Parents don't have to let kids' joy be their pain

July 28, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Fear and nervousness crept in when the boys started to arrive with sleeping bags and pillows in tow.

Seven 9-year-old boys were staying the night for her oldest son's birthday party. It was the first time Brenda Reynolds had ever hosted a sleepover. While she appeared composed, Reynolds was shuffling through a long list of "what-ifs."

"What if we run out of stuff to do? What if someone wets the bed or wants to go home?" recalled Reynolds, a stay-at-home mother from Hagerstown.

And then came the scariest thought: "I was very nervous that they were going to rip my house apart," she said.


Reynolds - as with many parents embarking on a slumber party for the first time - survived. But survival, slumber-party veterans and child-care experts said, hinges upon good planning.

"The best defense is a good offense," said Reynolds, who now has 10 slumber parties under her belt.

Meet the parents

Vivian Hurley, an expert in child and adolescent therapy, said the planning for a slumber party should start long before the actual event.

Planning starts with the parents meeting.

"I wouldn't want to send my child into a house where I haven't met the parents," said Hurley, a social worker with the Behavioral Health Services division of the Washington County Health System.

Heather Finch, a mom from Martinsburg, W.Va., said it's a must that she meet the parents before sending her son to a sleepover. Her son has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

"They need to know if something is going to happen that's going to send him into a tizzy," Finch said.

After establishing a relationship with the parent, Finch said, her son will visit the home in order to get a feel for the rules. So when sleepover time comes, "if there's a problem, that parent doesn't feel like they can't (come to us)," Finch said.

Hurley also recommends that host parents get emergency contact numbers from parents when the child RSVPs.

Get a game plan

Today, Reynolds, a mother of four, hardly bats an eye at the thought of a half-dozen youngsters scurrying about her home for the night. The reason?

"Overplanning," she said. "They should never run out of things to do. When you have activities that you didn't have time to get to, that's when you know it went well."

Reynolds said she borrows many sleepover ideas from her friend, Donna Rishell, a school teacher at Potomac Heights Elementary School. Rishell has had as many as 30 children at her home for a sleepover.

"We had kids sleeping in the kitchen, the toy room - kids were everywhere," Rishell said.

Rishell said she enlists her three children to help in the planning, which she said usually makes for better slumber parties. One of the more memorable sleepovers, Rishell said, had a "Fear Factor" theme. Her son Steven Rishell, 10, remembers one of the food challenges, when he and his friends reluctantly nibbled on grape applesauce.

"It looked like cat throw-up," Steven Rishell said with a wince.

Having hosted nearly 20 sleepovers, Rishell said most of the problems she had emerged when the activities ran out. "That's when they get into little spats," Rishell said.

Dealing with discipline

Hurley said coming down too hard on unruly or hyper children only makes matters worse.

"You don't want to be overly directive, to make them stand out," she said. "That makes the child uncomfortable and opens up opportunities for others to make fun of the child."

Instead, give the child something to do, Hurley said. "Ask them to help you with food or to prepare the next activity," Hurley said.

Generally, Rishell said, a child acts out because she or he wants attention. "Bad attention is some attention," Rishell said.

It also helps to invite an even number of children, Rishell said. "That way, it's harder for one child to be singled out."

If the adult host is unable to rectify the situation, calling the child's parents should be the last line of defense. "But again, that goes back to meeting and having a relationship with the parents in advance," Hurley said.

Sleepover Survival 101

A few tips from Vivian Hurley, a social worker with the Behavioral Health Services division of the Washington County Health System:

· Generally, 9 or 10 is the ideal age for children attending a sleepover. Eight is the ideal number of attendees.

· Hurley said parents should anticipate staying up all night, though "wind down" activities, such as watching movies, are a good way to encourage slumber.

· A child is ready to attend a sleepover if he or she can stay the night at a relative's house alone without getting homesick.

· Coed sleepovers are a no-no. If members of the opposite sex are invited to the home, there should be a designated time when they all have to leave.

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