I must confess that my knowledge base for this topic comes more from my parenting experiences than my knowledge as a psychologist, though the latter informs these guidelines. Here are some tips, baptized by fire in the Palmiter household, for when one of your kids requests a sleepover.
In your home
• Reach agreements (for older kids), or lay down the rules (for younger kids, though this can have a collaborative air about it) before time about any guidelines/rules regarding bedtime, diet and activities. There is something about sleepovers that often leaves kids with the expectation that they can go all Lord of the Flies on you, staying up until they pass out, eating a steady diet of junk and watching any ole movie.
• Agree with the other parent(s) regarding the start and pick up times.
• Agree with the other parent(s) if you plan to do something outside of the home. In my experience the hosting family usually pays the way for any guest children, unless the guest child’s parents offer (even then, my wife and I will usually decline that) or other arrangements have been explicitly agreed to. If you have a more expensive event you’d like to go to (e.g., a broad way show), and you prefer to have the guest child’s parents fund all or part of it, reach an agreement about that with the other parent(s) as a part of the conditions of the sleepover.
• I’ve never had it happen, but if a guest child starts acting up, and doesn’t adhere to verbal re-directions, ask if s/he would prefer to have his/her parents intercede. If that doesn’t quell the drama, call the other parents and ask how s/he would like to handle the situation.
• Sometimes very anxious or younger children might ask to have their parent(s) pick them up before everyone goes to sleep. Upon receiving such a request call the other parent(s) and ask how s/he would prefer to handle the situation.
• Stick to the age guidelines for any media ratings and err on the side of believing that the other parent(s) are very conservative in what they allow their child to view.
At the other child’s home
• I wouldn’t agree to a sleepover at another residence unless you have confidence that the adult(s) in the other home is/are responsible about monitoring and other basics (e.g., not abusing substances). Much of this information can be gleaned while interacting on the sidelines of extracurricular events and by the growing experiences you have with the family. If in doubt, I’d think three times before allowing the sleepover, regardless of the age of your child.
• Find out what the drop off and pick up times are and stick to those.
• If there are activities going on outside the home, offer to pay for your child; they’ll probably insist that they pay but at least you’ve been polite.
• For younger children, ask something like this of the other parent(s) at the point of the initial discussion: “Rhonda, we tend to be fairly strict about sticking to the age guidelines of any movies or video games our kids play. Is that okay with you, as we don’t want to seem intrusive?” Sometimes parents worry that they will cause offense by asking this. But, imagine you were on the receiving end of such a question? Would that offend you, or just make you respect the other parent(s)? Right, most parents tend to report the latter.
• For teens: ensure that there is sufficient adult monitoring to rule out substance use and sexual activity.
A few general remarks
Just based on my personal experience (i.e., I’ve not seen any research on this), girls tend to do more sleepovers than boys, especially as they age. If you have a girl, and she isn’t getting invited to these, I’d want to rule out that she isn’t having problems in her social world (I’ll blog on this topic in the near future).
• If your child is at risk to wet the bed or embarrass himself or herself in some other important way, I’d treat that problem first before putting him or her in a situation that could risk significant embarrassment.
You may want to develop guidelines on how often you’ll allow sleepovers if one of your children is a social butterfly. My youngest is like this (i.e., she’d have two a week if we allowed it) so my wife and I have developed these rough guidelines:
√ Will the sleepover unduly interfere with planned family or sibling’s activities?
√ Are the sleepovers starting to interfere with some other important domain (e.g., a child who is sleepy the next day and so unavailable to engage with the family, a child who isn’t doing a quality job with weekend academic or extracurricular responsibilities)?
√ Are the sleepovers interfering with adult self-care (e.g., a date night, a night of poker)?
√ Are the sleepovers becoming a significant financial drain?
If the answers to all these questions is a “no,” and the above conditions for the sleepover have been met, perhaps the frequency of them is something to celebrate, regardless of how often they occur. (Please, no one show this post to my youngest daughter 😉