Q: My 7-year-old daughter keeps asking for her best friend to sleepover. We know the girl and her family quite well, and the girls really have a great time playing together. My daughter has had cousins to stay, and one other friend, but this will be the first time her best friend would stay. Her mother has told me that although her daughter is keen to come for the night, she's worried too because she usually falls asleep with her mom in the room. However, next year, they'll have a school overnight camp, and we feel them getting some sleepover experience will prepare them for that trip.
Do you have any tips on how you would approach this situation? What happens if she wakes and wants her mom?
A: It's great that you are both thinking of positive outcomes for this sleepover. A first night away from home can be a big deal, and you are right to anticipate some big feelings.
Luckily sleepovers are good excuses to foster lots of play and giggles – and those will help your daughter's friend relieve a lot of the tension she might be feeling. After some good laughter through games like pillow fighting, or chase, why not wind down the evening's fun by gathering the girls together and having them pick some books to read. If you stay and read and keep the mood light, you'll be fostering a nice relaxed surroundings for the night to come.
If, at lights out, you find that your daughter's friend is restless, try some Staylistening. If she complains that she wants mommy or daddy, hear her through. You could say things like, “I know this is hard for you. I'm right here.”
If she really starts crying, it's time to offer your affection. Don't say too much, but keep holding her and offering reassurance as she lets the tears fall, and stay close until she begins to recover. You'll know when this is happening because she's likely to look around and start noticing other things. When she's ready, you might try asking if she'd like one more book before sleep.
When a child is allowed to fully express and release the fears she has, those fears often will dissipate. You might be surprised at how calm your daughter's friend becomes, and she'll likely be happy to fall asleep. If not, try the listening one more time, before you agree to calling her mom.
Talking of mom, it would be an idea to talk about when it might be time to call her in. Let her know that you are comfortable with tears, and happy to handle upsets, but ask her if there's a point she'd like you to call.
Here's to a happy sleepover – and lots of giggles.
From the Hand in Hand Toolbox:
- Learn how to solve separation anxiety in this free parenting call and replay
- Read about when to step in if your children aren't playing well with friends: Power Play: What to Do When Play Turns Bad
- For your full parenting resource buy the book Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges