As a mama, this is a hard one for me to admit… but I’m the parent who struggles with sleepover anxiety. Not for myself, but for my kid. It’s funny, actually. I grew up resenting my parents for rarely allowing my siblings or I to stay over other people’s houses. But in becoming a parent myself, I get it now.
With so much going on in the world nowadays, my top priority is doing the best that I can to protect my child from harm. And when it comes to sleepovers, I feel like I’m surrendering my control over his safety completely.
A huge part of me wants to adopt the tactic that my parents raised me on and just opt out of sleepovers altogether, but I believe that figuring out how to overcome sleepover anxiety will not only be beneficial for my child, but for myself as well.
I don’t want to deprive my son of the nostalgic childhood memories of staying the night with a family member or friend. The few memories I have of my parents letting me stay the night elsewhere are some of my best-kept recollections. Staying up way past my bedtime, building forts, watching movies or telling stories until we’d fall asleep—those things are treasurable moments that I want my son to be able to experience.
At first, I felt ashamed for being nervous about his first sleepover—especially because he was staying the night at my parents’ house with my three youngest siblings. However, even though I knew he’d be in the midst of trusted family members, he was still outside of his normal, everyday environment. I had to worry about things like where he would sleep, how they would prepare his food and what they would do if he hurt himself while playing outside.
I had the opportunity to speak with motherhood therapist Chelsea Robinson, MSW, LCSW, about dealing with sleepover anxiety in adults.
“It is normal to experience some anxiety when you try anything new, including having your child sleep over at someone else’s house. It is not just a new experience for your child, but also for you, the mama,” Robinson shared.
“Not only might you feel like you are relinquishing some control over their routine or safety, but you also might experience some sadness as you are apart in this way for the first time. This is a big step in your relationship with your child, so it makes sense it might be filled with bigger emotions, too.”
Robinson went on to talk about the many risk factors associated with sleepovers that parents take into consideration as well.
“Parents must do their due diligence when weighing risks associated with sleepovers. Some of the bigger perceived risks that parents debate include gun ownership and safety in the home, drugs and alcohol use, domestic violence and/or child abuse and sexual assault and even bullying. While these are larger risks, other concerns for some parents include behavior issues, disruption in routine or even allowable movie genres.”
While many risks and worries have crossed my mind concerning my child’s first sleepover (and future ones to come), learning how to ease my sleepover anxiety has been a crucial step in taking back the control that I believed to be relinquished in allowing him to stay elsewhere in the first place.
Robinson thankfully shared a few tips for how parents can approach and manage any sleepover anxiety they may deal with—and I’m hoping they help other parents dealing with sleepover anxiety as much as they’ve helped me.
4 tips for easing sleepover anxiety
1. Know that it’s OK to not feel ready
“Preparing a child for a sleepover is going to look different for every family as every family will have different priorities and comfort levels. It’s OK for you, the mama, to not feel ready for your child to have a sleepover—regardless of what social media or other pressures might suggest. If age appropriate, involving your child in a conversation about the sleepover might help you to feel more comfortable, as you gain insight into their readiness and desire (or lack thereof). Remember that you know your child best; only you can assess their readiness to attend a sleepover.”
“Also remember that some anxiety and nervousness is a good thing, so long as it doesn’t feel debilitating to you. All of our emotions are trying to tell us something, and anxiety is often informing us that we have a desire to protect ourselves (or in this case, our child). Acknowledging that you feel protective as a mama is a strength. Allow yourself to feel into that and be a mama bear. Excitement can sometimes feel similar to nervousness, so spending some time differentiating between the two might help you (and your child) recognize the ‘good’ feelings that are present as well.”
2. Identify your concerns
“When we feel anxious, it can be helpful to look for the evidence that supports our fears (the cause of our anxiety). Is your anxiety grounded in facts? Separately, when you notice you are feeling anxious, practice naming your concerns. Write them out. Go through each one and identify if there are any tangible steps you can take to manage the concern—for example, talking to the sleepover host about gun safety.
“If it isn’t a realistic worry, identify it as an anxious thought by saying something like this, ‘I see you, anxiety. Thanks for protecting me. I am safe. I can keep my child safe, too.’ Remind yourself of the many ways in which you are prepared and which you have prepared your child for this new experience. How have you talked about it? How have you planned for sleepover safety?”
3. Talk to the sleepover host about your concerns
“No questions should be off the table when it comes to discussing a sleepover for your child. As your child’s parent, you should feel 100% empowered to ask any and all questions to the other parents, regardless of how uncomfortable of a conversation it is. Your job is to protect your child, not the emotions of the other parents. Talk with them about your concerns around gun safety, alcohol and any other deal-breaker topics. If time allows (weeks in the making), build a seperate relationship with the other parents so you feel a sense of safety and trust established with them as well. Family dinners and outings can be useful in this.”
Additionally, you can prepare a list of your child’s needs—and your own wants and needs for them. It’s OK to get super specific with the sleepover host about your desires for your child.
4. Snuggle up with an item of your child while they’re away
“Transitional objects aren’t just for our children to support them in times of separation; it can be useful for you too, mama. When they are away, snuggle one of their lovies, cuddle with a blanket of theirs and allow yourself to connect with them while they are gone. Missing your child is normal, especially the first time around.”
And while these tips are here to ease your worry, sometimes it’s easier said than done. In that case, Robinson reassured that sometimes, it takes a little extra work.
“It’s OK to skip out on the sleepovers altogether until (and if) you feel ready as a parent. It’s one of the most challenging times to be a parent right now, and the need to feel like we can keep our children safe is stronger than ever,” Robinson shared. “Spend some time trying to unpack your ‘why’ if you don’t feel ready yet, and once you have a better understanding of what you might need to feel safe yourself, try baby steps.”
Managing sleepover anxiety can be hard, but it’s also an important step in learning to let go as our children grow up and cultivate their own social experiences and skills. As we know, they don’t stay young forever—and we’re just doing the best that we can to prepare them for the world that exists beyond the walls of our home.
Chelsea Robinson, MSW, LCSW, is a Mom, Motherhood therapist, Matrescence Coach, Postpartum Doula and Village Builder. She is also the founder of Mama’s Modern Village.