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How To Manage Your Child’s First Sleepover

This article originally appeared on kidspot.com.au. Kidspot and Fantastic Furniture have joined to help you create magical family memories.

Sleepovers are an important milestone for every child (and every parent), whether your baby is about to spend their first night at home or whether you find yourself hosting a room full of giggling kids who refuse to go to sleep.

Depending on the child, they might feel a whole range of emotions – sometimes all at once! Kids are often full of anticipation and excitement about the idea, but once it’s upon them, they might feel hesitation, fear, uncertainty and sadness.

What to do if you’re hosting

Jacqui Hawkins, general manager of marketing at Fantastic Furniture, hosted her first sleepover a few weeks ago for her six-year-old daughter and two friends. She tells Kidspot she was a bit apprehensive in the beginning and felt she needed a “game plan” to deal with all possible scenarios that might arise, like hyperactivity, lack of sleep, fussy eaters and fear of the dark.

Here’s her five-step plan for the evening:

1. What to bring: “First, I asked the girls’ parents to bring along their favourite pillow, favourite PJs and a favourite toy to sleep with. When the girls arrived they introduced their favourite toys to each other then spent some time playing in Evie’s playroom.”

2. Dinner time: “I’d spoken with each of their parents and homemade pizza was given the green light. I sat each of the girls at my kitchen bench and taught them how to make dough. The girls got involved and then we all pitched in to pop toppings on each of the pizzas – then into the oven.”

3. Entertainment: “Whilst the pizzas were cooking, the girls voted on what movie they wanted to watch (Frozen, Moana or Toy Story). I’d run all movies past the girls parents just to be sure that they were comfortable. Moana won! The girls enjoyed their homemade pizzas during the movie.”

4. Sleeping: “The challenges came once the movie was done. None of the girls were ready to sleep. So we sat together and chatted about our favourite dreams whilst listening to some relaxing music.”

5. Handling tears: “One of the girls did become upset in the night. I’d spoken with her parents and they were happy to receive a call at any time if she was upset. So we did a quick FaceTime call – got all the girls to in the background and chatted about playtime, dinner and the movie.”

“I think it’s important to start small. Now that I’ve taken the plunge with three girls I’m confident I can handle a few more,” she says with a smile.

“Don’t over-plan, but plan to do at least one activity that brings everyone together to create something. Take time to understand allergies and fears and run any planned activities by (the other) parents. Let each of the children know they can contact mummy and daddy whenever they need to.”

If you’re a single parent, she says it’s also worth having a plan in place for someone to supervise the kids in case you need to drop one of your visitors home early.

Other than that, she says all that’s left is to “make it fun and memorable!”

What to do if your child is going to a friend’s house

On a personal level, psychologist Dr Sasha Lynn is new to the sleepover scene. Her eldest daughter had her first sleepover last year and Dr Sasha admits she was surprised at how emotional she felt.

“She’s quite an anxious bunny and I thought for sure reality would hit and she’d get homesick. I clung to my phone all night, wistfully looking at pictures of her, wondering how she was. Meanwhile, she was off having the time of her life and didn’t give us a second thought!” says Dr Sasha.

“I knew she was in very good hands. She’s also a heck of a lot more responsible than I often realise, so it was good for both of us to see how she coped and to know that she can cope. Perhaps I can loosen the ties a bit and allow her the chance to show some more responsibility and independence.”

On a professional level, however, she tells Kidspot sleepovers can be beneficial for a child’s emotional development as its often their first foray into independence.

“It’s a time when a child takes some responsibility for themselves. (They’re) learning to be organised in terms of packing their bag, to managing time and knowing when they need to leave and when you will pick them up, to building communication and social skills through interacting with other families and children, to developing assertiveness and confidence,” she says.

If your child is going on their first sleepover at someone else’s house, Dr Sasha says the best thing you can do as a parent is to make sure you’re calm.

“We parents often end up feeling the same way as our kids when it comes to sleepovers. As a fantasy, we can picture bundling our cherubs off to stay with friends while we sit and blissfully drink a hot cuppa… while it’s still hot,” she says.

“But then when the time actually comes, we can feel a bit worried on their behalf, a bit unsure and sometimes even missing our kids and getting a bit of separation anxiety.”

Letting your baby go for the first time can be easier said than done, so Dr Sasha says the best thing to do is talk through the potential scenarios that might arise with your child and provide a plan for them to come home if they change their mind halfway through the sleepover.

She says it’s also important to help your child balance their feelings and thoughts. The first night away can be daunting, it’s also fun and exciting, so help them balance both perspectives.