Your child is at his first sleepover, and the phone rings at 10 p.m. He wants to come home.
Many parents have been there. False starts come with the territory when the kids initiate that big step on the path to independence. A sleepover sounds exciting. But when night falls in a new house, with different people and unfamiliar routines, children new to the sleepover scene can easily get cold feet.
“Whether a child is ready for a sleepover is a very common question and concern,” said Dr. Jennifer Burkam, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital.
“When they get that invite, are they really excited about it or more anxious and nervous? How have they done with play dates? Have they spent the night at a grandparent’s house or cousin’s house? How did they do?”
Separation anxiety can cut both ways, Dr. Burkam said. “Are the parents ready? Sometimes the kid is very excited about it, but parents have different levels of comfort. One thing is, how well do you know the family?”
Dr. Burkam offers the following tips to foster successful sleepovers, and the step beyond – sleep-away camp.
- Kids usually start sleepovers at 7 or 8. But keep in mind some 7-year-olds might do just fine, while other kids aren’t ready until age 10.
- Dropping your child off for play dates and with relatives is good practice for sleepovers.
- Assure your child she can call at any time, and you will pick her up if she wants to come home.
- If you don’t know the family, consider asking the host to meet for coffee. Or set up a play date first.
- Also ask about the agenda for the evening, whether other kids will be there, if they have a pool, if they have guns and if they are properly stored.
- If you aren’t ready for your child to sleep away, it might be best to first host a sleepover or two.
- Ask about supervision of personal technology. Some hosts have kids put their cellphones in a basket. Unrestricted access to the Web could become a problem at a sleepover. For one, kids might watch things they shouldn’t. Secondly, they might be tempted to post sleepover photos, which are sure to make other friends feel left out.
- If your child handles sleepovers well, he or she may be ready for sleep-away camp.
A child motivated to go to camp might still have insecurities. You can help by giving reassurances and emphasizing all the fun activities. Going to camp with a friend is also a great way to alleviate anxiety.
What if your child asks to come home from sleep-away camp? “The first question is why,” Dr. Burkam said. “Was someone being mean to them? Let the child talk it through. Talk to the counselor. Tell your child to try to make it a few more days and see then where they’re at. Sometimes they just need a little pep talk. They get a little homesick and need to talk, and they will feel better.”
In the end, being away from home is good for kids, Dr. Burkam said.
“They learn independence, they learn teamwork, how to thrive in a new environment and they develop social skills,” she said.