The words from panicky parents ring far and wide:
“I went to slumber parties all of the time and, you know, nothing bad ever happened. But things are so different now!”
“I’ve never let my child spend a night away from me. But she’s nine now, and all of her friends have slumber parties. I can’t keep saying no.”
So what do you do? Let’s start at the beginning:
RELAX – Being upset about it is only going to make your child skittish. There are things you can do to calm your fears and help ensure your child’s safety.
LOOK AT YOUR CHILD AND YOUR OPTIONS – Is your child enthusiastic about the slumber party? Maybe she isn’t. If your child does not want to go, don’t force him or her. There are also great alternatives – maybe your child can stay for the evening part of the party, but prefers to be picked up at 8 pm. For families with church and sports obligations, that’s a perfectly reasonable option.
KNOW THE FAMILY – Just because you’ve seen the family at school, sports, or church functions doesn’t mean that you really know how they live. Ask to be invited inside the house. Tell the host parents that you’re “one of those nervous types” and just want to make sure everything is ok. If they care about your child, they will do everything they can to show you around. Besides, you also want to confirm that the family doesn’t have a cat ranch in the back bedroom, that they indeed use indoor plumbing, and/or there is no need for a hoarding intervention.
TRUST YOUR GUT – Do you like the parents, but don’t have a good feeling about the teenage brother? Does your child like his/her friend, but says that the child’s dad is “creepy?” Do you have a bad feeling about the situation? Then just say no.
HOST A STARTER PARTY – Have a child or two spend the night at your house. This is especially helpful if you think your child may have trepidation about spending a night away from home. You can also have a starter party at a trusted friend’s house – I was lucky enough to have one in the neighborhood for my son’s first sleepover. If anything went wrong, I was three doors down.
TALK TO YOUR CHILD – In an ideal world, you will have already empowered your child about boundaries and his body. But now, go a step further: Tell your child that slumber parties are awesome. Remind her to get some sleep, don’t eat too much junk, and never be alone with an adult in the house behind closed doors. Also tell your child to call you if anything goes wrong, if something happens, or if he is scared. Plus, remind your child that he can tell you anything, even if he thinks he has done something bad or wrong.
MAKE UP FOR THE NOS – If you have to tell your child “no” for a slumber party, let him have a friend overnight at your home. You don’t want your child confusing your prudence with his punishment.
GET THE DEETS – It’s so easy to forget the little things. Make sure you have the hosts’ phone numbers and address. Make sure they have yours. Tell them if your child has allergies. Tell them that they have permission to dial 911 immediately if there is a serious accident involving your child. Tell them if your child does not know how to swim or if she needs to take medication.
Not every child likes sleepovers (I was one of those kids), but for most elementary-school-age and older kids, slumber parties are an important rite of passage, a great social bonding tool, and tons of fun. With care, your child can thrive in these situations … except for the junk-food-lack-of-sleep-induced tummy ache. You’re on your own with that one.