Nicole Blades wasn’t ready when her 7-year-old son came home from school with an invitation to a birthday sleepover. She didn’t think her son was ready yet — and neither was she.
Blades recently wrote on Good Housekeeping she had to re-read the invitation after she opened it:
They’re 7-year-old kids. Babies, basically. How did we get to this point already? Why add a sleepover to the mix and make this complicated?
Needless to say, she didn’t allow her son to attend the party. Her reason was a little unexpected but understandable:
I’m anti-sleepover, especially for school-age kids — staunchly so. Does it have something to do with my not being allowed to sleep over at friends’ houses as a kid? Sure. But mainly, it’s about the fact that adult human people are super weird.
She wasn’t simply worried the kids could get in trouble; she was also concerned about the adults in the home and how they parent.Pawel Loj/FlickrCC
“On the more serious side,” she wrote, “You could have firearms in your home that are not even halfway properly locked away from children.”
Blades isn’t alone with her concerns. Many parents and children express similar concerns about first sleepovers, pediatrician Dr. Perri Klass told The New York Times:
“Sleepovers raise a whole array of emotional issues for children and parents: separation, sleeping in a strange place, playing by another family’s rules. This is a case where you really have to know your own child, the other family, the whole situation — and the other family needs to know about your child, too.”
She noted there isn’t a specific age limit for sleepovers from the American Pediatrics Association, but many children start having sleepovers around 8 or 9 years old.
There are steps parents can take to make a first sleepover more comfortable for everyone.
Clinical psychologist Roni Cohen-Sandler told the Chicago Tribune she recommends parents call or meet with the other family to ask about the sleepover itinerary:
“Call up the parents and say, ‘Thank you so much for the invitation. I’m wondering what your plan is for the party. What are the activities? Will any movies be shown? What are the rules going to be?’ [Ask] what time bedtime is, who sleeps where, what’s completely off-limits. Make it clear that everybody has to treat each other nicely and respectfully, and if not, you’re going to call the parents. Done.”
During the call, be sure to discuss the ground rules, including bedtime and bullying. She noted that two rules should be non-negotiable: the kids should remain together at all times, and all cell phones should be checked at the door.
Dr. Cohen-Sandler explained:
“Slumber parties have a higher than average potential for drama, if not disaster. All it takes is one person in a group, and things can tip really easily. All these factions and alliances form.”
Parenting psychologist Heather Wittenberg, Psy.D., told Parents she often takes the initiative to tell other parents the ground rules before she hosts sleepovers at her house:
“When I’m hosting, I put it all out there. I say, ‘We have no guns, we have no dog, we have no pool. We are going to watch this cartoon, eat pizza, and go to bed.'”
There are many other websites, such as Parenting, that offer tips to help ensure the sleepovers are fun and safe.
The right age for a first sleepover will be different for every family. And some parents admit, as Scary Mommy reported, they will never allow their children to attend sleepovers.
Even though there aren’t any official guidelines on the right age to host a first sleepover, perhaps parents can do more to help make the experience more comfortable and a little less “weird” for everyone.