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Do's And Don'ts: Preparing Your Child For The First Overnight Stay With A Friend

By Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman

So 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 you know.

So 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.

Do 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.

Do 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.

Don't 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."

Do 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."

Do 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.

Don't 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."

Do 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.

Do 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.

Don't 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.

Do 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.

Do 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.

Your 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.

Chick 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 ipp57@aol.com. Visit www.chickmoorman.com, www.thomashaller.com, and www.10commitments.net.

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