The sleepover. It’s pretty much a staple of every young child’s life.
There’s the late-night movie watching, the massive junk food consumption and, of course, the rounds of truth or dare.
Now that you’re a mom, though, the questions surrounding sleepovers start to change. You already know that they can be a pretty cheap way to throw a fun party, but how many kids is too many to have over? How much do you need to clear with the other parents beforehand? How involved do you need to be with the planning?
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Are co-ed sleepovers normal?
We’re here to help. We’ve got answers to your biggest slumber party questions below, as well as ideas for keeping things fun, affordable and group friendly.
When is my kid old enough for a slumber party?
Patricia Napier Fitzpatrick, director and founder of The Etiquette School of New York, suggests waiting until your child is about 9 years old or older, when she’s mature enough to take an active role in planning and throwing her own party, and can follow rules you’ve discussed with her ahead of time. That’s also about the age when a child has the social skills to handle sticky sleepover situations, such as making sure all her guests feel included, and that if a friend is homesick she’ll try to cheer her up or come get you if she can’t. If your child isn’t ready to handle those types of responsibilities, she’s not ready for a slumber party.
What’s a good number of guests to invite?
Six to eight, with eight being the maximum so it doesn’t get too chaotic, suggests Napier Fitzpatrick. She also suggests avoiding an odd number of kids, which can make one person feel left out. Also consider your space before you finalize the guest list with your child, advise Dawn Sandomeno and Elizabeth Mascali, co-founders and owners of Party Bluprints Inc. and The Party Bluprints Blog. Everyone should be able to fit comfortably in one room to sleep.
How much information do the other parents need about the evening’s plans?
You should explain the general party agenda on the invitation, such as, “Come for pizza, cake and a movie,” or, “Bring your favorite video games and spend the night!” When parents drop their children off, be prepared to tell them everything that’s happening if they ask. Some “want every little detail,” says Napier Fitzpatrick, while others will be content confirming pick-up time and kissing their kid goodbye. If there’s even the least bit of controversy associated with a planned activity (like a plan to watch a scary movie), mention it to the parents to make sure everyone’s okay with it.
If, however, the requests are more of the general “worried parent” variety (“Make sure they don’t stay up all night.” “Don’t let him go crazy on sugar.”), it’s fine to simply reassure them of your plans, and explain you’ll be on hand to make sure everyone is fine and having a good time.
What if someone asks me not to serve peanuts, or to avoid too much sugar?
“When a child is in your home, under your care, it’s your responsibility to know [about health concerns] and act accordingly,” advise Sandomeno and Mascali. Hopefully parents will inform you of any concerns when accepting the invitation (and it’s not a bad idea to ask parents to respond with any allergy concerns, as well). However, if you aren’t told ahead of time, ask for two things when parents are dropping their children off: A phone number in case of emergencies, and any health concerns you need to know about their kid.
How do I make sure the kids don’t get into trouble?
Slumber parties can be a great way for children to get a taste of independence in a safe setting, but with that many kids in your charge, you should never be too far away. Go over your house rules with the kids at the beginning of the night, and cover things like what rooms are okay for them to be in, whether they should help themselves to snacks or come get you, what they’re allowed to watch on TV and whether or not they’re allowed on the computer. Remind them that you’re available if anyone needs you. “Even if you try to stay out of their way, you should be listening to how things are going, and not let them go off and shut the door,” says Napier Fitzpatrick.
Sandomeno and Mascali suggest making the party electronics-free, either by providing a basket to keep phones safe during the party (if kids are old enough to have them), or just politely asking guests to turn off their electronics when they arrive. “Kids with phones and computers can make a lot of mischief when up all night,” they say.
How much should I plan for the night?
Chat ahead of time with your kid about what some of the night’s activities will be, especially since bored guests can really get into a lot of trouble, adds Napier Fitzpatrick. Consider some of the following for starters: Have inexpensive arts and crafts projects on hand (check out our DIY page for some fun ideas); let them make their own pizzas (with your supervision) for dinner or ice cream sundaes for dessert; have your friendly local teenage babysitter come over and help give the guests manicures and pedicures.
While it’s true that kids tend to stay up later than normal at a slumber party (Hello, that’s the best part!), at some point you should insist that everyone lay down and relax, even if they don’t fall asleep right away.
Can my kid have a co-ed slumber party?
While this is a gray area, Napier Fitzpatrick advises against it, since doing so could be “inviting trouble.” Even if it’s just innocent fun, and out of curiosity, kids may cross lines that they wouldn’t be able to if it weren’t the middle of the night, she says. If you’re not totally opposed to co-ed sleepovers, though, and you’ve discussed the idea ahead of time with all the other parents (who deserve to be given a heads up), be prepared to chaperone the entire time.
What are some cheap and easy ideas for sleepovers?
The fun of sleepovers is in getting to stay up late with friends, and, lucky for you, that comes free. But if you want a few simple ideas for keeping guests entertained, here are three ideas from Sandomeno and Mascali that will really make your guests feel like they were part of the planning:
1. Movie Night Sleepover Party: Invite kids to come over after dinner (just be clear on the invite you won’t be serving a meal) to have treats (think M&M’s, Twizzlers and other popular movie snacks) and to watch a movie that they’ve voted on ahead of time. It’s cheaper not to have to make dinner, and may be less exhausting for you because you won’t have to entertain everyone for as long.
2. Game Night Sleepover: Go old school with a board game party where each kid brings his favorite game, or have kids bring video games to play together. (Make sure you vet them and that they’re age-appropriate. Check out Common Sense Media for helpful reviews.)
3. Summer Backyard Camp Out: Pitch a tent and build a campfire, roast marshmallows and make s’mores. (Obviously, adult supervision required here!) Ask the kids to each come up with one scary story to share if they’d like to.