Sleepovers are part of Kiwi-kid culture for many families, but how do you know if your child is ready for their first night away?
The Perfect Sleepover Age
We all want our kids to be safe and happy on their first night away from home (and to avoid a middle of the night pickup), so working out when they are ready to stay the night somewhere else can be a stressful decision. Just because your child has an invite for a sleepover (and kids often start asking around age four) doesn’t mean they are ready. So what is the perfect sleepover age? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. To help you decide if a sleepover is right at the moment, you might want to consider your child’s individual needs and emotional readiness.
Is your child dry at night? Even though it is common for kids older than five (even up to age 10) to wet the bed, many find night nappies or a wet bed pretty embarrassing at a friend’s house. Can they manage going to the toilet by themselves at night, and will the parents handle it well if they do wet the bed? Can they get ready and go to sleep relatively unaided? If bedtime is difficult at your house, with tantrums or sleep-stalling tricks like extra glasses of water, then they’re probably not yet ready to try sleeping somewhere else.
Does your child really want to go? They may sound excited, but there can be a lot of peer pressure to have sleepovers. Are they saying yet to avoid looking babyish? You could help them come up with a good reason not to go if this is the case so they don’t feel embarrassed. “Mum wont let me” is often enough. If they do want to go, how do they usually cope without you at other times? Have they stayed anywhere else yet, like with a grandparent or aunt? Are they clingy when you keave? Children who still need elaborate comfort rituals at bedtime such as five songs, a night light, tucked in three times, and teddy in the right spot, or who climb into your bed at some point in the night, are probably not emotionally ready to sleep away from home just yet. And if they do stay the night, then what about the next day? Do they cope well when they are tired? (Early-ish pickups in the morning after a sleepover are usually a good idea anyway, and kinder on the other parents, who may not have had much sleep.)
Have you hosted a sleepover at your house first? Kids can usually play nicely with a friend or two at a short daytime playdate, but for many children, long periods of time with the same friends can be a disaster. Maybe they haven’t developed the social skills yet to play and chat nicely for more than a couple of hours or maybe they simply need their space, but long overexcited hangouts can just end up turning into long overtired fights. Before the big night, invite your child’s friend over for a full-day play. You’ll soon know how long they can manage. If they have access to social media or unsupervised internet are they mature enough to handle it well? At night, on a tired, sugared high, young people do things they wouldn’t normally – watch scary movies, take embarrassing photos, and even nice kids can be surprisingly mean with their peers. Will your child make good decisions and know what to do?
Are you ready?
How well do you know the friend and family (including siblings)? Do you know who will be there and where they are sleeping? What’s the plan for the night? Movies? A late night? Will the parents pop in every so often? Don’t assume other parents will run it the way you would. People have very different ideas about what is okay and what’s not.
Ultimately you need to ask: Do I feel comfortable with my child having a sleepover right now? If you don’t, then there is no reason to say yes.
Although they can be fun and a special time with friends, sleepovers are not a requirement of childhood. Many kids all over the world never have sleepovers. Either it’s not safe to or it’s just not part of that culture. So if you decide that for now (or forever), sleepovers are not for your kids, then that’s totally okay! There are other ways to have fun, and plenty of modern families are choosing them as great alternatives. Try a late-over or sleep-under, where they play till late and do sleepover things like getting into pyjamas and watching movies, but then go home to sleep. Go camping with other families, or have family sleepovers where you all stay the night with family friends – you can all have fun and hang out while still having a pretty normal bedtime routine. Whether you do sleepovers or not is up to you. With kids, the crazy, exciting, giggly fun of childhood tends to happen regardless!
Ages & Stages
Age3-4: Stick with short daytime playdates and occasional sleepovers at Grandma’s house
Age5-6: If bed-wetting is a worry, talk to your child about a toileting plan and den along discreet night-time nappy pants if they are comfortable with that.
Age7-9: school-aged children still need lots of sleep, so keep sleepovers to the school holidays when they’ll have time to recover.
Age9+: Big sleepover parties become more common. Some will be fun, but some might be best to skip. Consider each invite carefully.
Kelly Eden-Clacott is an at home mum of three, writer, and teacher who can be found snuggling up with her youngest daughters reading anything in sight, going on adventures into the bush, managing a calendar of social engagements (including occasional late-overs), and regularly forgetting to cook dinner.