One Expert Tells All

When Is My Child Ready … for a Sleepover?

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What you need to know to help make your child’s first night away from home a success

Lisa M. Asta, MD, a Walnut Creek, CA, pediatrician and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, advises how to determine whether your child is ready for a sleepover. Joanne Zuidam reports:

A sleepover is a huge milestone for children. Is there any one age that works best for most kids?

Kids mature at different rates, so there is no set age for sleepover readiness. Your child’s maturity is one thing you’ll want to consider; his desire to have a sleepover is another. Some children are just not interested, no matter what their friends or siblings are doing. A child’s adaptability and confidence are also important. Will he be comfortable without you? Will he feel at ease if he still sleeps with a blankie or wakes up at the break of dawn? If you are the one who feels uncomfortable about a sleepover, or you don’t know the family, don’t be shy about asking questions such as: How many kids will be there and how will they spend the evening? Are they going to have a snack before bedtime? Will they go to sleep early or stay up late?

Well, if the right age varies, are there any must-do or must-have rules to help make that first sleepover a positive experience?

Children should be able to manage separation. That’s a huge milestone for kids, and a skill they have to practice, just as they do when they enter preschool or when they walk into a new classroom every September. Kids who have trouble transitioning, have a hard time settling themselves at night, or have fraught bedtime routines may feel apprehensive in a new environment. Think about your family’s nighttime rituals and ask yourself: Can my child: 1. Advocate for herself—for example, request a glass of water or an extra blanket if needed? 2. Adapt to others’ routines, including going to sleep where and when the sleepover host indicates? 3. Choose to go to sleep even if her hostess is allowed to stay up late—and then occupy herself quietly if her friends sleep in the next morning?

Do you have any tips to help kids get ready for and make it through the evening?

If your child still sleeps with a stuffed animal or a similar object, send it with him, or have him bring his own pillow from his bed. Send a change of clothing and an extra pair of pajamas and underwear, to play it safe. Make sure you have a backup plan in case your child becomes sick or anxious. Give him permission to call or text you good-night, if you think this will make him feel more comfortable. Let him know that if at any time he wants to leave, you’re just a phone call away, and if he makes it only to midnight, that’s OK, too. Provide plenty of encouragement to make the effort a success.

What about having a sleepover at Grandma’s first to practice? Does it not count because it’s family?

It all counts. From sleeping at Grandma’s to a family vacation, your child is learning to be comfortable in a different or unfamiliar environment. It all comes down to confidence and practice.