Everyone knows that a sleepover rarely involves much sleeping, so be prepared with lots of games, snacks and activities.
Make sure your child is old enough to handle a slumber party before agreeing to host one. Sleepovers are most popular for kids eight to 14. If your child is younger than eight, she and her friends may not be ready to spend the night away from home. One mom whose first-grader desperately wanted a sleepover hosted a pajama party instead; all the guests came in their PJs, played games, and were picked up by 8 p.m.! When you do decide that your child is ready, keep the guest list short at your first slumber party so the guests don't get overwhelmed. Two or three guests are enough the first time; sleepover veterans can handle more.
It's best to have parents drop guests off late in the day. If kids spend too much time together, they may start bickering. While many slumber parties include dinner, you can certainly ask guests to show up for dessert instead. Be sure also to arrange a specific pick-up time the next morning to avoid having parents drop in throughout the day.
Although most preteens will keep themselves entertained, it's a good idea to plan a few activities. Some parents like to do one major activity outside the home such as going to the movies, bowling or swimming. Not only does this add structure to the event, it should also make guests tired enough that they actually sleep!
Crafts aren't a requirement, but you can certainly incorporate them if your child and his friends enjoy making things. Consider buying inexpensive pillow cases and letting the kids decorate them with fabric pens for a super slumber souvenir. (Slip a piece of cardboard inside when decorating to keep the ink from seeping through to the other side.)
Junk food at slumber parties is a time-honored tradition, but don't go overboard. It's fine to have some chips, and birthday cake is a must but supplement these with fruits or a veggie platter so you don't end up with a party full of tummy aches. Offer bottled water or juice instead of soda with caffeine or you'll never get to sleep. Slumber party guests are old enough to make their own food so consider planning a kitchen activity. Make-your-own-bars (pizza, tacos, sundaes) work well for this age group.
When should you turn the lights out? It depends on the ages of the guests, of course. Younger children should probably be in their sleeping bags by 10 p.m., older ones by midnight. Some parents have been known to change all the clocks in the house to give kids the illicit thrill of staying up late (while still managing to give everyone a decent night's sleep). Avoid squabbles about who sleeps next to whom by suggesting the guests arrange their sleeping bags in a starburst pattern with heads in the middle. It's a good idea to offer a calming activity as a transition to bedtime. Although some children will want to tell scary stories, a good movie is probably a better choice. If some guests are ready to go to sleep before others, consider putting them in a guest room or adjacent space where you can dim the lights. If this is a first sleepover, be prepared for a guest who wants to go home. If she has never spent the night away from her parents, the fun of a slumber party may wear thin by bedtime. Be certain you have a way to reach all the parents in case this happens. Before you call the parents, however, try to address the guest's fears. A child who's afraid of the dark may be comforted by a dim night light.
If you're clear about the rules (no leaving the house, no crank calls, no unsupervised cooking) from the outset, you should be able to remain behind the scenes (there if needed, but not hovering).