Slumber Parties, A to Zzzzzz

Hosting an overnight party can be an eye-opener. Slumber is rarely on the agenda. So if there’s a nightfest in your future, consider the following to ensure a safe, sane sleepover.

BEST GUESTS For first-time hosts, two or three carefully chosen friends is usually plenty. The ideal guest has already spent time at your home, so has met you and is familiar with your house rules. If a child has never slept over before, tactfully ask his parents if he can handle being away for the night (the party won’t be much fun for a kid who’s afraid of the dark, has frequent nightmares, often needs his parents during the night, or wets the bed). To acclimate a novice partygoer, perhaps invite the child over before the party date for a regular playdate.

PARTY TIME Begin a sleepover in the early evening, between 5 and 7pm, to limit the number of waking hours you’ll need to supervise. As an alternative, start earlier and take a trip to the park, or allow them to play vigorously (games like tag, hide-and-seek, or jump rope) for an hour or two — to help tucker them out.

BUTTING IN Slumber parties require some supervision, the amount depending on the maturity of the child. “A young child can’t be expected to act as a host until he’s intuitive enough to empathize with an unhappy guest or to help solve disputes — typically around age 7,” says psychology professor Alan Fogel, Ph.D. Even then, treat your child like one of the guests; plan on initiating activities, setting up the sleeping bags, and preparing dinner and snacks. Stay within earshot, and periodically check up on the kids.

FOOD AND GAMES A ‘food bar’ that allows kids to construct what they want to eat is fun and gives picky eaters more choices, says Penny Warner, author of The Kids’ Pick-a-Party Book, Super Snacks for Kids, and several other party-related books. Line up the fixings and let kids build their own tacos, sandwiches or hamburgers, she suggests. Pizza — frozen, delivered, or kid-assembled on English muffins — also scores big points. For breakfast, set out a variety of fruit, cereals and an assortment of muffins. Slumber parties rarely experience a lull. But just in case, have a list of backup games and activities to suggest. Also, ask guests to bring something fun to share with everybody — a game, music, comic book, or toy.

BEDTIME TACTICS From the start, tell kids what time they’ll need to go to bed, but be flexible. An hour before, lay out sleeping bags and steer them toward playing quiet games, telling stories, and whispering. Or put on a video that they’ve seen before (so they won’t care about seeing the end) to help them nod off. If kids are still lively, give them a couple of warnings, but don’t be mean, suggests Warner. “Come out in your pajamas and tell the kids that you’re going to join them since they’re keeping you awake. That’s sure to silence them.”

FINAL DETAILS Ask each guest’s parents if their child has food allergies, and get a number where you can reach them in case of an emergency. Ask the kids to bring a sleeping bag, a pillow, pajamas, a toothbrush, and anything they like to sleep with. Be specific about the start and pickup time (after breakfast but before lunch), and remind parents of this when they drop off their kids. Keep the following day free of plans until long after the agreed ending, advises mother of six Judith Cobb. There will probably be stragglers among the parents. Besides, you may be too party-pooped to do much more — except catch up on your own sleep.