Sleepovers, also known as slumber parties, are great fun for kids. Whether they’re as fun for adults or whether much actual sleeping gets done is another matter! Here we share some hard-earned sleepover advice for parents, from parents, and divulge some fun slumber party activities and ideas for you to consider for your next event!
You’re likely to be hounded into either hosting a sleepover or letting your child go to one by the time they are at primary school.
“My four-year-old daughter, Isabella, is already talking about sleepovers,” says Elisa Smith, a mother of three and owner of Balloonfish, a helium balloon delivery company. “In her class, there are older children who have had sleepovers already so there’s lots of excitement.”
Elisa hasn’t let her daughter attend one yet because she and her partner don’t feel quite ready to let her go. “I think she’d be fine, but we’ll probably wait until she’s five. I am sure that as long as she has her bunny with her and it’s a family nearby, so she can come home if she wants to, she’d be happy.”
Sleepover advice for parents – How to know when your kid is ready?
John Shanahan, a child and developmental psychologist, thinks that you can’t put an exact age on when a child will be ready: “I’d say some time between the ages of five and eight. It really depends on the child’s temperament, whether they sleep well through the night without coming to find you and also whether they’re asking to go.”
Hulda Thorey, midwife and founder of maternity services provider Annerley, has four children who range in age from 16 months to 15 years. “I knew they were ready when they kept asking constantly and had slept over with family members several times,” says Hulda. “You have to take the chance once they ask so much and let them figure out once and for all if they really like it. My kids were very different about this; my son was quite old when he did sleepovers and never really liked them, and my daughter, who is now 14, still wants to do them all the time.”
Pauline Ng, mother of teenagers Nathan and Wesley, allowed her sons to go to sleepovers when they were eight years old. “I always knew where they were, that it was just boys going and that there would be an adult there,” she says. “It was usually for a reason like a birthday. I always knew the families involved and who else was going to be there. I restricted them to twice a year when they were younger because they would often come back sick because they hadn’t slept much.”
It’s in the details – Slumber party activities
If you’re thinking of hosting a sleepover party for your kids’ friends, there are a few things to consider to make it as successful as possible. “Think carefully about the number of children, the age group and whether it’s a girls’ party or a boys’ party,” advises Nicola Parkinson, mother of a boy and a girl and managing director of children’s party planners Arabella’s Parties. “Girls’ parties tend to be a bit easier to manage. Boys’ sleepovers often involve computer games. If your child has been invited to a sleepover party, you might want to check what games are being played in advance before you discover your innocent child has been exposed to Grand Theft Auto!”
Nicola suggests planning games that don’t overexcite: “For girls, I’d suggest an art project. For boys, a great thing to do is a construction project. For example, building a model aeroplane or battleship is something they can really get engrossed in. For both boys and girls you can play games like rolling up their pyjamas, tying them with a ribbon, and then hiding them round the house so that they have to find them.
“It goes without saying that you should never do a sleepover on a school night,” she adds. “I would always plan a lie-in the next day as they are likely to have gone to sleep late.”
And in this age where children are as tech-ed up as their parents, it may be worth setting some ground rules for the use of smartphones and tablets that children may bring to the sleepover. The last thing parents want is a sleepless child keeping the other guests awake with an array of inappropriate content they have managed to stumble upon in cyberspace.
“Personally, I think three children in addition to your own is about right for a sleepover. Any more than that and I feel like a boarding school matron.”
In order to maximise sleep, mum-of-four Nicolette Jaeger advises making sure that any food provided is not full of sugar, agreeing upon a reasonable bedtime (knowing that they will likely stay up a couple of hours later), and suggests watching a movie in pyjamas in the dark before bed to make them nice and sleepy.
“Personally, I think three children in addition to your own is about right for a sleepover,” Nicolette says. “Any more than that and I feel like a boarding school matron. Finally, don’t hesitate to call the parents if you need to, no matter what time it is.”
Choose friends carefully
Merla Rose Noble is the mother of a six-month-old daughter and six-year-old son. She thinks that the key to sleepover success is choosing the other families involved carefully. “My son first stayed over at a friend’s house when he was five years old,” she says. “I felt really comfortable sending him as I knew his friend’s parents and their parenting style, and had been to their house a few times. A couple of months later, we had the friend and his brother back to stay at ours. We watched a movie, had dinner and then the boys had a dance-off which tired them out. Then they all crashed together on our sofa bed!
“The next time they spent several hours playing Lego, my husband took them fishing, and then they helped to prepare dinner. Again, there was a dance-off followed by bedtime. It has been great having friends over. I think knowing the families and spending time with them helps to make the children, as well as you and the other parents, feel comfortable.”
But these kind of close family friendships take time to build. Merla thinks that because of the transient nature of expat life in Hong Kong, this can make it a difficult place for sleepovers. “A lot of people come to Hong Kong from abroad,” she says. “It’s a fresh new start so it can be quite difficult to make new friends and feel comfortable with other parents in the way you might have done back home because of the length of friendships.”
“Make sure they know there is a back-out option. They should know they can always call home.”
Preparing your child
John Shanahan suggests that letting your children stay with your own family members first – grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins – can help to prepare them for staying with friends. “I would also talk to them about what’s going to happen in a positive way and run through the schedule. Kids like structure,” he says.
“Before a sleepover, I remind my children to say their pleases and thank yous,” says Elisa Smith. “I also make sure they know they can call me at any time if something goes wrong or they want to come home.”
“Make sure they know there is a back-out option,” agrees John Shanahan. “They should know they can always call home.”
However, Hulda Thorey thinks that along with going to a sleepover comes responsibility on the part of the child. “My take is that when kids ask for sleepovers, unless they are very young, they need to understand that they also take responsibility for being able to last the night. So, homesick? Just deal with it. I don’t want them calling home unless there is an absolute need. They should try to deal with all normal upsets there and then.”
With older children, homesickness is rarely a problem, but other issues can arise. “This summer, six teenage boys came to stay,” says Pauline Ng. “I gave them their space and we stayed in our room and left them to it. They brought all their own drinks and snacks, helped themselves to bedding and cleared up afterwards. We didn’t get much sleep though as they were up really late and the toilet was flushing all night. In the morning, the sitting room was covered in teenage bodies. Next time they want to have friends over, we think we’ll go out!”
“Sleepovers foster skills like conflict resolution, encourage kids to share, and improve social skills. They also help to prepare them for school camps.”
Sleepovers: a child’s eye view
Nicolette Jaeger’s daughter Madeleine, 10, has been attending sleepovers since she was six, and she hosted a sleepover for her tenth birthday. She says, “The best thing is staying up late and sharing secrets. We watch movies and play board games and, in the middle of the night, we have midnight snacks. We also talk loads. Parents usually let us stay up a little later than usual, but we pretend to go to sleep and stay awake for a few hours more! Sometimes when I’m homesick, I’ll text my mum. I also always have something special from home with me, like a picture. I always enjoy sleepovers at other people’s houses more than sleepovers at my house, as it’s a chance to see how other families live. It’s always more exciting and my little brother and sister aren’t around to annoy me!”
Lessons in life
Sleepovers provide children with a good chance to see how other people live and promote independence. “Sleepovers foster skills like conflict resolution, encourage kids to share, and improve social skills,” says John Shanahan. “They also help to prepare them for school camps.”
Nicolette Jaeger confirms this, saying, “At ESF schools, children have their first school camp in Year 4, age eight, where they will go away with their teachers and friends for a couple of nights. The school always advises families to ensure children have experience of sleepovers as this prepares them for camp. So even school recognises that sleepovers are now an essential part of modern parenting!”