A pile of squealing children tussling over pillows, popcorn, and gossip is a tradition both highly entertaining and somewhat intimidating for both the child and the parent. So when, as parents, do we decide our little ones are ready to be in a new environment, to reliably use common sense and politeness rules we’ve been schooling them in since birth? The answer depends mainly on the child and might change several times as they age.
So far, our LillieMarie has dipped her toe into the realm of sleepovers several times over the last few years. As a six-year-old, she spends the night with her Baba (grandma) once a week. She’s stayed at a friend’s house a few times before and had little-to-no difficulties. So why am I now going to do a bit of parental backtracking and decide to shut down all non-Baba sleepovers for at least another year?
Good question. Here’s how, why, and where my brain has gone to get to that particular parenting choice:
Difficulties for the Littles
One of the most significant hurdles for getting little ones ready for sleepovers is, of course, overcoming their fear of new places and potentially sleeping alone in those strange environments. LillieMarie is finally sleeping reliably in a bed on her own throughout most nights. We’ve just managed to get her doing this regularly; however, might I mention, her bed is in the same room where her father and I sleep. When visiting Baba, she doesn’t rest on her own, and, though we’ve tried doing sleepovers downstairs with my in-laws, the monsters chase her back upstairs a few hours into every attempt. So some sleep independence is still in the works in our household, and I would argue this is necessary for every little one before sleepovers become feasible.
Following direction and politeness:
Most parents will agree that children tend to show their best manners and attitudes to everyone but their parents. However, entering a new household and meshing with a new routine, even for just one night, can be quite a challenging concept for those who’ve drilled with their routines from birth.
I’ve discovered that LillieMarie, in all her precocious wonderfulness, will often try very, very hard to push all routine boundaries when visiting a new place. If they usually have a nightlight, she wants the nightlight to project a starry sky across the ceiling. If they usually read a book, she wants to craft a popup book before bed with paper and glue or at the very least plot the project out with you verbally until you want to cry. If you eat a hamburger for dinner, she will eat nothing and extol the virtues of dessert as the pinnacle of all food pyramids. If there is a toy that is the most treasured item in the household, she will find it like a heat-seeking missile, and her very survival will depend on having it with her if she is to survive what must be an extended, arduous sleepover.
In other words, our drama-loving girl needs a bit more incubation time to absorb the lessons on being a good, non-demanding guest before she is released into another home.
Difficulties for the Parents
Getting to know the household:
It takes much trust to leave your child in someone else’s care. There is a delicate balance between parents as they learn the ins and outs of each family’s personalities and habits. It has been a struggle to let LillieMarie out of our sphere in this way. I realize this likely makes me the dreaded helicopter parent or is it an Avocado parent? I don’t care. I just understand how important getting to know the other parents and children truly is. However, fostering these connections takes time and energy — something I, and most parents around me, seem to have very little of at the moment. So, until I can connect in a meaningful way with other parents, we are waiting patiently(ish) for the right time.
Getting to know the child:
As a host, it’s essential to get to know the child staying at your house. Simple things like having the news on in the background can cause issues you might not foresee if you haven’t done some information gathering with the child’s family. For example, my little sponge wandered downstairs to the in-laws’ suite and managed to get an eyeful of news about Ukraine and Russia’s conflict. Suddenly, we have created a survivor’s manual for World War Three, complete with hand-drawn photos of helicopters bombing homes and people…
Every child is different and what they absorb can be startling. By getting to know the children you are hosting a bit, you will be able to avoid issues that might arise, from existential crises over WW3 to avoidable bedwetting because we didn’t go potty right at 7:32pm.