Sleepovers are a rite of passage for most kids, and while that first invitation to stay overnight at a friend’s house can fill a child with bubbling-over excitement, parents may experience a host of other emotions. From anxiety over your allergic child accidentally eating peanuts, to worrying about his ability to sleep through the night without any “accidents,” relinquishing your child’s care to another parent overnight can be nerve-wracking at best.
But that doesn’t mean that you have to lock your kid in his room and relegate him to a childhood of social isolation. With the following tips, you can effectively ask the awkward questions to put your mind at ease and ensure that your child’s care meets you standards—even when he is way from home.
Make sure you know the family.
Since it’s probably not feasible for you to host all sleepovers for your child and his friends until he graduates from high school, the best way to ensure he’ll still receive a high level of care away from home is to get to know the families he will be visiting. “It is wise to have a family dinner or game night with a family you are considering for sleepovers,” suggests Cara Day, an educational and behavioral therapist and the owner of Daychild, a membership site that provides parenting resources. “Sometimes these get-togethers come up naturally as you get to know other families. Other times, you may need to be more systematic about scheduling them. If your child makes a new friend, take the time to get to know the other family well.”
According to parenting coach Susan Morley, you probably already know a lot about the families of your child’s friends, just from casual conversations. Paying attention to those bits of information can then guide any further decisions about the impending sleepover. “Some of the many things to consider include how much the adults drink alcohol, whether the parents have similar family values to yours, whether they have and enforce rules in their home, if their child is well-behaved and polite, etc.,” she says.
Keep the conversation positive.
Once you know the other family well, asking specific questions about the slumber party should be easier, but you still want to avoid coming off as condescending or difficult. “If you have specific concerns or requests, start by making a validating statement such as, ‘It sounds like you have worked out a good system for your house. Since our families are different, perhaps you can help me with a concern I have … ’” says Stephanie Milhalas, a nationally certified school psychologist in Los Angeles. “This will help mitigate defensiveness on the host’s part, while also ensuring that you are able to assert your own needs or concerns.”
Milahalas also suggests opening up the dialogue so that the other parent can ask you any questions or voice concerns he or she may have. That effort will show that you’re not coming from a selfish place, focused only on your issues, but that you are legitimately concerned about the success of the party as a whole.
Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions.
There’s a very real difference between keeping the peace and sweeping major issues under the rug, so if your gut is telling you to address a difficult topic, you need to trust it and speak up.
“Some families have weapons in the home; in this case it may be a deal breaker, or maybe you should ask how and where the weapons are located, how and where the ammunition is stored, and the rules around weapons,” Morley explains. “Another popular concern is the backyard trampoline. Ask about household rules for trampoline use. Is there a pool? What are the rules for that, and what is the plan from parents to provide supervision? For teens, inquire about curfew if the teens will be going out, and ask about where alcohol is kept and how parents plan to make sure all teens are home and safe before they go to bed.”
Ask the questions well in advance of the party.
In short, your child’s first—or 50th—slumber party is not the time for you to keep mum about topics that are important to you. The reality is that there is a very real risk for things to go wrong outside of your watch, and it’s your responsibility to prepare yourself for that in advance. And with that also goes the reality that once you start asking questions, you may not be happy with the answers you receive.
“Give the other parent a call a few days in advance so you have time to consider the information you discussed, review it with your child’s other parent, and also talk with your child about it, if necessary,” Day says. “If you talk to the other parent last-minute and something of concern comes up, you may end up canceling last-minute, which could be upsetting to your child, the other child and their family.”
Offer to help.
In the event you decide that you are comfortable with your child staying overnight with another family—and you also know that your child is mature enough to stay away from home—you should offer to make the transition as smooth as possible. The worst thing you can do is alert the other family that your child has a food allergy and not offer to help provide something that is safe for him to eat (preferably in a quantity large enough to feed all kids in attendance).
“If your child has a health condition, inform the hosting parent and ask if he or she is comfortable administering medication, like an Epi-pen,” adds Merle Heurta, a teacher and parenting/educational writer for the Kars4Kids blog. “If your child is still a bedwetter, let the other parent know that you can send nighttime underwear, your own sleeping bag or an extra set of sheets and blankets to use instead. And if your child gets homesick, let the hosting parent know that it’s okay, and there’s no need for her to rush home unless she’s really inconsolable.”
“Most of all,” says Heurta, “let the other parent know that you trust her, that you want this sleepover to be a success, and that you’re available if the other parent needs backup.”
Here’s to a successful sleepover!