Ah, the sleepover – or slumber party, call it what you will. Sleepovers are a rite of passage for all children – and for you as a parent.
We’re not talking about the ones you arrange – when cousins visit or friends with little ones come to stay.
We’re talking about when your son or daughter lobbies for a school friend or fellow member of the football team to stay. It could be one child at a time, or perhaps you’ll decide it’s a case of ‘the more the merrier’.
Designate part of the house as adult-only space
You might imagine them snuggling down after a happy family evening. You’ve fed them a nourishing meal. There have been games and perhaps some strictly-supervised screen-time, and now it’s time for bed.
Is that how you think it will be? You could be lucky. But, just in case, here are our tips for surviving the childhood sleepover…
1Don’t expect anyone to actually sleep.
This is the most basic point. The children will be wildly over-excited at the prospect of 12+ hours in each other’s company and won’t want to miss a minute. There’ll be whispering and giggling, and you’ll have to tell them at least six times to be quiet. How severely you word this is up to you. We recommend investing in earplugs and an eye-mask for when you really can’t take any more.
2Remember to check you have all essential information.
It’s highly unlikely any parent will leave a child in your care without also making sure you have their contact details. But there are other relevant questions – does the visiting child have any food allergies, or a special bedtime teddy? You don’t want to be faced with a sobbing six-year-old at 3am because someone forgot to bring Binky the Rabbit.
3Ban all food or drink in bedrooms.
It doesn’t matter how careful they promise to be or how fastidious your own child is normally. We guarantee that someone will knock over the juice, and you’ll be picking biscuit crumbs out of the rug for a fortnight. It’s easier to say ‘no’. Perhaps allow water, but only in one of those no-spill plastic beakers.
4Don’t worry about planning activities.
You might have visions of sitting around the table together, playing games or enjoying crafts. In reality, they’ll be happier with a takeaway pizza and a DVD or Netflix. It doesn’t hurt to have a couple of ideas in reserve, but you’re unlikely to need them. They’ll just enjoy hanging out with no pressures. All you need to do is be around to keep an eye on things.
5Reserve space for yourself.
The kids won’t want you hovering, and it works the other way too (especially if you have multiple children staying at once). Designate a part of the house as adult-only space, where you can retreat to read a book or enjoy a glass of something. (Obviously, this space has to be accessible in an emergency; just make the boundaries clear at the start.)
6Be prepared to referee.
It’s less likely to happen with just two, but children can fall out over the smallest things. It may be an argument over who would win in a fight – Godzilla or Iron Man. Or perhaps someone makes fun of another’s hair. It’s easy to let emotions get in the way, especially if your own child is involved, but try and stay objective. You’re the adult here.
7There may be tears.
If your small houseguests haven’t stayed away from home before, they’ll be anxious. They get tired and emotional, usually because they are up way past their bedtime. They may just need a cuddle and reassurance, or you might end up calling their parents and arranging for them to go home. Don’t feel bad if this happens. The first time in a strange bed is a big deal.
8Wind things down as it gets towards bedtime.
We said earlier that nobody is likely to get much sleep, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try. Give them a half-hour advance warning when it comes to switching off the television or games consoles. Another for when it’s time to get into bed. Then allow them a decent period of grace before you go in and read the riot act (for the first time).
9Above all, be laid back.
Accept there will be noise, mess and very little sleep at this sleepover. It may be easier to let everyone snuggle under duvets all together in the lounge, especially if it’s a multi-child event. Just remember time marches on. It will be over in a few hours, we promise. A flick of a duster, a whizz round with the vacuum cleaner, and you can erase any trace of the previous night’s horrors.
Of course, it could be your child staying at someone else’s home, which is a whole different ball game. Assuming you’ve passed on your contact details and any relevant information (see above), the main thing to say is – don’t worry. (Easier said than done, we know.)
There may be tears and anxiety – yours and theirs. It’s natural. There may be a frantic dash to collect them at midnight because they can’t settle or everyone’s fallen out with each other. It doesn’t matter.
We promise you this. Whatever happens the first time, before too long you’ll be asked for another pretty much every week. They will become a regular part of your life for many years.
How you choose to deal with that is up to you.