When you're a kid, there's no party like a slumber party. Staying up late, learning how to burp the alphabet, eating lollies until you puke - what's not to love?
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When you're a parent, hosting a sleepover is an exercise in taking the good with the bad. It's far cheaper than renting a jumping castle, but what you save in money you spend in energy. With a few tips in mind, you'll be able to host a rad bash that your kid will love.
Pick a room that's separated from the people in the house who are not part of the sleepover. The people who actually plan to, you know, sleep. The sleepover kids will fill the nighttime hours with giggles, shrieks, shouts and wrestling matches. Sequester them in the basement or the den or the attic. A bomb shelter is ideal.
Make the space comfy with bean bag chairs, blankets and pillows - anything you have on hand that will create a soft rodent nest. Don't stress about having air mattresses or cots for each kid. They will pass out anywhere, on any semi-soft surface.
Decorate the room to set the party theme, and tell the guests ahead of time if they should bring items to contribute - Ninja Turtles pillows or Harry Potter wands or Pokeman cards - whatever kids these days are into.
Birthday parties. Children daydream about them, while their parents often dread them. Before social media, parents had nothing to compare their kids' parties to, aside from a cursory glance at friends' events during drop-off and pick-up-time. Not to get all nostalgic, but some of my favourite birthdays were at the local McDonald's.
Picking the Group
The size of the space will determine the size of the group. Don't overbook! Even if you have a giant house, cap the number of guests at eight or so. The level of drama and the likelihood of personal injury rise exponentially with each additional guest, so if your comfort level is only four kids, trust your gut.
Ideally, your kid will choose a group of friends that gets along well, but it's best to know about ongoing disputes. Do these folks have a history of bickering? Booger flicking?
This isn't the time to include a cousin or a neighbour. Group dynamics among children are powerful, and a kid who begins the evening as a fifth wheel may spend a miserable 16 hours in your home. We've learned this through experience, after mixing two separate friend groups at one of our daughter's slumber parties. There was much crying and soothing and mediation that night, and we said, "No more sleepovers." Until we forgot we said that and planned another one.
Get phone numbers and essential information from the parents of your guests. Food allergies, pet allergies, mortal fears. Find out if the parents are reachable in case Susie freaks out in the middle of the night and has to get home to her own bed.
If one or more of your guests is developmentally atypical, listen to the advice his parents offer, and make sure none of the planned activities will exclude him. Adjust the agenda as necessary without naming him as the cause.
You should be open about any dangers in your home. Is your dog bitey? Does your husband eat dinner armed, like Homer Simpson? In all seriousness, if you own a trampoline or a pool, explain how those things will either be secured or used safely during the sleepover.
The activities you plan, and your involvement in those activities, will depend on the ages of the guests. Younger kids, six or seven, will need direction. You should be prepared to help them transition from crafts to karaoke, for instance. Older kids, eight to 11, will be mostly independent, but might require intervention in the name of good sense. (Let's not ride the laundry basket down the stairs, girls.) Anyone 12 and older will murder you with cold silence should you make the mistake of attempting communication.
With movies and video games, find a consensus. If Timmy is terrified of dragons, don't introduce him to Toothless. If Sarah is talking crap while destroying everyone at Mario Kart, pick another game before there's a pint-sized cage match.
Technology isn't necessary. My daughter loves to play the Telephone Game with her friends. She'll organise an impromptu theatre troupe under any circumstances. Games such as Twister, Pictionary or charades are great options for making everyone silly and exhausted.
Feel free to let the kids direct the evening, but know your limits and don't get played. Maybe you don't mind if they bake cookies, but you sure as hell aren't driving to the store for special ingredients.
Make Siblings Disappear
This works both ways. Older siblings can be jerks and agitators. Younger ones can be clingy and annoying.
The last time we hosted a sleepover for our daughter, I took her younger brother to watch Despicable Me 3 (again). I munched popcorn and napped while he guffawed at jokes he knew by heart. It was great. By the time we got home, he was ready for bed and the sleepover kids were ready to be locked in the basement. When our boy is old enough for sleepovers, I'll take his sister to a play or a concert - something just for big kids that we'd skip ordinarily.
The effect of this divide-and-conquer strategy is that the rest of your kids - not just the one having a party - feel special because they get to do something special, too.
They will all feel even more special when they're chowing down on doughnuts the next morning. You remembered the doughnuts, right?