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How to Prepare Your Child for a Sleepover

Two little girls asleep in their pajamas.
Volodymyr Tverdokhlib/Shutterstock

Your child’s first sleepover can be exciting, overwhelming, and scary—for both of you! Here’s how to prepare your little one and ensure a less stressful experience.

Even if your child is thrilled about a sleepover, he can still have worries and concerns. It’s important to take some time to prep, discuss, and come up with alternate plans to make his first sleepover a positive experience.

What Age Is Best?

Many parents worry their child is too young for a sleepover. However, as long as she’ll be safe, properly cared for, and feels comfortable being away from you, there’s really no golden age here.

Typically, children don’t spend the night at a friend’s house until they’re in school, perhaps around first or second grade. However, that doesn’t mean your 3-year-old can’t stay at a friend’s house, or your 15-month-old can’t spend the night at grandma’s. Every child is different.

Most importantly, make sure your child is up for this. Sure, she might feel nervous and apprehensive, but as long as she wants to do it, go ahead and move forward with the plan.

It’s never a good idea to pressure your child into sleeping elsewhere just because you need a break or think she’s too old to be afraid of the situation.

Do a Test Run

Before you attempt the big sleepover, try to introduce your child to them by hosting one at home. Invite a few of his friends over and make it a point to prepare. For example, decide together what to make for breakfast, shop for some fun snacks, and pick out a movie for them to watch. This will show your child how fun sleepovers can be.

Next, try to have your child spend the night with relatives, such as a night by herself at Grandma’s.

After that, if your child is nervous but still wants to try it, consider going along. See if there’s space for you to crash at her friend’s house, even on the couch. Sleeping in an unfamiliar place is hard for some kids, but if you’re nearby, it can be a good stepping stone.

Talk It Over

Set aside some time well before the sleepover to discuss the details with your child, one-on-one. Turn off all devices and limit distractions. Even if your child reassures you he’s fine, there might be a few underlying concerns bothering him.

Perhaps he’s worried about where he’ll sleep, or that he won’t like what they’re serving for dinner. Go over the scenarios, and come up with possible solutions, such as packing extra snacks or sending along a familiar treat he can share with everyone.

Talk about safety issues, too. Impress upon your child how important it is that she follow the other parents’ instructions and rules. But also make it clear she should reach out to you if anything feels dangerous, like witnessing arguments or any kind of abuse.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s a good idea to have a discussion with your child about signs of sexual abuse (check out 10 Ways to Teach Your Child the Skills to Prevent Sexual Abuse for guidance).

Ask the Parents Detailed Questions

It’s not just kids who worry about the first sleepover. Understandably, parents can be just as anxious over the whole thing. Sending your kids away, whether it’s too a friend’s house or summer camp, can be nerve-wracking.

We highly recommend that you meet the other parent(s) in person, if possible. If not, set aside time for a phone call—don’t just text, especially if you’ve never met them before. Talk about the logistics, such as what time to drop off and pick up. Discuss any food allergies or nighttime concerns, such as if your child sleepwalks or occasionally wets the bed. You might also want to let them know some of your child’s favorite foods.

Use this time to get a feel for the parents and how they’re going to take care of your child. If you have a bad feeling after the meeting or chat, trust your gut. It’s normal to feel a bit nervous about sending your child to someone else’s house but, overall, you should feel reassured the adults who will be present will keep your child safe.

Pack Special Stuff

Two boys under a blanket reading a book by flashlight.

Make a list of things that will make your child feel at home at her friend’s house, such as a favorite stuffed animal. Send along a few familiar objects that will help her feel at home and, hopefully, more comfortable in the new setting.

Here’s a list of a few things we recommend:

  • Pillow
  • Blanket
  • Stuffed animal/doll
  • Some favorite books
  • Flashlight
  • Pajamas
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Snacks
  • Water bottle
  • Phone (if your child is old enough)

Different Routines and Cultures

Some kids expect other households to be run exactly like their own, which is rarely the case. Explain to your child that other parents have different expectations for their kids, and that’s okay.

Perhaps the family allows their kids to eat while they watch TV, which is never allowed in your home. Or maybe everyone has to remove their shoes at the front door. Make sure your kids know to expect different things, and to not fight back on them. Try to teach your children to respect other cultures and religions, too.

Don’t Rush the Drop-Off

Change your schedule, if possible, so you can spend some time at the drop-off—don’t just dump your kid and go. Sit down and talk to the parents or get a tour of the house (this might help reassure you that it’s a safe environment). If you can, try to meet everyone in the household. Stay for dinner if you can. The longer you help with the transition, the less of a shock it’ll be for your child.

Some kids might totally be ready for an independent adventure and push you out the door. If that’s the case, you can still take some time to visit, but leave once you feel everything is okay and your child is settled.

Have a Plan B

Discuss what will happen if your child gets sick, can’t sleep, or is simply miserable at the sleepover. You can plan to have a check-in phone call before bed, so your child has a chance to back out if she wants. Perhaps she doesn’t want to hurt her friend’s feelings by leaving. Reassure her that it’s totally okay to bail mid-sleepover.

Make sure she knows where the parents’ bedroom and the phone are, or send a phone along with her, if possible. You want her to have a way to reach out to you, if necessary.

Try Again

If the first attempt fails, don’t worry. Attending sleepovers isn’t a crucial developmental milestone. There are plenty of kids who simply don’t like them, and yet they go on to college and normal adult lives.

You can try again down the road, perhaps with a different friend. Just make sure your child is up for it. If he doesn’t want to go, you don’t have to pressure him.

Sleepovers can fun and exciting, and many kids grow to love them. Take some time to talk with your child about the logistics. Educate your children about how to stay safe, and remind them to keep in touch with you.

Above all else, you want them to have a good time.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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