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June 6th, 2012

Sleepover Fears

Imagine this scene. It’s around 10 pm on a Friday or Saturday night and the phone rings. “Mommy, can you come pick me up? I want to come home.” Many parents have received this phone call from their child who wants to come home from a sleepover.

The decision to allow a child to sleep away from home is a very personal one, one which changes from household to household. Some parents will not consider sleepovers until a child is a teenager, while others may allow a child to sleep out in the early elementary years if the sleepover house is a safe and trusted one. Children have different reactions to sleepovers as well. While some children can’t wait to sleep at a friend’s house, others are too anxious to try to spend the night away from their parents.

Other children may be very excited about a sleepover and do very well for the first, awake, part of the evening, but start to become distressed around bedtime. They no longer want to sleep over. Rather, they insist on getting home as soon as possible.

What happens? What changes occur that make a happy, excited child into an anxious child, unable to be comfortable sleeping at the home of a good friend or relative? Separation anxiety, or the fear of being apart from the security of a loved one is at it’s strongest at night. Often, anxious kids may be fearful of separating from parents at bedtime when they are home. This anxiety is worse when they are away. Although children may not be able to describe what they are feeling, they know they are scared. They feel an intense and urgent need to reconnect with parents, and at that moment, they are convinced they will not feel better until they are home. If they can’t connect with parents, child anxiety can reach the level of child panic.

It’s OK to retrieve your child from a sleepover. He or she may just not be ready. The fear of sleeping out does not predict future adjustment or ability to separate from parents. Try not to treat the return as a failure, and suggest that maybe sometime in the future, a sleepover could be tried again.

Tool Kits for Kids likes to share information about child worry and child anxiety. If you’d like to learn more about separation anxiety, take a look at these earlier postings from Tool Kits for Kids:
Kids Afraid to Leave Home
When Sleepaway Camp Doesn’t Work Out
Emotional Skills Help Children Get Ready for Sleepaway Camp