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Are Sleepovers Right for Your Child?

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University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
Two boys under the covers with a flashlight and coloring book

Whether children should attend sleepovers has been sparking a healthy debate in the world of parenting. Some parents think they’re an important rite of passage. Others believe the risks they pose to children’s safety and sleep habits simply isn’t worth it. So, which perspective is right?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer, says Carolyn Ievers-Landis, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist. She specializes in behavioral sleep medicine for children and adolescents at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

“It’s really complicated, and I feel for parents because they don’t want to say no, but they don’t want something to happen to their kid either,” she says.

Are Sleepovers Safe?

When it comes to letting your child stay somewhere else for the night, it’s natural to have concerns. This is especially true if you don’t know the family well. You might worry about bullying, gun safety and unwanted physical contact. For teens, access to drugs and alcohol can also be a factor.

To help you decide whether you feel comfortable with your child staying at another family’s home, don’t be afraid to ask questions. These might include things like:

  • Who will be supervising the kids? Who else will be in the home?
  • What type of access to electronics will there be?
  • Are there any restrictions on what kind of movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos the kids can watch?
  • Are there any firearms in the house? If so, are they secured?

In addition to asking for information, you should share some too. Let the hosting parent know of any medical conditions or food allergies your child has. If there are certain types of activities you’d prefer your child not do, like watching a scary movie, let them know that as well.

If your child struggles with any sleep issues, your worries might be magnified. Bedwetting, nightmares and insomnia can make it difficult to spend the night somewhere else. Just remember, there are usually treatments and workarounds for everything, such as imagery rehearsal therapy for recurring nightmares – this involves practicing new dreams to replace the scary ones—or special undergarments for bedwetting.

“Wanting to go to a sleepover can be a nice incentive for children to work on some of these sleep issues,” Dr. Ievers-Landis says.

The Benefits of Sleepovers

Sleepovers are about more than silliness and staying up late. They help children develop independence and learn to adapt to situations outside of their routine. They also get to practice navigating social situations away from school. “Learning flexibility is healthy for us humans,” Dr. Ievers-Landis says. “It’s good to be exposed to different ways of doing things, different foods, different ways of having a meal and different ways of interacting. It’s healthy to not always do things exactly the same way.”

In some cases, Dr. Ievers-Landis uses sleepovers as a treatment for kids who have separation anxiety. For those who are reticent to stay elsewhere, you can start them off slowly, by sending them somewhere like a grandparent’s or cousin’s house.

Let children know how to contact you if they need to. For younger kids, you might want to role-play scenarios so that they feel confident speaking up. For example, if your child is scared around dogs who jump on them, you could practice how they could ask an adult in the house if the dog could be put in another room.

“Kids should feel comfortable letting people know if there’s something they don’t want to do and how to say no,” Dr. Ievers-Landis says. “It’s important that they know how to set limits.”

The Final Verdict on Sleepovers: Yay or Nay?

There’s no magical age or milestone when kids are ready for sleepovers. Dr. Ievers-Landis says you should consider what their behavior is like when you’re not around and whether they’re emotionally equipped for the experience.

If you say yes, it’s fine to provide some guidelines, like asking your child to wake up close to their normal time. And if you decide to say no, that’s okay, too. You could offer to take them to do something else fun if they have to decline an invitation.

“I don’t want people to feel parental guilt either way,” Dr. Ievers-Landis says. “Consider all the factors, make the best possible decision for your child, and have faith that you’re doing your job as a parent to make sure your child is safe and a psychologically healthy person.”

Related Links

The sleep medicine team at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s treats a wide range of childhood sleep disorders, from the common to the complex. Learn more.

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