How do you know if your child is ready for a sleepover?
According to Steve Mesmer, a licensed clinical professional counselor at the Art of Living Counseling Center in Crystal Lake, it depends on your child.
"The biggest thing again is that I, as a parent want to know my child ... that I know they're ready for this and that I've prepared them," Mesmer said. "It's my responsibility as a dad to know my child well enough to know if they're ready."
Sleepovers at a friend's house are very popular with boys and girls, Mesmer said.
"It's a new environment, they get to hang out with their friends in a different way than what they're used to and there's just that prospect of something exciting," said Mesmer, who is the father of five children. "It also gives them a sense of they're their own master, their own boss. They're away from their parents, so that also gives them a boost."
How young is too young for a sleepover?
Mesmer generally likes to stay away from an age because each child is different. While one child may be ready for a sleepover by five years old, another might not want to sleep over until they're 8, 9 or 10 years old.
If your child is wetting the bed, that may create anxiety at a sleepover and indicates he or she probably isn't ready yet.
Your child is likely ready once he or she is fully potty trained, can take adult instruction, knows how to share with others, plays well with others, and knows how to manage any basic concerns, like what foods to avoid if they have allergies.
If there's anything the host family should know about your child, such as health issues, food restrictions or allergies, then you, the parent, should jot everything down and give it to the family that's throwing the party.
Mesmer's younger children don't sleep over at anyone's house that they only recently met. While his older children don't have that restriction, Mesmer makes sure he gets to know the child's parents beforehand. His younger children have had to have spent lots of time with the host family before they're allowed to sleep over, just for safety's sake.
He prepares his children for a sleepover by having them answer situational questions. For example, he'll ask if the child is OK to ask for a snack if they're hungry and if they know where the bathroom is in the middle of the night.
For younger kids, he recommends partial sleepovers, where they'll fall asleep at someone else's house and the parents will pick up their son or daughter at night and put them in their own bed. He also says sleeping over at a loving relative's house helps children understand how a future sleepover could work with their friends.
If your child is abused while at a sleepover, chances are your son or daughter won't tell you and you'll need to look for signs of it in your child's behavior.
"If you know your child well, you'll know something's up," Mesmer said. "They will not be behaving normally. If the parent sees there's something off, then they probably want to have a conversation and gently probe about what happened."
The final thing to remember is that a sleepover is not about parents having a night off.
"Everybody gets in a bind and needs child care, but if it's a planned sleepover, it's for the child," Mesmer said.