The very thought of a sleepover will strike fear into the heart of the most robust parents but, in best Scout tradition, be prepared and it can be survived without disaster or broken friendships
Words Libby Norman
Loved by children, the sleepover is a rite of passage. To offspring, it’s a license to stay up all night, eat junk food, scream a lot and then relive the memories for days afterwards. But hosts plan a military-style campaign with the sole objective of getting everyone tucked up safely in the land of nod as soon as possible. Guests’ parents, meanwhile, cross their fingers and hope their child won’t be the worst behaved. Here are five rules for happy slumber parties…
1. Right time
Your child may desperately yearn for a sleepover and there’s no “right age”, so take the cue from their behaviour at parties and group events. Restrict the first sleepover to two or – better still – one friend to test the waters. Sleepovers should never happen on a school night or everyone will feel the pain. Saturdays are the safest bet; Fridays can also be good as the children are likely to be tired out from school, ensuring an earlier collapse into slumber.
2. Stay close
The ideal sleepover is within walking distance or a short drive away, just in case you have to collect or deliver a homesick child. Be prepared for this, and don’t see it as a failure on anyone’s part. Plan for all eventualities – that means swapping numbers and being contactable throughout. Sleepovers are not babysitting and there is simply no excuse for child-free parents to abandon all responsibility and slip out for a night on the town. If you’re wondering how your child is getting on, it’s fine to check in with the sleepover hosts once, but after that trust them to call you if there’s a problem.
3. Pizza rules
Your home may be an organic temple for 364 days of the year, but on this night the lords and ladies of misrule are in charge. Sleepover law dictates pizza, popcorn, crisps and other salty and sugary party fare, and you risk your child losing face in perpetuity if you forget that fact. All hosts are expected to slip in healthier options, but don’t expect that quinoa salad or spiralized courgette surprise to get eaten. It is the responsibility of parents of children with dietary requirements to let hosts know and, if necessary, deliver safe food with the child.
4. Party plan
The host’s goal is to wear them down quickly. Lay on a lively activity, then put on their film choice, dim the lights and bring in the “midnight feast” in the hopes their eyes will soon become heavy. Make sure you have night-lights, in case there’s a late-night fridge raid or a child needs to find you.
Guests are normally expected to return the invitation, but if the slumber buddies fought all night or your child was an abominable houseguest, apologise and retreat. As host, there can be no public shaming about whatever disaster befell your home – be it mashed pizza, smashed bed or whiskerless cat. After all, this happened on your watch.