An invitation to a sleepover may both thrill and terrify your child, but a little preparation and encouragement can help him or her move more comfortably from play dates to this new social situation.
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Children who are 7 or 8 years old and moving through elementary school are also moving into prime sleepover years. Each child responds differently, but some experience separation anxiety when they have a chance to sleep at a friend’s house.
Pediatric psychologist Alana Lopez, PhD, encourages parents to take things slowly and talk openly with children who are apprehensive.
“I recommend not to pressure kids,” she says. “I emphasize that you should just let it happen naturally and ease children into the process. It’s not one of those things that’s required for a key social developmental milestone.”
6 steps you can take to help prevent problems
1. Watch for signs of anxiety. For example, is the child having problems sleeping? Is he more irritable than usual? Is she complaining about stomach aches or other pains? Is he saying he doesn’t want to go? Is she concerned about what the other parents will be like or what type of food they might serve?
“Just be open and honest with them about their fears and anxieties,” Dr. Lopez advises. “Have an open discussion and validate that it’s okay to be worried and then discuss what can be done to alleviate those fears to make it a more successful experience.”
2. Do trial runs. Have one friend your child knows well and trusts stay over to see how it goes. Or have your child sleep over at a grandparent’s house or at another trusted, reliable family member’s home.
If it goes well, let your child spend the day at a friend’s house but have him or her come home that night. “This way, they can work their way up to an overnight stay,” Dr. Lopez says.
3. Prepare in advance. Confer with the parents of your child’s friend. Address various concerns, such as what they may serve for dinner, if there are any large pets in the home, where the child will sleep and so on.
“I also tell parents to address safety issues, too, such as whether or not there are guns in the home,” Dr. Lopez adds. “Those are reasonable questions today, and they can help put you at ease.”
4. Make a game plan for your child. Make sure he knows it’s okay to ask questions or call you anytime. Be encouraging, too. Let her know that it’s a great way to get to know her friend better and take steps toward more independence. This helps build your child’s confidence.
5. Make sure that the child’s life is steady. If you’ve just moved, the child has changed schools or one of the parents has lost a job, it’s probably not the ideal time for a sleepover.
6. Pack things that bring comfort. Let your child take a favorite blanket, pillow, toy or photo, or a particular snack food. Don’t forget any medicines he may need. Make sure she is well-prepared and has everything she needs.
Don’t force it
If your child ends up calling you at midnight saying she is afraid and wants to come home, pick her up. “Don’t make a big deal of it,” Dr. Lopez says. “Just say, ‘That’s fine. We’ll just try again another time.’ ”