The First Sleepover: Success Strategies?

I’m so proud of my 8yo son G- who last weekend tried to have a sleepover at a friend’s house. He ended up calling me at 9:45pm asking me to come pick him up (which I did, no problems, no judgment, no criticism, of course!) but I still think it was a success at some level.
What I’m wondering is if there was some way I could have helped set things up to be more of a success so he would have been able to sleep through the night…

I dropped him off at about 2:30pm at his friend’s house and they played the entire afternoon, running around and generally having a great time, as they always do together.
They had a good dinner and a smooth transition to bedtime.
The other boy fell promptly to sleep: he generally goes to sleep at least an hour earlier than G- because he wakes up at 6am most mornings (without external input, G- tends not to wake up until 8am or so).
My son, however, couldn’t get to sleep so early and while he lay there in the dark for at least an hour, finally the strange house and strange people must have gotten to him and he got up and asked the Dad if he could call me and ask me to pick him up.
I did, and it was quite funny because he didn’t know I’d bought a new car that afternoon (see my car buying experience story) so he walked out of their house, in pajamas and a heavy coat (very cute) and his eyes went Very Big upon seeing the new wheels!
He didn’t seem disappointed or ashamed of his late night call for Dad, and I was really glad I was there for him, but still, I kinda wish he’d have been able to make it through the night with his buddy.
His comment was “next time maybe I’ll take a stuffy” [stuffed animal] but my question to you, dear reader, is what else could we have done to help ensure a successful outcome? What can we do next time so he will be able to spend the entire night?

11 comments on “The First Sleepover: Success Strategies?

  1. No advice, but I will be watching for responses. My 9 yo daughter is going to have her 1st sleepover (at our house) for her birthday in March. She has anxiety, especially with changes in routine, most especially at bedtime, but DESPERATLY wants a sleepover. If it goes ok here, I know she will want to go to her friends. I am pretty sure we’ll get that late phone call too.

  2. I’m wondering if a conversations on what to expect would have helped. My daughter is too young for sleepovers, but I try to prepare her for different experiences by having a few conversations about what to expect. For example when she was younger, I took her to my optometrist appointment and she got very scared when the optometrist used the “equipment” on me. So a few days before my visit to see my doctor I explained to her what was going to happen. I’m sure she didn’t understand all of it, but she knew the doctor was going to do certain things and that she would be able to color and then we would leave. So would a conversation with your son about what it would be like to spend the night with a different family, in a different house with different routines be helpful? And being a little nervous about it is totally ok and is to be expected. How could he get through that nervousness? Bringing a stuffy is a great idea. Thinking about all the fun things you did that day or what you will do tomorrow may help. And remembering that Dad said I would feel nervous, but its ok.

  3. Dave,
    Sounds like it was really a long day! He had been away all day before the sleepover even began. What about starting the sleepover later in the day…dinner time or afterwards? Stuffy is a fab idea…and my 8 year old takes his stuffed monkey to sleepovers…as well as his own blanket. He has done several sleepovers (he’s the youngest of 3)…and I know that I miss him more than he misses me.
    Some kids just aren’t ready until a later age…some kids never really like sleep-overs. I would start by asking him what he was thinking of after his friend fell asleep. I’ll hedge a bet that he was thinking something that scared him or made him fearful or uncomfortable. If that’s the case, you can prepare him by giving him the tools to “talk back to his fear”.
    Also, if you generally read together at night, how about making a tape of yourself reading a chapter or two out of a favorite book…he AND his friend can listen to it as they drift off to sleep. Alternatively, you can upload it to an MP3 player so that only your son can listen to it as he drifts off. Just a thought.
    Or teach him some strategies and give him prompts of what he can think about as he drifts off to sleep…like…what kind of breakfast will we have in the morning…one fit for a King? Will we have fluffy pancakes stacked 5 high…or….you get the point! Or have him recall a favorite memory of something you have done together. Since the brain cannot hold onto two thoughts simultaneously (ie…I wonder what my dad is doing…I should go home…I can’t sleep here…I need to get out of here….I’ll NEVER fall asleep…..AND…the more favorable and much more happy thought of breakfast or a happy memory…he might be able to drift off way quicker.
    I’ll be curious to see what happens…but, for now, he is little and your are a fine dad for picking him up with no questions, no shaming, no embarrasing. This little guy will one day be flying solo…and you’ll hold dear that memory of picking him up in that heavy coat and little p.j.’s!
    One more thought…how about having the sleepover at your house first?
    I guarantee you (barring any true anxiety issues), that G will have NO trouble being away from you by the time he is 15 (and likely WAY sooner than that).

  4. I have 4 kids and they all wanted to start having sleepovers around the time they were in kindergarten. One thing I have noticed is that boys in general are not really ready to have sleepovers until they are a little older. When my son turned 8, he wanted to have a sleepover party. Three of the boys ended going home early.
    I think it is just the age. Give him another year and by the time he is 10, he will likely feel much more comfortable.
    By the way, have you considered have “Sleep Unders”? The kids will bring their pjs, watch movies, do everything one does at a sleep over but always with the plan that you will come get them just before bedtime (maybe let them stay a little later than you normally would allow, say 10:30 or 11).

  5. Sounds like you already did one thing to help set your son up for future success: You picked him up without judgment! It could be that if the adults had pushed him to stay when he didn’t feel ready, he might feel more anxious about trying again.
    My daughter’s almost 10, and she and her friends got ready to go on sleepovers at wildly differing ages, from preschool to just recently. I think my daughter slept over at a friend’s for the first time at age 8.
    A bunch of the girls had false starts as well. But we’d pretty much set it up as a trial at the beginning–“bring all your stuff to sleep over with, and at bedtime you can see how you feel about sleeping over.”
    My daughter’s a night owl and loves to read, so we always send her with books and a small book light. And stuffed animals still go along.
    I wonder too if starting later would help. My daughter’s sleepovers have often started at more like 5 p.m.
    I love the term “sleep-under.” We’ve done those both when kids weren’t ready for sleepovers and when kids wanted sleepovers, but it wasn’t a good time for them to get a short night of sleep.

  6. ‘I’m wondering if a conversations on what to expect would have helped”
    This would be my only thought as well. Just talking about it all in detail beforehand. Other than that, I think just be understanding, with practice he will feel comfortable.

  7. I think you handled it very well by not giving him a hard time and being very respectful of the fact that he wanted to go home. I think taking a stuffy along may work as long as his friends don’t tease him about it. I agree that a sleep under or even shortening the evening so he gets there closer to dinner time, It appears that it was quite a long day for him. You are an awesome Daddy, Dave, and I think I would take it as a compliment that he would rather be with you than somewhere else.

  8. Going to bed by 8 does not a successful sleepover make. After raising five children (ages 29-6) and having more sleepovers than I can count, kids resolve this issue themselves by a certain age, because they ultimately want to stay up way as late as possible — whispering under the covers, watching movies, or sneaking around the house — until they simply conk out from exhaustion, waking the next morning, surprised and excited to the smell of pancakes cooking on the griddle and their friend in PJs offering them orange juice.
    My advice is to give it time. If you *need* him to stay over some place, then that’s a different story. When my son would stay at grandma’s house, then I would pack up all his favorite stuffed animals, pillow, books, and blanket to feel at home and do lots of prep talk. A great book to read is “The Bag I’m Taking to Grandma’s.”
    The reason for the sleepover is what needs to be considered:
    If it’s for fun with a friend — then leave the phone on and let him decide if he’s comfortable to stay. Having absolutely no pressure or comments about that is appropriate. Figuring out what to bring to the sleepover to make him feel comfy is a great idea! Stuffed animals, pillow, blanket, etc.
    If the purpose is a necessity because you’re away for the night yourself, then the place he stays should be more familiar and care needs to be taken to ensure he’s quite comfortable and prepped since he won’t be able to call.

  9. Nyquil. Lots of Nyquil. Put him right out when its time for bed. No time for thinking. No, Im just kidding. But do get him up earlier that day so that he is tired when it is time to go to bed. And keep them busy. The less he thinks the more comfortable he will feel. Goodluck. : )

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