Kids arrive, eat, sleep, and go home: that's a sleepover! Keep your slumber party simple and kid-focused, and everyone will have a good time. Child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim advises listening to your child and trusting your intuition in his book, A Good Enough Parent, and when it comes to sleepovers (with a nod to Bettelheim), your job is to help your child have the kind of party he'll enjoy instead of the kind you want. Sleepovers are simple; they pretty much run themselves. So bring 'em on. Here are some ways to make the good-enough sleepover happen:
- Get Ready, Get Set
Even for a good-enough party, you do need to do (just a little) prep work. Mostly, let your child be in charge of the planning. She knows what's cool, what to do, what to eat, what music to listen to. You set the boundaries for the evening (see below) and stock up on ice (for soda and bumps on the head) and flowers (to set a civilized tone). Beyond that, let the night unfold kid-style, while you keep watch.
Sleepovers are best for kids 8 to 12 years old, an age when great friendships are formed. Any younger and you'll get midnight meltdowns. Any older and they're sneaking boys into the basement or aren't interested in slumber parties anymore.
- House Rules
From the start, tell your child and his friends what you expect (keep doors locked, don't go outside after lights out, no extra guests, no bullying). Teach your child to use the "my parents would kill me" excuse to save face, blaming you to get out of jams like midnight rambles to the park.
- Eats and Sweets
Great food is an important part of any sleepover. Think big, cheap, and plentiful. Girls might enjoy a fancy dinner table set with wedding china and champagne glasses, but for most sleepovers, it's paper plates all the way. In the "small things matter" category, caffeine-free soda (clear sodas and most root beers) won't make anyone fall asleep, but won't work against you, either. Once you've fed the kids a last "midnight" snack, do not heed any "I'm hungry" cries when the chorus begins. "The kitchen is closed" is your firm reply.
- Keep Kids Busy
A sleepover lasts about 14 hours, and usually includes a video, so have your child plan three or four hours of things to do. Better to have too many ideas than too few. Plan your party for Friday night so everyone (including you) has the weekend to recover.
Arrival is at dinnertime: 6 or 7 p.m. Give each parent the next day's pickup time in writing, with your address and phone; sometimes one parent drops off and the other picks up.
By 10 p.m., have the kids in the sleeping area, in jammies and sleeping bags, and dim the lights. They won't fall asleep right away, but at least they'll be in position. Lock the doors, forbid them to go outside, and check on them every so often.
At 10 the next morning, everyone leaves: cereal, cinnamon rolls, and they're out the door.
- Bring on the night: Night and darkness play an important role in any sleepover, so flashlight tag, silhouette shadows, and strobe-effect games are perfect. So are star-gazing with an outdoor telescope, pillow fights, or ghost stories.
- Move it: Active play will burn up extra energy, especially for rowdy boys: skate, swim, hike, play basketball in your driveway, stage a backyard Olympics.
- Winning prizes: Everyone likes to be recognized for their strong points, so sometime during the night have the kids recognize each other in a positive way: life of the party, hungriest, chattiest, funniest, best dancer, loudest snorer, biggest insomniac, strongest, most thoughtful. Make award certificates on your computer; the kids can fill them in by hand.