Sometime around 4 years of age, many parents begin to wonder if their child is ready for a sleepover with a friend. Some 4-year-olds can manage and grow from the challenge of an overnight, while others find the experience more than they can comfortably handle.
We recommend that parents use the Lucy Daniels Center's "90 Percent Rule" as a guideline to help decide if their child is ready to undertake a significant new challenge, like a sleepover. The rule is simple: Present a challenge to your child only if you are at least 90 percent sure that he or she will succeed. There are good reasons that we use this rule, and we would like to explain.
The role of success and failure in self-esteem development: Children build healthy self-esteem when they feel competent and successful. The most important source of this sense of competency derives from experience - from challenges met and mastered!
Parents often notice that children focus upon the negative events in their lives, such as the frustrations, disappointments or hurts. A single negative experience will often have much more emotional impact than a single positive experience. For example, at the end of a preschool day, many children will tell their parents about an episode of unhappiness or frustration rather than about the day's many enjoyable experiences. Because failure generally has more emotional impact than success, a child must experience many more successes than failures in order to develop healthy self-esteem.
This is why preschool teachers structure their curriculum to maximize children's experience of success in a variety of activities. Teachers know that children may not develop sufficient confidence in their overall ability to learn if they are having significant difficulty mastering an important task or skill, even if experiencing success in other areas. Similarly, adults who teach baseball to preschool children recognize that a young child may not feel that they are a good baseball player if they only have a "400" batting average. T-ball, in which a child hits the ball with most swings of the bat, provides an excellent modification of baseball for the young child for that reason.
Failures are inevitable: Fortunately, parents cannot completely eliminate failure from the life of a child. Failures provide important opportunities for children to grow. Children build greater confidence and healthy self-esteem when they confront small failures, frustrations and disappointments and develop ways to manage their feelings and persevere. Children are more capable of growing from such negative experiences when the experiences occur occasionally and do not have major emotional meaning. On the other hand, children are vulnerable to being left with less confidence and self-esteem when they experience repeated failures in a particular area or even a single failure with substantial emotional meaning. Children need to be protected from such situations that can negatively affect their self-esteem. The 90 Percent Rule is an effective guideline for when to provide this protection.
The sleepover decision: We can now return to the question of whether a young child is ready for a sleepover. Children will undoubtedly understand that their being able to successfully participate in an overnight is a sign of their growing up. Children usually care a great deal about whether they are successful in their first attempt at an overnight. Therefore, we recommend that parents rely upon the 90 Percent Rule. Parents should try that first overnight if and only if they feel highly confident that their child will be able to manage the overnight without significant distress.
The answers to the following questions can provide information that can guide parents in the application of the 90 Percent Rule. The best judgment is made in a heart that is informed by the head, so parents should pay attention to their feelings as they ponder these questions and others that they might add:
How well does the child know his or her friend's parents and siblings? Do the child and his or her friend generally get along well together? Does the child feel at home in the physical space? Is the comfortable with all members of the family? Will the friend's parents be able to provide loving support? Do the two sets of parents have enough of a relationship with these parents so that the parents of the visiting child can explain their child's needs and preferences to the other parent(s)? Are there occasions at home when the child needs significant support when he or she goes to bed? Does the child ever awaken with anxiety or nightmares and require comfort from his or her parents? How well has the child adjusted to different beds and routines when the family travels or visits? How important is sameness and routine for the child? Does the child have comfort objects (transitional objects) that give him or her solace and which the child could take along? Does the child generally accept baby sitters easily? Does he or she separate comfortably from parents at school and for an afternoon play date? Are there any recent or upcoming challenges in the child's life or in the family life that might be currently taxing his or her emotional resources?
General use of the 90 percent rule: The rule applies in a wide variety of situations. For example, the rule can be used to make decisions about choosing appropriate TV and videos a child, managing a child's Halloween experience and assessing whether a child is ready for kindergarten.
We choose the level of 90 percent as a way of making the point that we are encouraging a very high level of confidence. However, the optimal level of confidence might not be the same for all children. Some children are particularly resilient in the face of failures, and others respond with much anxiety, shame, or embarrassment to failures. Therefore, the 90 percent rule might be an 80 percent rule for one child, and a 95 percent rule for another! Parents should trust their intuition, tempered by their knowledge and effort to see and experience the world through their own child's eyes, and their child will be the beneficiary of their effort.
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