At some point, it becomes inevitable, your child will be invited to a sleepover. They will come home red faced and excited that they were invited to a schoolmate’s house for a birthday party, to spend the night. ‘Can I go, Can I go?’ The problem is that you do not really know the parents hosting the party. There is that small feeling in the pit of your stomach where you worry if they will be going to a safe house to spend the night. You wonder if your children are prepared to witness first hand the inner dynamics of another person’s household. And you know from experience, and from the news that things aren’t always how they seem from the outside.
Letting your child have sleepovers with school friends is a gateway to learning to let go of your children. And to trust in others. When you know the family well, allowing them to spend the night can equate to date night for mom and dad. However, as your child begins to socialize out of what is considered the ‘controlled social environment’ they are bound to be invited over to a stranger’s home? And in this day and age, sleepover parties begin as early as the 1st grade. Is a first grader, normally around the age of 6 or 7, really responsible enough to spend the night in a stranger’s home? And how do you as a parent, without being intrusive, get to know the adults in charge a little better so you can at least feel certain that your child will be in a safe place?
The first thing that you must be certain of, is that YOUR child is ready. The idea of a sleepover is one thing. However, actually being there until the wee hours of the night can be frightening to your child. If your child has any sleep issues, or fears then suggest that they go to the party and that you come back and pick them up before its time for lights out. This is a much easier solution than being forced to go and pick them up in the middle of the night, and saves them from any embarrassment that may result. Remember that you know your child best, and you are the best judge of what they are ready for and what they are not.
Secondly, if you don’t know the parents well or at all there are ways for you to assess the situation ahead of time before just giving your child the green light to go. If the hosting parents feel offended, or seem agitated that you are asking questions, which should throw up a red flag. After all, every parent should have the same concerns. The best course of action is to RSVP to the invitation, and then try to spark up general conversation with the parents. Try to feel them out. You can even drive by the home before the party just to see what the living conditions look like. And, don’t forget that the parents in your child’s social circle that you do know may be able to offer up some valuable information about the character of the parents hosting the party. Ask around. Do a quick Google search to see if you turn up anything interesting. If your child was invited by a class mate, another valuable insight can come from your child’s teacher who will likely have a fairly solid opinion on what kind of family the child comes from.
Additionally, if you are planning to allow your child to go then the hosting parents should not only welcome you inside their home, especially if this is the first time that you have been invited there, but they should also be willing to sit down and speak with you for a few minutes. There is nothing wrong with breaking the ice by saying, ‘This is the first time that Sara has been to a sleepover, and we are both a little nervous.’ Any parent with the same values of you will understand your concerns and do their best to diffuse them.
Plus, gaining access to the inside of the home can reveal a lot of things about the family, and the home environment. Keep your eyes peeled for things that may signify trouble such as trashcans full of empty beer cans, or cigarettes, or dog poop on the floor. Don’t be afraid to follow your intuition. If something feels off, for any reason then change your plan and inform the parents that you will have to pick them up early due to ‘plans’ you have the next day. You should also do your best to meet ALL of the adults in the home. Ask if there are older siblings in the home as well, as they too can sometimes cause a problem or create an unsafe environment for younger children.
For many parents, the worry about crossing the line and coming across as rude or invasive when bringing their child to what is ultimately a ‘stranger’s home’ leaves them uneasy. Keep in mind however, that you have one chance to ensure that your child is safe and sound. When you entrust your child to another persons care you must be certain that they are in a safe environment. It is also your right to know everything that your child will be doing at the party, and what the plans are. The last thing you want to find out after the fact is that the family took all the kids out for ice cream at 11pm at night on a partying whim.
Additionally, arm your child with a cell phone. Most children, even those that are very young, can work a cell phone. This gives them an easy way to contact you should they feel uncomfortable for any reason at all. And if you give them a cell phone, they can secretly go to the bathroom and call you without making a big fuss in front of their friends or classmates. You should spend time discussing things ahead of time about what to look out for, and remind your child that no matter what, no matter what time it is they can call you and you will be there to pick them up. When children know that they have a safety net in case they get anxious, or in case they don’t like something that is going on at the party, they are much more likely to act responsibly and follow their own instincts.