You probably have fond memories of sleepovers when you were younger, with pillow fights, junk food and lots of laughs. Sleepovers are a rite of passage for many kids, and yours may already be asking for them. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t offer a specific age recommendation for first sleepovers, so there’s no hard rule about when is appropriate to try. But whenever you decide to attempt an overnight for your child, keep these first sleepover tips in mind:

Check Readiness

If you discuss a sleepover, see how your child reacts. Is she excited? Or, is she nervous? A child who is ready to spend a night without you will be interested in the idea. If you sense he or she isn’t ready for the real thing, you might try a “late over.” Invite a friend or two to come over for dinner, then change into pajamas and stay until 10 p.m. for dessert and a movie. Having a late evening playdate feels special without the pressure of going all night.

Start Small

Don’t go for a slumber party too fast! First, try hosting one friend for a sleepover so your child gets comfortable with the general idea. For the first time going to sleep at someone else’s home, consider choosing a nearby grandparent or aunt/uncle. If your child is already familiar with their home, that takes away the nervousness of the unknown. Or, keep it in the neighborhood so your child knows you’re just blocks away if he or she wants to come home.

Ask Questions

When your child is sleeping over at a friend’s house for the first time, ask the parents questions so that your child won’t be taken by surprise. Will older siblings be home? Will the kids be sleeping on the floor or in beds? Even better: make sure you’ve met and talked with the other family so that you establish a comfort level as well. If you’re hosting, share details of your home and what you’ll be doing with the guest’s parents.

Pack and Prepare

If sleeping out of the home, help your child pack his/her overnight bag with the essentials, including a special stuffed animal or blanket for nighttime. Make sure your child knows how to reach you, and let host parents know if your child has any specific fears or needs.

Plan for Fun

When you’re hosting, have plans at the ready if self-directed supervised play  seems to get stale. Remember, a sleepover is much longer than a playdate! Have the kids DIY dinner (think make-your-own pizzas or taco bar), an art project to do, or a new game the kids can learn together. When you’re ready for everyone to settle down and get sleepy, dim the lights and start an age-appropriate movie.

Be on Call

You spoke to your child at 10 p.m. and all seemed fine, but at midnight, he wants to come home. It happens, especially to first-timers! It’s no big deal if the first try doesn’t last the whole night, and it’s important that your child knows you’ll come get him if he needs you. At your home, make sure young guests know they can wake you during the night if they have an emergency or need to call their parents.

Recap the Night

Whether your child makes it through a first full sleepover or not, check in with them the next day. Talk about what they liked and what they didn’t, so you know what could work better next time, at home or away. Your child will be your guide to whether sleepovers are a good addition to their social lives, now or later.

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