My 5-year-old wants a sleepover with a friend – is she too young?
Ask the Expert: Should I let it go ahead or hold my ground until she is older?
Is there an age you should allow sleepovers?
Question: My daughter is five years old (she will be six next week) and she wants her friend from school who is two months older to stay for a sleepover in our house. Her parents seem to be okay about it and are even encouraging it, but I’m worried they might be too young.
Is there an age you should allow sleepovers?
She is our only child so I’m learning as I go and have no experience. When I was a child, I did not do sleepovers until I was at least 10. I did, of course, have my cousins stay over at a younger age, but not children outside the family. So my gut is to say “no”.
But then I worry that because she is an only child she might need the company of her friends. Perhaps she is lonely or misses other children in the house? I had my sister growing up and we were very close, so part of me feels guilty.
Should I just let the sleepover go ahead or hold my ground until she is older?
Answer: The short answer to your question is that there is no particular age as to when you should allow or not allow sleepovers. It is, of course, a personal judgement for each parent about what they and their children are comfortable with.
A lot of is down to how much you know the other parents and the other child. There is a bit of trust involved in letting your young child stay with another family, especially when they are not cousins or close family members when you have a pre-existing family relationship. While her parents might appear to be encouraging of it, they may also have some worries about it. Also, six years old is relatively young for a child to stay in another person’s house and they could easily become nervous when they are there, even if they are confident now. This is especially if you don’t know them well and their preferred bedtime rituals and routine etc.
In addition, if you do accept this sleepover, this could lead to the expectation that the offer will be reciprocated and your child might be asked to go on a sleepover in return – you need to think how comfortable you are about that prospect. On a plus side, there could be some advantages to a sleepover, in that it could help create a special bond between your daughter and her friend. However, you can also do this by organising day time playdates and special activities together etc.
Raising an only child
Your question is asked very much in the context of your daughter being an only child. Parents of only children often worry that their children will miss out by not having siblings and feel guilty that their children will be negatively impacted by the experience. In studies, there is no evidence that this is the case and most parents successfully ensure their only children have ample social opportunities with cousins and friends.
In fact, there are benefits to being an only child in terms of the extra parent attention you receive, which might increases your confidence and ability to form relationships with adults. However, it can be harder to be a parent of an only child; it can be a more intense experience as the child is more dependent on you and does not have siblings to play with.
Often parents of only children have less personal time than parents with several children, who at times entertain each other. This is despite the fact that you get no sympathy for being a parent of an only child and everyone assumes it is easier because you only have “the one”.
Discussing it with your daughter
My advice would be that you follow your gut and delay the decision to have a sleepover until your daughter is older. The parents of your daughter’s friend may be relieved by this decision, too! This does not have to be a negative decision in any way and you can find other ways that your daughter can spend fun time with her friend.
When she asks about the sleepover again, ask her: “What do you like about having your friend in our home?” Then listen carefully to what she says and think about how you can arrange some of these things to happen without a sleepover necessarily taking place.
She might say she would like to have breakfast with her friend or watch a movie together or read stories in her room. All of these things can be arranged on special playdates. If she presses you on a sleepover, it is okay to fob this off and say this is something you might do in the future and then distract her with other enjoyable things you will be doing.
In a year or two, you can review and make another decision.
John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He is author of several parenting books, including Positive Parenting and Parenting Teenagers. See solutiontalk.ie