Many parents wonder when a child is ready for his or her first sleepover. Some children begin to ask for a sleepover with a good friend at a young age, while others prefer to stay in the comfort of their own home at night until they are older and more confident. Then, of course, there are those who fall somewhere in between — and want both!
While every child is unique, we can offer some guidelines to help you think about your child’s overall emotional readiness for a night away from home, taking into consideration your child’s comfort with being and functioning on her own (especially at nighttime), as well as your own comfort with the hosting child’s parent(s).
Nighttime — bedtime in particular — can be a revealing time of day when it comes to understanding your child’s emotional development. Some children may become especially clingy or even resistant to going to bed, while others strive to be independent by taking responsibility for self-care tasks (brushing teeth and changing into pajamas, for example) and willingly climbing into bed when they feel tired. Understanding your child’s need for your presence and support around this time of day can be helpful when you must decide whether to allow your child to spend a night away from home.
Considerations on Your Child’s Behalf
- Does your child rely on certain bedtime routines with you, such as stories or a special tucking-in procedure?
- Are there occasions during which your child needs significant support when he goes to bed?
- Does your child ever awaken with anxiety or nightmares and require comfort from you?
- How well does your child adjust to different beds and routines when your family travels?
- How important is sameness and routine for your child?
- Does your child have special objects (such as a blanket or stuffed animal) that provide comfort and could be taken along?
- Does your child generally accept babysitters easily?
- Does your child separate comfortably from you at school or for an afternoon play date?
- Are there any challenges your child recently faced that could be on his mind and therefore affect his overall capacities?
Considerations for Those Who Will Be Caring for Your Child
- How well does your child know her friend’s parents and siblings?
- Do your child and his friend generally get along well together?
- Does your child feel at home in the physical space?
- Is your child comfortable with all members of the family?
- Will the friend’s parents be able to provide caring support?
- Do you feel comfortable enough with the friend’s parents that you can explain your child’s needs and preferences to them?
As you think about these questions with your child in mind, consider how likely it is that your child will be able to successfully embark on an overnight adventure. True success entails that he not only make it through the night, but make it in a way that feels comfortable and enjoyable.
Do you feel mostly positive that it will go well, or is there enough uncertainty that causes you to wonder? Keep in mind that children build healthy self-esteem from positive experiences that provide them with feelings of competence. When your child is ready, he, too, will benefit from these and other opportunities to spread his wings and experience new levels of independence and autonomy.