This information has been adapted from information provided by experts at Darkness to Light.
If you are considering allowing your child to go for a sleepover at another child’s home or away to camp or on a trip, start with a gut check.
- What does my gut feel when I think about my child at this home?
- How do I feel about them being away at this camp?
If you get no gut reaction at all, it may be because you don’t have enough information. Having no feeling is not an adequate gut check — it just means you need to find out more details. .
Beyond the gut check, ask yourself the following questions:
1. What would make my child or teen “ready”?
Consider the child’s maturity, disposition, and experience with being separate from their parents (aka their emotional and psychological readiness). Also consider the various practical necessities that might make your child more ready. These might include:
- Comfort items
- Special foods
- A cellphone
- A flashlight
This will vary for every child, but thinking about readiness and your child’s comfort can make you both feel more prepared.
2. How well do I know the people caring for my child?
Reflect on what kind and how much interaction you and your child have had with this family or organization. Ideally, you’ve had many kinds of interactions prior. For sleepovers, think about:
- Are the kids in school together?
- Have the adults driven each other’s kids around?
- How much exposure have the families had to each other?
For camps, this information can be obtained from online reviews, visits to the camp and, most importantly, personal recommendations.
3. What kind of adult supervision will there be and who else will be present?
- What influences do these other children or adults bring to the interaction?
- Will there be teenagers present, or others from outside the immediate family?
- For sleepovers, is this a group sleepover or is your child the only guest?
4. What is the environment like?
For camps this will be more comprehensive, but for a sleepover, you want a sense of two things:
- The overall feel of the household, which will tell you something about how comfortable your child may be in that setting, and
- How the house is laid out, which will tell you something about safety and supervision.
From there you might like to know where your child will be sleeping.
- Will she be on the floor in her own sleeping bag, or is she expected to sleep in a bed with another child?
- Will the kids be in a tent out back?
- Is there a policy in the home about open doors during sleepovers?
5. Can I talk with these parents or supervisors about my concerns and needs?
This is a big one. If you can’t talk openly about your concerns with all parties, consider it a negative on the gut check meter. If you can’t comfortably voice your concerns, how can you expect your child to feel safe in this home?
6. What are my hard and fast rules?
- No isolated one-on-one situations should be allowed under any circumstances, neither with adults nor with other children. Note the word isolated. Two children playing in the living room together while the adults are in the adjoining kitchen is not particularly isolated. A teen with your child in the basement is.
- Beyond that rule, what about movies? Adults drinking? Does your child need to check in if plans change or they decide to go out for the evening?
- Consider what household rules must be stretched to include the other household.
7. What safety and comfort contingencies can I put in place?
You have a right to ask questions about your child’s surroundings, whether that’s pool safety or whether there are any guns on the premises. One of the best ways to make a child feel safe and comfortable is by playing the What If? game. As your child:
- What if you woke up in the night and got scared?
- What if someone offered you strawberries (and the child is allergic)?
- What if a teenager asked you to hang out in his room?
Thinking creatively and talking through these scenarios together is a great way to prepare your child for any possibility.
8. What check-in points can we add?
Some parents ask for a call before bedtime, or texts from the child throughout the evening. Consider what would make you and your child most comfortable.
Having considered all of these questions, do another gut check and you should have your answer.
You can also check out these tips from D2L on minimizing the opportunities for abuse.
After the sleepover
- Get information on how the sleepover went.
Ask what they spent time doing, what your child wished they would have done, etc. Keep the conversation light — don’t make it sound like an interrogation. If the sleepover went smoothly and was fun, they’ll want to talk about it. Notice if they are hesitant to talk or are withdrawn.
- Ask what their least and favorite parts of the evening/night were.
- Ask them if they felt safe throughout the night.
Did they feel safe telling an adult if something was wrong or they were scared? This can give you insight into whether or not the child should ever return to the host’s house.
- Ask if there is anything that they want to share with you.
Opening the floor to them instead of you dominating the discussion will give them space to express themselves–good and bad.