Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ask our staff: what about au pairs?

I’ve heard of hiring an au pair from another country. Isn’t this a less expensive child care option?
     The au pair program was designed as a cultural exchange and educational opportunity program. Most au pairs are 18 to 25 years old. They may or may not have child-care specific experience or training. They usually speak fairly good English, but aren’t always savvy to our American culture. That’s part of the experience -  to learn more. Families provide room, board,and a weekly stipend in exchange for some child care.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Safe and Fun Sleepovers: Our Best Tips

Last week we explored Sleepover Readiness. This week it's some tips for a great sleepover experience and things to know when you are the host family. Let's start by getting real about a sleepover - we all know very little sleep actually occurs. I used to call them Up Overs - it was a fun name for what really happens. The younger the children the more sleep they actually get - well, usually.

Set a "lights out" time. Younger children will eventually fall asleep with quiet, darker conditions. I would give them a 15 minute warning about lights out and follow up with 5 minute warning. Then I would enforce lights out. Other than a few night lights strategically placed it was dark. I’d have some quiet music in the background and set myself up with a book just outside the “sleeping” area. A few reminders to settle down were usually all it took. Older children can manage on their own but I still set a quiet time for the house. I didn’t mind preteens and teens staying up all night but it’s not fair for everyone in the house to be disturbed.

Size of the Party
Are you doing a best-friend coming over or is this a group event? If sleepovers are new to your child (and to you) you may want to do a few "one guest" invites before moving onto a group. Keep groups to 3 or 4 guests before trying any larger groups. It’s usually best if you don’t have odd numbers but sometimes that can’t be helped – just be aware odd numbers can lead to one person feeling left out. Knowing the children well can help you with planning and preparation. If you don’t know the child it can be a bit more challenging.

Timing is Everything
Not only do you need to consider the best evening – usually Friday or Saturday nights are best for most families – but you also need to think about start and end time. Traditionally children arrive around dinner time and leave mid-morning. So something like 6 PM to 10:30 AM is typical. You can make the start later so that guests have had dinner at home and arrive in time for activities and an evening snack. Some children may need to leave earlier in the morning because of other activities – sports or lessons or church – which means planning for that option as well. Don’t pick a weekend with a lot of other activities going on. Sleepovers or Up Overs are often exhausting for children and they may need some recovery time at home. Also, I was careful not to choose a weekend when I knew that there was a lot of school work or school projects that needed attention.

Family on Alert
All family members need to be alerted about a planned sleepover. Younger siblings may want to participate. I don’t recommend this. Your child, as the host, is already feeling some pressure to provide a fun time for their friends. Having to cope with their younger sibling is a recipe for unhappiness all around. I tried to find something special for the younger ones while the sleepover party was happening – a fun video, project, story, allow them to sleep in sleeping bags, etc.


Dinner should be easy and child friendly. The "go to" meal is often pizza, but it doesn’t have to be. We’ve served hotdogs, mac-n-cheese, tacos, chicken nuggets, etc. Yes, we also offered fruit or veggies with the meal but didn’t make a big deal out of it when children passed them up.

When you talk with the parents prior to the big night be sure to ask about food allergies or preferences. It will save you a lot of time and headache. True story: one of the boys coming for a sleepover only ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread! That’s right, every meal. His parents told us he wouldn’t eat anything else. Sure enough he refused everything else including popcorn and other snack foods. We were glad to be prepared.

Evening snacks are often popcorn, chips, pretzels, etc. We also offered fruit and veggies with dips. A few liked to have the choices and as the children got older they really liked the variety.

Keep breakfast choices easy. I’ve hosted ten girls at a sleepover where we were serving pancakes, fruit and milk – a nice hearty meal. I made well over 70 pancakes for these little eating machines. At future sleepovers we offered several cereals, muffins, juice and milk. This was easier for them to eat when they were ready and required less cooking time for the adults.

While a sleepover is a relaxed event having a plan can help everyone pace themselves, including you. Along with choosing an appropriate start and end time, consider the flow of the evening. Have something to do as everyone arrives including where they put their sleeping bags and personal items. If there is a game or activity going then people can be directed to that area. This is particularly true if this is a first sleepover or if the children are younger. We always had the child who was the host of the party come to the door to greet each person and help them get settled.
Pace out the other activities, videos, snacks over the evening. Start with more active play earlier in the evening so that there is a sense of quieting down as the activities wrap up. Children left without some direction will find things to do - - - not always a good thing. However, you don’t need to overplan either. Downtime is a positive thing as well. Keep early risers busy with quiet activities in the morning.

Here is a general plan that I found helpful: arrival of free play inside or out, once everyone has arrived move to an active game or outing, dinner, quieter games or projects, snack and videos, lights out and quiet time, quiet morning activity for early risers, breakfast, clean-up and goodbyes. This is often followed by nap time for those of us who needed it!

Household Rules
Early on in the evening house rules need to be presented and reviewed. Making a list of rules is a good project for you and your child to do together. As the adult you are the one to review the rules and expectations with the whole group. You are also the enforcer. Be prepared for any child who wants to push the boundaries. I found it a good idea to share the house rules with all the parents when I contacted them so there were no surprises later.

Difficult Situations
Not all children are ready for a sleepover and you may have those that are homesick or upset. If you can comfort and reassure them, that’s wonderful. Usually they will want to go home. Simply call the parents for pick up. I made sure that I had each child’s parent contact information and had talked with each parent personally. They knew that I’d call them if there was any issue. If a child wanted to call home just to touch base I'd certainly let them do that. Parents would sometimes call to see if everything was OK. I was happy to give them an update.

What if it is your child that is overwhelmed or frustrated? This happened to us a few times. Often taking them aside to help you in the kitchen or setting up another activity helped. They want all their friends to get along and have a good time. It’s disappointing then when one or two of them are complaining or not friendly. If I felt they had too much downtime which was causing friction then we'd switch it up for a treasure hunt  or another activity – something to shake up the group dynamics.

Disagreements can happen. Do your best to let them work it out for themselves, but be ready to intervene if needed. This could be an opportunity to teach about compromise and problem solving. You may need to be the “heavy” and redirect their energy to something else or provide them with a solution.

Check in with them from time to time. Make sure everyone is ok and things are going well. Sometimes just doing this will ward off other behavior issues.

Sleepovers are a social, bonding experience for children and their peer group. Both boys and girls can benefit from these events. Hosting the event is a project but it also allows you to know your child's friends and see them in a different light.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Is your child sleepover-ready?

The first sleepover is a rite of passage for most children, but knowing when your child is ready for this special event can be tricky. Here are a few things to consider when deciding if your child is sleepover-ready.. and just as important, if are you a sleepover-ready parent.

No Magic Age
There really is no magic age when a child is ready for their first sleepover. Most often sleepovers with friends start when children enter the school years. Your child should be comfortable with staying overnight away from home. Feeling nervous and excited are to be expected but being fearful isn't the way to start. Children who have traveled with their families frequently, often have an easier time with sleepover opportunities. Staying over at grandparents or other family member's homes is also a good introduction to the sleepover.

Your child should be the one to let you know they are interested. Pushing your child into anything like this is usually a mistake. They may be talking about this with friends or have an older sibling who is a sleepover pro and they want to know when they can have a sleepover. Even if your child is a sleepover pro they may not always want to participate when invited. Finding out why is important as well as respecting their reasons to "pass" on an invitation.

Trial Run
Your home is a good place for a trial run sleepover. Make it special night where you host a family sleepover - fun food options, activity, video. Do some role playing about how a sleepover could go. Think about options and variations to explore. Part of the process is to sleep somewhere else in the house - not in their own bed.

Making a Plan
Share with your child your own sleepover experiences. Open the door to have them share their concerns with you. Discuss a plan for you and your child with details like drop off process, when you'll pick them up the next day and what would happen if they needed you to pick them up during the night. Sometimes that first sleepover is a false start. They need to know that you'll be there to pick them up as planned. This gives them confidence in you and that next time they may have more success.

Your comfort is vital to success. For any sleepover, but more specifically the first, knowing some information will help you. Talk with the hosting parents/adults/guardians personally. Who will be home during the sleepover? How many children are participating? What are the plans for the event - including food and activities, bedtime expectations, sleeping arrangements, etc.? If your household has rules about what your children can watch (movies or television) and they don't match the rules or plans of the hosting home, are you ok with this? Make sure that the host family has your contact information and understand that their child can call you at anytime.

If you are hosting then you want to be proactive and talk with each child's parents to let them know your plans and expectations. They need to feel confident in you as the hosting family. Making a few calls before your child invites their friends can go a long ways toward a successful event.

Watch for next week's article about tips for a safe and fun sleepover!