Parent Solutions for Kid Sleepovers, Slumber Parties and Camp

Soooo CuteSleepovers with a pal, slumber parties with the crowd or going away to camp for the first time. And if your kid’s the one who’s spending the night, then you get some free time. Sounds like a joy, but to some of us it’s just one big headache. For many kids the idea of spending the night away from you is really scary—especially for the first few times. And it may put some doubts in your mind as well: Should I let her go? Is he old enough? Will he make it through the night? Why doesn’t she want to go—should I insist?

If you kid is older, there’s a whole different set of worries: Will he be supervised? Will she get any sleep? Will there be any liquor? Are he and his buddy really going to stay in the house all night? Beware: If you’re not aware of the new trend of “opposite-sex” sleepovers for pre-adolescents and teens, you might as well add that to your worry list. Will members of the other sex be spending the night together? Ah, the joys of parenting!

So what can you do to make your child’s experience—whether it’s a few hours overnight or a week at camp miles from home more comfortable?  It really takes just a little bit of planning. By doing a few things not only can you better prepare your child for an upcoming departure, but also increase the chance that the experience boost his or her confidence and social development.

Here are a few tips that just may help make your child’s first time away from home more enjoyable for all.

1. Be sure your kid is ready. Is your child sleeping in her own bed through the night or climbing in with you? Does she have any problems separating from you when she goes to school, the baby-sitters, or day care? Does your child get along with this kid well enough to spend a whole night together? Does she feel comfortable with the child’s parents? Any of these are red flags that signal it may be best to wait a bit.

2. Do a practice run.  For a reluctant child, have the first sleepover be at your home. It sometimes helps if your child uses the same “security items” for a real sleepover at your home first. Or try having your child spend the night with Grandma and Grandpa or a special cousin.

3. Pack a few “security items.” A few packed items can make even the most anxious kid more comfortable. For instance:  a flashlight if she fears the dark or staying in a strange house; a granola bar or sandwich (in case they “hate” the meal); a sleeping bag with a rubber sheet tucked inside might help a bed wetter feel more comfortable just in case he has an accident; their own pillow or blanket; even a cell phone for reassurance that she can call you anytime if really needed. Anticipate any concerns your child may have about being away from home and then think of what might make your child feel safer.

4. Have your child be a fact checker. Whenever your child is invited to be an overnight guest at someone’s house, you’ll to find out the answers to these questions to make sure he feels comfortable about being there.

•    Time frame. What time should I arrive and when will I be leaving?

•    Supplies. What should I bring? Should I bring my own sleeping bag? Do I need any special clothing?

•    Other kids. Will there be other kids staying over night? If so, who? What adults will be around?

•    Activities. What will we be doing? Is there a plan?

•    Eating. What will we do for food? Should I eat before I come over or will there be dinner, snacks, breakfast?

•    Special concerns. Do you have any pets? Where does the dog sleep? Is anyone else a vegetarian? Do you say prayers before you eat? Is it okay is I don’t take a shower?

5. Teach a few social skills. Tuning up a few old people skills a week or two before the big event can really make a difference. Manners do count so practice them. Well-mannered kids are more likely receive repeat invitations. Also rehearse how to meet and greet new kids so your child knows what to do around a newcomer. Finally reinforce kid comments like: “Great job!” “That was fun!” “Way to go!” Kids really do enjoy being around pals who are fun and encouraging.

6. Clarify your schedule. Kids feel more secure if they know what’s expected. So set a definite pick-up time and then keep your word: “I’ll be at the door at ten o’clock sharp to pick you.” Let your child know your schedule:  “I’ll have my cell with me all night, so you can call me anytime.”

7. Meet the parents. No matter how old your child is, do meet the parents face to face. You want to be sure they will be supervising the whole night, have your phone number handy, and clarify that if there are any problems you want to be called.

8. Have a positive send-off. Be cheerful and optimistic as you pack and get read to go. Go to the door, meet the parents, and wait until your child looks settled. Give her a big hug and kiss. Then leave. Don’t linger.

9. Establish a signal. If your child might change her mind at the last minute, establish a private signal between the two of you ahead of time such as a wave or tugging on an ear. Your child can send it to you when you first arrive. Another option is to phone the house at an agreed time to talk to the parent (or to your child) and check how things are going.

10. Pick your child up, if needed. If your child does call begging to come home, keep calm, and drive to the house. Talk to her privately to determine what she wants to do. You never know, she may have changed her mind. Whatever you do, don’t make a big deal out of the “spoiled evening”, or plead for her to stay. Instead, just reassure her (and yourself) that there will be other times.

So what if your kid doesn’t make it all through the night? If you want this to work in the long run, emphasize the positive accomplishment.  “You stayed there two hours past your bedtime. That was much longer than last time.”  “It’s not a big deal. You’ll have lots of opportunities to spend the night at friends’ houses again.” Really and truly there will come a time when you wish your kids would want to stay home.

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