Sleepover Anxiety: 8 Ways to Ease a Worried Mind

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Image via Katie Hurley

My daughter wants nothing to do with sleepovers. She likes her routine. She likes her bed. And she likes the overflowing pile of stuffed animals that line the foot of her bed. Truth be told, she likes predictability. In her own room, with her own stuff, with her brother in the next room, and with parents down the hall, she feels safe. She's just not ready to venture out of that comfort zone just yet, and I support her 100%.

A lot of her friends, however, are into sleepovers. Second-grade girls, as it turns out, like to be together at all times. When I politely decline invitations for sleepovers, parents seem to go overboard with suggestions and problem-solving strategies.

While it's always nice to know that other parents are understanding and willing to help, I don't push my kids beyond what they are ready to do from an emotional perspective. Some things in life aren't optional when you're a kid, but sleepovers are.

We work on it in bits and pieces, though, because one day she will be ready to take that leap, and I want her to be prepared.

Planning that first sleepover can be a delicate balance, particularly when a child is a worrier by nature. It's important to listen to the child's concerns and troubleshoot before making that commitment.

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Image via Flickr/ gruntzooki

Be patient

Putting off sleepovers for a while won't make your child feel like the odd one out. Plenty of kids prefer the comfort of home at night, and sleepovers are not a rite of passage.

Talk about it when it comes up, but let your child decide when she's ready to try a sleepover. If you push, you might set your child up for failure. If you wait until your child is ready, your child has a better chance of a successful first sleepover.

{ MORE: Stressed Out? Check Out These Stress-Busting Activities You Can Do As a Family }

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Talk

Open an honest communication about fears and anxiety helps kids work through their emotions. Life is busy, and sometimes we gloss over the details in the calm moments only to bombard our children with questions during the stressful moments. It's very difficult to process emotions when under stress.

Talk to your child during the calm moments. My daughter and I have some of our best discussions over tea and graham crackers in the afternoon. Talking about the hard stuff when they're calm and centered helps kids work through their emotions and identify their roadblocks.

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Normalize feelings

It can be hard to be the last sleepover holdout when it feels like the whole world (or the whole grade, anyway) is doing it, but the fears that accompany sleepover anxiety are all very age appropriate. Many kids simply crave routine.

Normalize your child's feelings. Share your own childhood memories of sleepovers. For a long time, I really only slept at my best friend's house right down the street when I was a kid. This tidbit of information comforts my daughter as she works through her own feelings.

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Choose comfort

When you do plan that first sleepover, be sure to arrange it somewhere that your child will feel at home. Whether you start at a best friend's house or at Grandma's, make sure that your child knows the person well and feels safe and secure.

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Discuss routines with the other parent

Some kids listen to music when they sleep. Others prefer sound machines. Some like silence best. All kids have their own sleep routines, and a change in routine can cause increased anxiety for a worrier.

Talk to the other parent (or grandparent) about your child's specific routines. Share tips on what comforts your child. Prepare the other parents so that they can problem-solve should obstacles arise.

{ MORE: How to Talk to Little Kids About Anxiety }

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Image via Flickr/ edenpictures

Send transitional objects

It might seem “babyish” to bring stuffed animals and loveys to sleepovers, but sometimes, those transitional objects (even when buried in an overnight bag) can be a great source of comfort for worriers.

Ask your child what helps her feel safe and secure at night and be sure to include those items in the overnight bag. Don't assume your child will simply rise to the occasion. Talk about potential obstacles and come up with solutions in advance.

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Go in for the save

A lot of kids don't actually make it through the first sleepover. It can be hard to sleep away from Mom and Dad. Sleepovers can also be over-stimulating, and that results in increased stress.

Be prepared to go in for the save. Resist any “I told you so” moments, and, instead, praise your child for the effort. Growing up is hard work, and a failed sleepover isn't a sign of overall failure. Your child just needs more time.

{ MORE: Ever Wonder Why Parenting Is Just So Hard? }

good night
Image via Flickr/ flickrized

Skip the sleepover parties

Sometimes, parents feel like more kids increases the fun factor and that will make the sleepover easier. Often, this is not the case. If your child is anxious about a 1:1 sleepover with a good friend, adding five other friends to the mix will only leave your child feeling overwhelmed.

Take a pass on sleepover parties until your child feels safe and secure sleeping away from home.

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Sleepover Anxiety: 8 Ways to Ease a Worried Mind

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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