The Family Project: Sleepover advise
Q. My seven-year-old was invited to sleep over at a friend’s house. I hardly know the family, and my son just met the boy this year in first grade. I don’t want to disappoint my son. He is so excited about the sleepover. But I am really worried. How do I approach this with the parents of his new friend and not sound like I am being snobbish or judgmental?
The first reaction from panelist Wanda Mercado-Arroyo was to tell the parent that it was a good thing to be worried: “Parents should be cautious. You must know the family where you are sending your child, not only the family but also the son.
Panelist Mike Daniels said, “She is being legitimately concerned about her son.”
Daniels suggested that the parent call the friend’s mother and ask to get together over coffee to discuss the sleepover. “One question to ask is whether the family has a weapon in the house. That’s a legitimate question to ask. Do you have guns in the house and how are they secured?”
Daniels also said it would be helpful to know where the host family lives. “Is it where the kids could play safely outside?”
Another concern for the discussion, according to panelist Denise Continenza, would be how the other parents discipline their child, and what are the boundaries.
Panelist Chad Stefanyak asked if it made a difference to the parent whether the sleepover involved a group, or if the son was the only guest.
After concern was expressed about the increased risk of child abuse, Continenza explained that older children are able to figure out who they want to be with, when a situation is uncomfortable, and which families are like their own. “Seven-year-olds are too young to make those judgment calls,” Continenza said.
Daniels said it would be a good idea for the parent to have a discussion with her son about the sleepover and her concerns. Older kids dislike when parents talk to the parents of friends, he said. Start now by explaining why you want to call his friend’s mother: “When you are having a sleepover with a family that I don’t know, I want to get to know that family. I care so much about you that I’m going to make sure that you will be safe until you are at an age when you can make those judgments for yourself.”
“Explain to him that he is too young for a sleepover,” Continenza added, “but tell him you would love for him to get together with his school friend.” The other child could be invited over to play.
Mercado-Arroyo suggested that instead of spending the night, the son could be allowed to stay at his friend’s house for a late night, and the mother would pick him up to go home to sleep.
Daniels cautioned that whatever approaches the mother takes, she needs to be consistent.
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, school counselor; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo; educator and former school administrator; Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension, and Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS.
Have a question? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Family Project weekly column is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.