Pack your bags — the cultural currency of sleepovers

Your child’s six years old and all they want to do is get away. “Can I have a sleepover?” is the weekly weekend mantra for many kids as they hit six, seven, eight years of age. Why is the sleepover such a cultural commodity?

Well, a slumber party in a healthy and safe environment can be seen as a right of passage, or a dawn of a new independence, as kids gain confidence in the bonds they have with their friends, as well as the confidence they have within themselves to survive time away from their familiar zone.

The history of sleeping over is relatively new; only since our homes have become big enough, and our families small enough, to allow kids their own rooms have p.j. parties blossomed. A generation ago sleepovers were a blue moon treat. These days it’s not uncommon to have the request posited each and every weekend.

When kids ask to sleep over at a friend’s house they’re looking for a fun and novel extension of daytime play. They gel friendships as they gain insights into their friends’ lives and giggle themselves to sleep. And then, they can proudly celebrate their hero stories of staying up past their bedtimes to friends later on.

But, whether the kids expressly know it or not, they’re into the slumber party for some developmental reasons as well. In their little and controlled worlds, a sleepover is a way for them to get their feet wet with separation from their nest. It’s a time for them to experiment with outside experiences, and if they meet challenges it’s up to the kids themselves to overcome them. If they conquer the challenge the victory they’ll feel is all their own and that builds autonomy and fosters self esteem.

Kids are also showing that they’re curious about the social conventions as they exist beyond their home when they go for a sleepover. It’s positive for a child to experience dinner and bedtime rules elsewhere when they reinforce the standards they’re used to. They begin to see that routines aren’t just a parent’s punishment or arbitrary and they see they’re universal. When the kids see these rules in play they become positively reinforced and habituated. And yet we all know the giggling keeps going and the night will be a late one.

Surely, every parent whose kid has slept away, or who’s hosted their own p.j. party expects, and has responded to, the late night call to go home. And, slippered feet into the car, we’ve made it right by taking or bringing the kids back home when the challenges of the overnight have been too great. Yet that in itself lets the kids know they’re not wholly on their own out there. Their safety net is only a phone call away, and so we try, try again.

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