And Don'ts: Preparing Your Child For The First Overnight Stay With
By Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman
your baby is growing up. You have kept her (or him) in the protection
of your own home, teaching her your own values, ready at a moment's
notice if she needed you in the middle of the night. You have created
a shell of safety and security around her that protects her and
comforts you. But now she is ready to go out on her own. Well, at
least for one night . . . to a friend's house . . . with a family
maybe your child is not heading off to college just yet. Still,
that first overnight stay away from home without you can be exciting
and scary for both of you. The do's and don'ts that follow will
help you create an experience that will be fun and comforting for
your entire family.
discuss the routine and evening plan with the other child's parent
ahead of time. Once you know the plan, you can prepare your child
for the evening by discussing it with her. The unknown often results
in increased anxiety. By knowing and discussing the plan, you can
eliminate as much of the unknown as possible.
ask if there is anything special your child should bring to the
sleepover. Does she need a pillow, sleeping bag, swimsuit, money
for going out to eat or to the movies, etc.? Also discuss any special
needs she may have: medication, food allergies, night light, etc.
tell your child that everything will be fine. To say this would
be to imply that there will be no problems and that nothing unexpected
will arise. You simply do not know if that is true or not. Instead,
tell her, "I know you'll be able to handle the evening's events."
What these words communicate to your child is, "I know you'll
do a decent job of handling whatever happens. If you wet the bed,
get scared in the middle of the night, or dislike the food that's
served, you're capable of working through the problem."
empower your child with words to use if a concern or fear happens
to arise. For example, if she finds herself on the receiving end
of ridicule, you can empower her by teaching her verbal responses
such as, "I don't like it when you say those things to me,"
or "Please treat me with kindness when I'm at your house."
let your child know that with a simple phone call she can come home
at any time. Reassure her that the experience of the first overnight
stay can be as long or as short as she desires. The goal is to have
fun and enjoy the evening. If the enjoyment comes to an end, she
has the power to choose to come home. Make sure your child and the
other parent know your cell phone number so they can reach you wherever
you may be.
threaten your child in an attempt to manage her behavior. Avoid
saying, "You better behave yourself while you're there tonight,"
or "Be good or this will be your last sleepover." Instead,
talk to her about opportunities and responsibilities. "You
have the opportunity to have a special evening at your friend's
house. Your responsibility is to be kind and respectful of their
family rules while you are there."
consider "red flags." A "red flag" is a possible
concern that may arise based on your family values. For example,
are there any smokers in the house or any guns on the premises?
Will there be any other sleepover guests? How are the internet,
video games, and television monitored? Brainstorming with your partner
will help ensure that you have checked for all the concerns you
value as a family.
give your child a disposable camera to take pictures with throughout
the evening. This will give her something specific to talk about
later with the family. Together, you can create a memory book and
relive many of the experiences of this significant event in your
child's growth and development.
call to see if everything is going okay. Manage your anxiety in
other ways. Go for a walk, clean the garage, or wash the car if
necessary. Have a clear understanding between you and the other
parent that she will call if anything is needed. Let your child
spread her wings. You can handle it.
be on time to pick up your child the next day. Set a pickup time
and share it with her before you drop her off. If she is at all
anxious and you're late for the pickup, her concern about future
sleepovers will increase. If she has as much fun as you both expect,
she won't want to come home at the set time. Stay firm on the pickup
time and be there when expected. You are setting a precedent for
future times when your child is with friends and is required to
be home at a designated time.
debrief the evening with your child without acting like an interrogator.
Ask questions that encourage her to think through the evening. Ask,
"What was the best part of the sleepover?" "What
did you do or learn at your friend's house that you can use at home?"
"What would you do different next time?" "What kinds
of things do they do differently at their house?" Write down
some of your child's responses to add to the memory book that you
create when the pictures are developed.
child's first sleepover at a friend's house doesn't have to be an
occasion of anxiety or fear. You can help her create the positive
experience you both desire. Use the ideas above to help your entire
family have a relaxing, stress-free sleepover.
Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of "The 10 Commitments:
Parenting with Purpose, available from Personal Power Press
at (toll-free) 877-360-1477). They also publish a FREE email newsletter
for parents and another for couples. Subscribe to them at email@example.com.