Sleepovers- The Controversy, Boundaries, and Questions for Parents
We allow sleepovers, here's why, the boundaries we hold, and the questions we ask.
by Jessica and Jeremy Martin-Weber
“Hi! Thanks for inviting (our child’s name) over for (their child’s name) birthday party sleepover! I have some questions for you, I’ll send those over and you can get back to me whenever works best for you. Thanks!”
This is our typical text when one of our children has been invited to spend the night somewhere. (Find our list of questions later in this article.)
We’re sometimes asked about sleepovers and kids.
Subscribe and continue reading how we worked through this challenge. We're All Human Here's Substack is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Sleepovers are an increasingly controversial issue. We completely understand why some parents opt out of sleepovers entirely for their children and why others have strict rules and limitations around sleepovers.
We’re big fans of boundaries and each family has to find what works for them.
Develop the skills you need for identifying, communicating, and holding boundaries including how to respond when someone doesn’t like your boundaries in our popular Practical Boundaries Masterclass and Workbook.
For others, sleepovers are an important rite of passage for children, special events full of fun and excitement and the chance for children to spread their wings a bit.
With our own personal and family history of abuse and specifically sexual assault, we approached making decisions about sleepovers carefully for our own children and we’ve been in camp sleepovers and camp no-sleepovers at different times in our parenting journey.
Where we’ve landed at this time is “Cautiously enthusiastic- Camp Sleepover (with boundaries and conditions).”
Arriving to the decision to allow sleepovers has been a collaborative decision making process with both of us parents and with our children, weighing our various concerns and perspectives along side our values, goals, and parenting purpose.
"Stop Butting Heads With Your Child: Bring fighting to an end between you and your child masterclass” sets parents and kids up for working together through challenges without fighting.
We recognize that allowing sleepovers isn’t for everyone, that’s ok. Every family needs to decide what’s right for them. If there’s conflict with your child about this issue, ongoing, open conversations will be essential in building trust. In our experience as teachers, parents, and parenting coaches, if you’re struggling with your kids about sleepover rules, building trust through communication that is empathetic and acknowledges their opinions and skills, invites them to share their concerns, and works together to address everyone's concerns (and everyone’s individual and collective responsibilities) can greatly cut back on the power struggle in these kinds of situations. See what this can look like in our Stop Butting Heads Masterclass.
Some of our considerations and boundaries around sleepovers (and these apply to playdates and get togethers as well):
There is no minimum age, the decision is made based on each child’s unique personality, needs, communication skills, maturity, confidence, demonstrated ability for recognizing and holding boundaries, readiness, and other skills. For some children this may be 9 or 10, for others this may be 13.
We want to make mindful decisions that are not driven by fear while being smart and aware, doing our best to make informed decisions that fit our short and longterm goals, values, parenting purpose, honoring our boundaries and considering other perspectives.
We are heavily involved in the planning and execution of sleepovers and we communicate directly with the parents.
We don’t do last minute sleepovers as we want to have time to sit with the decision and explore how we feel about it.
We don’t do sleepovers when put on the spot asked in front of the other person for the same reason.
Sleepovers aren’t essential, they’re completely optional so we won’t do sleepovers that feel pressured, demanded, or rushed.
We want our children to have positive experiences in trusting themselves in relationships and to have relationships with other adults and families that are strengthening and safe and we feel sleepovers are one way to support this.
We have to get to know the host family and feel comfortable with them.
We will have other social get togethers with the hosts before doing a sleepover.
We don’t want to foster anxiety in our children- our reasons have to be clear and relevant for any decision we make.
We don’t want to send the message that our home is the only safe place for our children.
If we feel the urge to say no we will get curious about why AND we will listen to our “gut” feelings about each individual sleepover opportunity.
There MUST be a high level of trust and transparency in our relationship with that child- they freely share their experiences, concerns, and mistakes with us, trusting us to help them through difficult moments without regularly hiding their feelings or actions from us.
We trust our child and have seen a demonstrated availability from our child to hold healthy boundaries and stand up to pressure, practicing self-advocacy and calling for help when necessary (not asking for help is a red flag that means no sleepovers for us).
We are upfront and transparent about our sleepover boundaries when we are hosting sleepovers with the parents (prior to the event) AND the guests themselves- including a conversation at the start of the sleepover on consent, boundaries, and safety… and what will result in someone being sent home or even more serious measures taken.
We begin to shift responsibility in communication and planning of sleepover events for older teens, serving in a more advisory role to support our children in safe decision making.
Our children can call or text us to come get them, no questions asked (until we get them and we will ask if there is anything we need to know, if they are physically harmed, or if they need our help).
Parenting with Connection Masterclass Series: Yell less and actually be heard; Emotional regulation for the tapped out/burned out parent; Why your kids are fighting so much and how to change it; Stop butting heads with your child; When responding with calm doesn’t seem to work; Internet, Devices, and Your Family. Plus, a special discount for paid Susbstack subscribers!
We believe sleepovers are helpful confidence building and "short flight" experiences for tweens and teens. Otherwise the first time they sleep away from their home and family of origin or other family is... as an adult when they go to college? Or maybe a highly structured camp experience. If kids feel their parents trust them in these short forays into independence, they can also grow in trusting themselves and practice the skills necessary for safe decision making as much as is possible.
In our family and in working with our private parenting coaching clients, we have seen first hand how fear-driven decisions can infantilize tweens and teens and build barriers in a relationship but the answer isn't to become permissive, it is to troubleshoot together, increase communication, and deepen the relationship.
Even then, we ask the host several questions before allowing our child to sleep over. These are particularly for those in early teens and younger with some modifications for older teens and supporting them in asking these questions themselves.
Essential sleepover questions we ask:
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial