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 PartyAre 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 EverythingNot 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 AlertAll 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.
FoodDinner 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.
ScheduleWhile 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 RulesEarly 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 SituationsNot 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.