First Night Away From Home (Franklin Watts, 1960) was one of the many books written by mother, Myra Berry Brown. In this sweet story, we follow 5 year old Stevie from proudly packing his suitcase to noticing, as bedtime gets closer, that “David’s room looked different at night.” Some parts of the book are laughably outdated, like a 5 year old walking alone to his friend’s house, a few blocks away. Not in today’s world, unfortunately. But so much about this story still rings true. Sleepovers can be so good for children, if they are ready.
But even when the child is ready, parents today are still declaring No Sleepovers! Their fears run the gamut– safety hazards in the other child’s home, permissions for blacklisted activities or foods, lack of proper supervision, and suspicions about the host’s older brother or even the family father. I am not going to argue the possibility of these fears coming to fruition. The plane you are taking to New York just might crash, too. And did you know that the majority of car accidents occur only a mile and a half from home?
Why am I such an advocate for sleepovers? Here are just a few of the benefits:
• The child is exposed to difference. He gets to see that different families do things in different ways. And he see that they all reach the same goal, albeit differently.
• The child is taken out of his comfort zone and survives. Learning to tolerate discomfort that results from unfamiliarity and emerge successfully on the other side is a life lesson. Life will present your child with much that makes him uncomfortable…at first.
• Risk-taking happens when the child is out of his comfort zone and has to deal with difference and unfamiliarity. Survival usually requires risk. Nothing stays the same for very long.
• Sleepovers require self-reliance, if only because the child is not as dependent away from home as he is with you. At the same time, the child practices his independence.
• Sleepovers necessarily encourage emotional growth. Being able to tolerate the feeling of being all alone when the lights go out and your friend falls asleep first, is a big step toward emotional maturity.
• Children are often at their best when they are away from you. (Ask any school teacher!) Staying at someone else’s house provides ample opportunity to be on “good behavior” and practice the manners seldom seen at home.
• And certainly, a night with one less child is a treat for you!
There is much to consider when thinking about sleepovers. While it will be different for every child, the age that sleepovers typically begin is somewhere around 7 years old. However, the most important question is whether or not your child is ready and eager. Among many considerations about your child are:
• Does your child speak up for himself?
• Does your child seek help from others besides you when needed?
• Does your child know and practice your family safety rules?
• Is your child usually reliable?
• Has your child ever spent the night away from you before…at a relative’s house or when you have gone away?”
Considering the host family raises a whole bevy of important questions—Do you know the parents? Who else is in the house? Will the parents be home all night? What are their safety rules? Do they allow their child unlimited access to M & M’s? Will they be watching R rated movies? Some parents will surly drive themselves crazy trying to determine if their child will be safe enough out of their reach…ever.
In the spirit of my favorite piece of advice, Prepare the Child for the Path and not the Path for the Child, perhaps it’s time to rethink the No Sleepovers rule. There just may be more to gain than the risk you are trying to avoid.