We discuss the ins and outs of sleepovers, including signs your child is ready, plus ways to put yourself at ease.
While your child might delight at the idea of sleeping at a friend’s house, how do you know if he’s truly ready to spend the night away from you, and his bed? “Leaving your little one overnight can be an emotional rollercoaster for both of you. But, from about the age of 2, it’s important to let the ‘kite strings’ out a little and let your child slowly do things for himself,” says human potential and parenting expert and speaker, Nikki Bush, who is also the co-author of Future Proof Your Child with Graeme Codrington.
She explains that one of the best things you can do for your child is to help him feel competent and confident so that he believes in the saying, “I can, I am, I will”. And allowing him to go on a sleepover with a trusted friend or family member is a great way to start fostering this independence and ability to trust himself.
Of course, a sleepover at a friend’s house certainly doesn’t have to happen from age 2. Generally, it’s only between the ages of 4 and 12 that children start to feel okay about sleeping over at a friend’s house. “The sooner your child sleeps out at granny and grandpa or at another family member, the more flexible they become with sleepovers later on,” says Nikki.
Test the waters
If you’re unsure whether your child is ready to sleep out, first see how he is away from you in the daytime. You could leave him at a trusted friend’s house for an hour or two while you get the groceries, and slowly ease into the separation. “We always start with playdates,” says mom of 3, Roxanne Harrison whose daughters are aged 9, 6 and 4. “I like to get to know the child and her parents first, so I’ll have them over as often as possible before I let my child sleep over there. It helps me feel more comfortable with the set-up.”
If your child is old enough, you could ask him whose house he’d be happy to sleep at and invite that child for a sleepover at your place first. This will also allow you to see the interaction between your child and his friend, which will help you feel more comfortable in future.
Try Nikki’s tips to set your child up for a successful sleepover:
Walk your child through the scenario ahead of time
Set the scene for your child. For example, you can say, “At 4pm, you might play outside or in your friend’s room, then the mom will ask you to all go and have a bath. By then it’ll be supper time, and afterwards, you might watch some TV together or play in your friend’s room for a while before you have to go to bed. In the morning, you’ll wake up, have breakfast and I’ll fetch you soon after.”
Tell your child to expect something different
Nikki says it’s important to stress to your child that things won’t be the same at his friend’s house as it is at home, but that it’s okay and all part of the adventure of going to spend the night somewhere else. Your child will learn that families are different, and he’ll also learn to be flexible and adaptable.”
However, it’s also crucial to let the parents know if your child has any fears or special routines he likes to do before bed to help him feel more comfortable. These might be non-negotiable. For instance, he might want to sleep with his favourite toys, or with a night light. “You also need to establish with the parents upfront that if there’s a problem, they’ll call you,” says Nikki.
NOTE: There’s a fine line between “hovering” and calling every 5 minutes to find out if your child is okay and letting things go and to take their natural course. Most sleepovers don’t land up in disaster!
Remind your child that he can do this and that you trust him
When it comes to raising happy, independent children, the ultimate goal is to let them go and for them to realise that they’re okay without you. Don’t be afraid to take this step. The less nervous you are, the calmer your child will be.
General safety tips
While you want your little one to feel safe and confident without you, it’s also important to take the right safety measures beforehand so that you feel comfortable with who your child is spending the night with.
Follow these guidelines:
Get to know the parents
If your child isn’t going to family or family friends who you know well, try to get to know your child’s friend’s parents before the sleepover. Have them over for a meal, or go there for tea a few times to chat with both parents or caregivers. Nikki believes that this is an important step because it helps you to follow your gut. You need to feel okay.
Be comfortable with the home environment
“I make sure that I’m happy about where my child is going to be staying especially with my younger children,” says Roxanne. I check for open swimming pools or gates leading onto roads (or could easily be opened) that could be potentially hazardous.
Roxanne also likes to be familiar with older male siblings – especially when it comes to her eldest daughter sleeping out. If you feel uncomfortable, have the sleepover at your house!
Teach your child to say no
Regardless of how well you know the family your child is staying with, it’s always important to teach your child that his body is his own, and he always needs to say no and stand up for himself if he ever feels uncomfortable in any situation. You could also leave a mobile phone with your child or invest in a smart watch with a built-in phone device which allows your child to call you in emergencies.
We like the Kids GPS Tracker Smart Watch with Remote Monitor, SOS & Anti Lost, R599, Takealot.com because it’s simple for kids to use. It can call 2 numbers and receive up to 8 calls.
More about the expert:
Award-winning speaker and best-selling author, Nikki Bush, helps individuals and teams to win at life and work. Nikki is the co-author of 4 bestselling books: Future-proof Your Child for the 2020s and beyond with Dr Graeme Codrington, Tech-Savvy Parenting with Arthur Goldstuck, Easy Answers to Awkward Questions with Ilze Alberts and Future-proof Your Child for the wired generation. She has also published a number of eBooks including: Talent Re:Defined with Raymond de Villiers. Read more about Nikki Bush here.
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike. Learn more about Tammy Jacks .