Oh, the fun of the sleepover! What happens on a sleepover?

TWO weekends, two sleepovers – and I have survived! Phew! That’s right, our school holidays have been punctuated by the weekend sleepover, or slumber party. The sleepover is a childhood right of passage and ahead of our hosting duties, I was nervous – would everything go smoothly? Would there be late night, teary phone calls begging to be picked up and taken away from this madhouse that the Moores call a home? Would the siblings fight and make it a miserable event for our guests? Would the guests hate our food, our shower, our toothpaste, our beds? I was a wreck! Were my kids ready? Were the kids who were coming ready? The questions were ceaseless.

How do you know when your kid is ready for their first sleepover? And even if they’re ready – are you? And in this day and age when so many of us are working parents, disconnected from each other, are sleepovers as popular as they once were – and should they be? If you don’t know the family you’re sending your child to for the night, should you be sending them at all?  And what etiquette surrounds the hallowed sleepover? What is expected in return?

Let me be clear – I love sleepovers!

How to survive the sleepoverSure, I am not really a fan of the late nights while you wait for the giggling and chatting to stop. But sleepovers are a childhood rite of passage. They mark a new stage of development and a new level of independence from mum. They’re exciting and it’s fun to have a friend from school sleeping at your house! Like a very long playdate! You get to eat dinner with them, talk with them, wear pyjamas, play for hours and hours with them and nobody has to go home!

And as for the excitement of going to someone else’s house – well, that’s getting close to as good as Christmas! You get to see how someone else’s family works, which is almost always better than your own. They have better food, better night time routines and better toys and games. They have more lenient parents than you do and they have a later bed time! It’s always great, when you get to go to someone else’s house for a sleepover.

But how do you know if you’re ready and your child is ready?

It’s certainly a very tricky question and I have friends who span the spectrum on this one. One friend doesn’t do sleepovers at all, except with one very close friend of the family. Another friend whose kids have been going on sleepovers since they were two or three years old.

One friend is certain her children are not ready, and possibly she, as a mother is not yet ready to relinquish that last bit of toddlerhood. It’s a big step for us mums, as much as it is for our kids, to spend that first night away from home. As a mum, you’re relinquishing the parenting of your child to someone else for the night. As a child, all the comforts of home, the known quantities are given up for another family’s routines and rituals.

I waited until now for my children to host sleepovers – we’ve had a sleepover with a five-year-old, a seven-year-old and an eight-year-old here at my house. My children have yet to go on a sleepover.

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For the parent whose child is going on the sleepover

Top tips for surviving the sleepoverYou have a responsibility to the family who is taking your child that your child is ready. And that doesn’t just mean they can sleep through the night without wetting the bed or crying to come home. It means will your child behave well, will your child follow instruction and will your child fit seamlessly  into another family’s life. For me, this means will they sit at the dinner table (I don’t expect them to eat if they don’t want to, but I do think kids should sit and share a proper meal), will they manage putting on their own pyjamas and will they be quiet when you finally say, at 11pm, enough is enough, no more talking – it’s sleep time.

For the parent hosting the sleepover

On both our recent sleepover adventures, I texted the mother of the visiting child to check movie selections were OK. I think in this day and age you can’t assume that just because a movie is deemed appropriate in your family, that every other family makes that same decision. It’s possible I was being over-cautious but I view it as a courtesy. The nature of the sleepover hasn’t changed but our environment has. Parents are less connected to each other and more fearful of their children’s safety not being protected. Parents aren’t as plugged in to other parents’ values as we used to be. And in both examples, the mothers are not close friends of mine.

As a mother, you’re parenting someone else’s child but without the freedom of the way you parent your own. If for example, the visiting child says they don’t like having showers at night, if they don’t like eating dinner, breakfast or lunch – my own response would be to firmly instruct my child to stop the rot and get in the shower. But with visiting children, the primary goal is to have fun so you breezily allow things to rumble along without your usual style of parenting to quash the fun.

So why have a sleepover if it’s so much work?

Well, it helps form strong bonds and it strengthens friendships. As I blogged recently, one of my children struggles to make friends. A sleepover helps create the ties that bind friends together. It builds memories through a shared experience. And for the family hosting, it’s fun to shake out of the normal routine every now and then!

We had an absolute ball with the two guests we hosted. They were such polite and lovely boys, and a real credit to their mothers! They fit seamlessly into our family’s life and they seemed to enjoy experiencing our family, up close and personal. (They didn’t run screaming, as I feared!). We didn’t have any tears or wobbly moments – at all! The kids all slept in the playroom, where we have a fold-out sofa and a futon. They played Wii and entertained themselves all afternoon. Then, in the evening, they easily and obediently went to bed when it was bedtime! I let the kids talk and watch movies in bed until about 11pm, and then it was lights out and no talking. They were asleep in seconds!

I think it’s great fun having sleepovers, although I’m only ready for one-on-one at this stage. The thought of having five or six kids over scares me!

Do what you can manage, is the key, I think.

Thank-you to the mothers who entrusted their children to my care. I hope your kids had as much fun, if not more, than we had with them here!

Tips for surviving the sleepover

1. Take a sleeping pal: such as a pillow pet or even just your own pillow. Familiar smells help when small people are going to sleep in a new environment.

2. Phone it in: A goodnight phone-call to Mum can help fortify the bottom lip and strengthen the commitment to the sleepover.

3. Keep it fun: Let things slide that you wouldn’t normally (up to a point). Nothing is guaranteed to freak out newcomers to the house if you’re disciplining one of the other siblings.

4. Entertainment aplenty: Have a few different toys, games and movies on hand to keep things moving if they get bored quickly. It’s sometimes hard to pick how things will go with kids. In last weekend’s sleepover my boys wanted to watch a Harry Potter DVD, but that can be contentious, so I checked with the other mother that it was OK. In this weekend’s sleepover, the kids wanted to watch Diary of A Wimpy Kid, and again, I checked, more as a courtesy than because I thought there would be a problem. You want things to go well and you want the reports that mum gets when she collects her child, to speak highly of your parenting skills. I had plenty of back-ups just in case these weren’t kosher.

5. Food is fun: Kids today can be picky eaters. What your kids will always certainly eat, may not be what other kids will eat. Have some surefire hits on hand (for me, it’s pizza, which can have toppings tailored to fit any palate, hot chips and/or homemade sausage rolls). And have something really great desserts. For dinner here, last night, we had homemade sausage rolls (with zucchini, carrots, pumpkin and sweet potato grated into them) with a mini Picnic chocolate bar for dessert.

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7 comments for “Oh, the fun of the sleepover! What happens on a sleepover?

  1. Rachel
    June 30, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    You are very brave. This actually terrifies me. I would be totally happy to have another child over and I would do all I could to keep them safe and happy, but I with a child who has an anaphylactic allergy and another with less severe allergies, plus extremely picky eating, I would be terrified to send them to another family’s home overnight. I would also want to know and trust the family really well and be certain about who else would be in the house to visit or stay overnight who I may not know well enough to trust… I mean I don’t want some creepy uncle/grandfather or whatever hanging around. OVERPROTECTIVE MUM ALERT! But I think I have good reason to be cautious.

    • June 30, 2013 at 4:20 pm

      I think as you get older, Rachel, you become more moderate, less fearful. My kids are a bit older than yours and I think knowing the mums and the kids, as I have, for a few years, you feel confident about sending your kids to their place because you know they feel the same as you about most things. For example, I would never have anyone over (a stranger to the child or the child’s mother) while I had a sleepover going on, and I trust that other mothers understand that too. But I have a friend who refuses to entertain the notion for her kids, and at the end of the day it comes down to what you’re comfortable with. Sleepovers are a rite of passage, but not crucial to the childhood experience. Mum knows best! No judgment here!

    • June 30, 2013 at 6:45 pm

      Oh, and I forgot to mention in my earlier comment, Rachel – anaphylaxis changes everything – I totally get that.

      • Rachel
        July 1, 2013 at 8:46 am

        Yeah… I just don’t think I can expect parents who don’t have kids with allergies to be able to recognise anaphylaxis or know how to read labels. Maybe in a few years I will be able to teach her to read labels and use her epipen…. for now I am reluctant to let her out of sight for even a hour long play. What if she eats a snack with egg (like some ice creams even) or the other kids eat mayonnaise and don’t wash hands or utensils are contaminated? What if the parent minding her isn’t confident using the epipen I have hurriedly shown them how to use? What if they don’t recognise the symptoms? I am fearful about school, but know the teachers have been trained… by me and hope they will be able to act effectively in the stress of the moment. I hope they will know where the epipen is and can get to it quickly. I can’t just drop her off at ballet either as they don’t have spare epipens just in case and she is too young to keep it in her own bag. I have to sit in the waiting room with the epipen on hand just in case. Anaphylaxis sure makes life tricky!

  2. Yvette
    July 1, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Sounds like it was fun! Kids with allergies would be tricky, but my kids are sleep over crazy! The kids have been swapping houses on the holidays with one family (that I have known since my school days) for years now all the kids are similar ages and more like brothers and sisters, and Sam has had a few friends from school sleepover – and him to his friends for sleepovers a lot this holidays. I think it is just the change of scene and the strengthening of the friendship they love! Grandma and Grandad is always a good place to start! This week too is full of sleepovers here and away, but I agree never with a strange family or one you can’t trust 101% to mind your kids.

  3. Liz
    July 1, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    I have had a few now. With just one child sleeping over, that child became a little homesick and the phone call didn’t help, so off home they went. However last year I had one with my 10 and 11yr old girls and 12 of their friends! It was nuts! Loud noisy messy and certainly not much sleep. However at this sleepover, the same child had no issues staying the night. Comfort in numbers maybe? It was easy in that no one was left out, the only person with a meltdown was my own 10yr old. And she wants to do it again…. After I cleaned up all the cupboards the next day (whose idea was it to play Sardines?), I realised that it was actually easier for the kids with bigger numbers, just not for me. I think the next one will have to be a big one again. Just not for a while.

    • July 1, 2013 at 5:26 pm

      Oh. My. Goodness. Liz, you might be the bravest woman I’ve ever met. In my life. It’ll take me a while to get up to those sorts of numbers, but luckily I have a while. My daughter is only five. I reckon if we aim for big slumber party by maybe her 10th birthday, that’ll give me enough time to prepare!! Will be looking for tips from you before then! Slumber party games? Brave woman!

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