This entry is little long as I try to cover two issues that come up every time a new school year starts!
Sleepovers? Playdates where you simply drop your child off at a new friend’s home? When your children are very young it can be a little intimidating. Now that school has started, your new kindergartner has a slew of new friends. Parents whom you didn’t know in your close-knit Preschool are suddenly asking if they can take your child home with them for a playdate after school.
It’s ok to smile and say : “I really like to stay for a little bit when we go to a new home for a playdate. I hope you don’t mind.” Any parent worth their salt is going to understand this — especially when the kids are very young. It’s important to check out the environment, who else is there, does it feel chaotic in any way? I’ve gotten calls from parents who dropped their child off only to find out there were several workmen throughout the house doing construction/remodeling, etc. and the mom ran out to do errands leaving the workers to “babysit”.
What about pets? One parent I know was furious when she took her daughter to a home where there was a huge dog. The kind that likes to bark and jump when new people arrive. Her little girl was terrified, and the other parent insisted that the dog just needed to jump on her and smell her for a while. Not that I have anything against pets, but it’s a good idea to ask ahead of time in case your child is a little skittish around animals.
Many parents struggle at first as they do the “drop off” playdate in the beginning. That’s okay, it’s just the next stage as your child grows. You’ll get used to it, and it’s a good way to slowly start to foster a little independence in your child. When your child comes home, ask them for a few specific things they did on the playdate. You’ll get a feel for how it went, if you’re child enjoyed it, etc. My daughter used to let me know if the other mom was “fun, serious, not around much, etc.”
Ok, so you’re getting comfortable with the playdate thing and then your kid throws this one at you: “Mom can I have a sleepover at their house?”
At some point, almost every parent wrestles with… should we or shouldn’t we? I’m not the kind of parent who never allowed sleepovers, but I did limit them to only a few homes where I felt it would be ok. The parents and I had a good connection, I knew the household well, and I had very specific chats with my daughter about what was OK and not OK, and gave her some specific exit strategies if necessary. So…
Option A – You could make your rule: NO SLEEPOVERS EVER. Plenty of parents take this approach, plain and simple. And that’s ok. Every parent is allowed their own comfort level on this one and there shouldn’t be any judgments made if a parent decides they just aren’t doing them.
Option B – If Option A isn’t for you, that’s ok too. Many parents have fond memories of sleepovers when they were kids and would like their children to be able to enjoy the same thing…which is fine PROVIDED: you use common sense, ask the right questions beforehand, and make sure your child knows what to do if the sleepover (or playdate) starts to go in the wrong direction and they don’t feel comfortable.
Sleepovers can be fun, but they can also be a slippery slope for the simple reason that there is often less supervision over a longer period of time. And, late at night when it’s quiet, a child may be less inclined to seek out help from the grownup in charge if something goes wrong.
If you’re going to allow your child to sleep at a friend’s house, do your “due-diligence” first. Is there anyone in that household (adults or other kids) with bully issues or other aggressive traits? If so, I’m not letting my kid sleep over there. Who else is sleeping over? Who’s supervising… Is it the parents or are the babysitter and her boyfriend watching the kids tonight?
What’s the household like? Some families have much different rules about what is allowed… games, certain tv shows, computer use? I’m not too keen on sleepovers where kids are allowed to gather around the laptop in their friend’s bedroom till all hours. I want to know that the adults in charge are monitoring and have specific rules and time limits for technology.
And then of course, is the concern that most parents have… what about their child’s personal safety, particularly when it comes to “unsafe touches?” That’s a healthy and appropriate concern you should address before ever allowing a sleepover.
TALKING TO KIDS ABOUT SLEEPOVERS
It’s important to have specific conversations ahead of time with our kids and make sure they’re able to stick up for themselves if necessary. It’s not enough to tell your child “no one is allowed to touch your private parts.” Kids need to know what to DO and SAY if this happens. They need an “exit strategy”. And they won’t necessarily be able to think of it themselves unless we’ve taught them first.
Give your child “scripted responses” they can use if necessary. Lines like: “I don’t let anyone touch my penis, not even my friends.” Or, “It’s MY body and I said NO.” Then, your child should know it’s time to get some support. Either find the grownup/parent in charge or call up mom or dad and say “This sleepover isn’t going so great, please pick me up.” If the sleepover is at your house and your child is uncomfortable by another child’s actions, he can “redirect” the dynamic and say “I need a drink of water” or “I’m going to the bathroom”, and then come to get you right away.
What Parents Should Say:
Let your child know that sometimes sleepovers/playdates don’t always work out in a fun way, and if he gets a “confused, uh-oh feeling” even from a friend, he can call you anytime. You can also reassure him that he may still be allowed sleepovers in the future, but that sometimes we just have to call it off if someone else isn’t doing the right thing. This way, your child won’t feel badly for telling you and he’ll understand that he won’t be “penalized” in the future by never being able to go on a sleepover/playdate again. This will go a long way in his trusting the lines of communication with you.
Before allowing sleeopvers, check out some of the questions below:
Do you know everyone who lives at the home or is staying there at the moment?
Is this a chaotic, stressful household with minimal supervision?
Do the parents have similar values as you?
Anyone in the household have a substance abuse problem?
Does your child know they can call you at any time and you’ll pick them up?
Does your child have the maturity or ability to stick up for themselves if something makes them uncomfortable?
Have you had a clear conversation about “thumbs up and thumbs down touches?”
It’s our job as the parent to evaluate each situation individually, and make sure it really is a safe place for our child.