn was no longer okay with my hardline stance, and I had to sort out how to make some sleepovers work for her sake.
Here are some approaches that work for our family:
Host an (everything but the) slumber party
Our gateway sleepover was having a group of my daughter’s friends over for a slumber party where they all went home at 10 p.m. They came in their jammies, we had a dance party, I painted their nails, we ate pizza, watched a movie with popcorn and ice cream sundaes. When everyone was good and exhausted, we sent them home!
The girls loved getting to do all of the slumber party activities, and all of the parents didn't have to deal with overtired and grumpy kids the next day.
Set clear boundaries with your kid
Unlike when I was growing up, rolling in with the streetlights and sleeping over at different friends' houses was not something I wanted for my kids. I wanted to prevent some of the uncomfortable scenarios I dealt with, as well as some of the more disastrous situations that can happen at slumber parties.
For this reason, we told our children that sleepovers were always allowed with family, sometimes allowed with close family friends, but never allowed with friends whose parents we did not know well. Although this has caused a bit of whining, particularly with group sleepovers, I am always happy to bring my child to the fun evening activities and then pick her up at bedtime.
Set expectations with hosting parents
If I’m trusting someone else with my child for the night, I make sure that I am comfortable with their home environment. While I generally adopt a live-and-let-live attitude, if my child is in the mix, I want some assurances. If the host family owns firearms, are they properly stored? Are there parental controls on the internet and or television? Will there be an enforced bedtime? If the other parents balk at these questions — and so far, no one ever has — then perhaps a sleepover is not a good fit.
Always keep communication open
I have had to take kids back to their homes in the middle of the night, and I have had my own kids come home mid-sleepover, for many different reasons. Usually, the reason is that a child changed their mind about wanting to sleep over. And that is okay!
When we are hosting, I make sure my child’s friend(s) know they can go back home no matter what time it is. Likewise, when our kids are sleeping over somewhere else, I make sure they know (and their hosts know) that they can call for a pick up at any time. Not only does this help kids feel more comfortable at the sleepover, but it also builds the foundation for the teen years when they might have to call home in stickier situations.
Slumber parties aren’t my bag. I’m not good with missing sleep, and I really don’t like extra noise and drama. But with some compromises, we’ve been able to enjoy the occasional sleepover — without anyone’s face getting decorated with a Sharpie.