Having a sleepover with grandchildren is like sharing a larger slice of their lives. Grandparents get to check out their bedtime behavior, see whether they wake up grouchy or cheerful, and enjoy breakfast together.
How Parents Feel About Sleepovers
Most parents appreciate sleepovers because it gives them a chance to have a date night and then sleep in the next day. A few, however, complain that sleepovers at the grandparents’ house make their children overtired and cranky. Some claim that the children are overindulged by the grandparents and are hard to please when they return home. Another issue is too many sugary treats at the grandparents’ house.
Most children have occasional bad moods and misbehavior, whether they have visited a grandparent recently or not. Parents may be falsely attributing a bad mood to the hangover from a grandparent visit.
Still, grandparents should strive to preserve their grandchildren’s bedtime routines during sleepovers, as well as expecting grandchildren to meet normal expectations for behavior. Grandparents who resist spoiling the grandchildren too much have the best chance of getting to repeat the sleepover experience.
Perks of Sleepovers
Spending the night away from parents can foster a child’s independence.1 It’s also informative for children to see how other households function, in a way that’s not obvious during a short visit. If parents or grandchildren are opposed to sleepovers, grandparents can suggest a reverse sleepover, in which they go to spend the night at the grandchild’s house.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Most grandparents don’t intentionally keep their grandchildren up too late. Usually by bedtime, the grandparents are ready to turn in, too. Still, children who are in an unfamiliar place often have a hard time going to sleep.2
The problem is compounded when you have more than one grandchild, especially when they are cousins rather than siblings. The novelty of spending the night together may keep cousins awake. For that reason, some grandparents only entertain one or two grandchildren at a time. Other grandparents love having a rowdy mix of cousins and are willing to put in the extra effort to handle the group.
If you are lucky enough to have a spare bedroom or two, you will probably have better luck with bedtime. The closer you stay to a normal sleep environment, the less trouble you are likely to have.
If you don’t have spare beds for grandchildren, it’s fine to put them down on air mattresses, sleeper sofas or other improvised bedding.
Choosing the right bedding is important during certain stages. Because of the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), infants require a secure sleep situation, with a firm mattress and no excess bedding material.3 Toddlers need a bed with a rail or a bed that is close to the ground.
Help the Grandchildren Get to Sleep
These strategies may help grandparents get over the bedtime bump:4
- Schedule active play earlier in the day so that the grandchildren will feel tired at night. Encourage low-key activities right before bedtime so that they don’t get hyped up.
- A bedtime snack can help children feel ready for bed. Avoid sugary treats and chocolate.
- Don’t wait too late to start getting ready for bed. Every step will probably take a little longer than you anticipate.
- Try reading books or telling stories as the last activity before sleep. Books about grandparents and grandkids are perfect for sleepovers.
- Stuffed toys and soft blankets can comfort a grandchild who is nervous about being away from home, although some grandchildren will need their own loveys from home.
- Discourage the use of electronics in bed. If, however, a grandchild is accustomed to listening to music or watching a movie as a way of getting to sleep, you may have to allow it.
Handling a Group of Grandchildren
If you have multiple grandchildren sleeping over, staying with them until they fall asleep is the best method. If you leave and have to return to restore order, the grandchildren may turn it into a game. They may decide that it’s fun to get some hi-jinks going, then pretend to go to sleep, then get the fun going again as soon as you leave the room.
Watching something on television can work as a way of calming down a group of grandchildren. Try watching a short feature rather than a full-length movie, which can delay bedtime by almost two hours, in the event that the grandchildren manage to stay awake.
If they do manage to stay awake, turn off the electronics when the feature ends. A fan or other pink or white noise maker will discourage talking and may help soothe the grandchildren to sleep.5
Themes for Sleepovers
If you want to make the grandkids’ sleepover a bit more like a party, you can have a theme.
A classic sleepover theme is camping out. Depending upon the age of your grandchildren and the weather, you can pitch your tent inside or out. Serve classic camp food such as hamburgers or hot dogs, and be sure to stock up on flashlights or glow sticks.
An animal theme should be a hit with younger children. Have them bring favorite stuffed animals. Play animal rummy or put together an animal jigsaw puzzle. Use a big piece of butcher paper to create an animal mural. For breakfast, make pancakes in the shape of bears or kitties.
Slightly older children will like a song and dance party. Borrow a karaoke machine or set up a music video game such as Dance Dance Revolution or Let’s Dance. Pick up some inexpensive accessories such as boas and bowlers. You will need to cut the dance music a bit before bedtime, to let the grandchildren wind down.6
For a fun movie night, recreate a movie theater experience at home. Stock up on classic movie candy and serve popcorn in movie-style containers. You can even print out movie tickets. The little ones will enjoy “selling” the tickets or concessions.
For a fun variation that’s a bit more work, move the party to the backyard. Hang a sheet for a screen and rent or borrow a projector.
You can also build your movie night fun around the selected movie. For Moana, for example, you could buy a few grass skirts and leis and have a hula contest. Serve tropical fruits and meat on a stick.
For Finding Nemo, you could create seating by filling a kiddie pool with pillows. For snacks, serve Goldfish crackers. After-movie activities could include playing Go Fish or blowing bubbles.
Virtual Visits to Other Countries
For a sleepover that’s fun and educational, center the fun around another country. Make the dinner menu and other activities related to that country. Involve the children in food preparation and serving to the extent that their ages make it practical. For the table, carry out the theme with a simple centerpiece or print out flag placemats.
Italy. Serve easy pepperoni pizza or make a batch of spaghetti. Serve gelato for dessert. Dress the table with a red-checked tablecloth. Press-on mustaches will add to the fun. Be sure to put on a little opera during dinner.
China. Serve egg rolls or soup and make a pot of rice. Let the grandkids try using chopsticks. The grandchildren can make paper lanterns decorations, and or let them try a simple origami project.
Mexico. Serve tacos and finger foods. Make or buy a pinata, and listen to mariachi music. This celebration can be timed to coincide with Cinco de Mayo or with the Day of the Dead.
Solutions to Sleepover Problems
No matter how much fun you have planned for your grandchildren, occasionally you’ll encounter sleepover problems. Here are suggestions for some common problems:
Making Your House Feel Like Home
The more familiar the grandchildren are with your home, the more comfortable they will be. It helps if they have a room, closet or corner dedicated to their special toys or belongings.
Rituals can help children feel safe at a grandparent’s house. If you always do certain things with your grandchildren, the familiarity of those routines will make grandchildren feel more at home.7
It’s fine to have your own rules for visiting grandchildren but avoid being too much of a stickler. For example, some grandchildren get very tense if they are required to eat unfamiliar foods.
Sometimes a grandchild’s spasm of homesickness will be fleeting. Sometimes he or she cannot be comforted or distracted. Exchanging a text message with a parent may help. Putting the homesick child on the phone with a parent usually intensifies the situation rather than helping. If you have a group of grandchildren, try getting one of them to work with the reluctant sleepover guest.
While you don’t want to end up with a grandchild in full-blown meltdown or panic mode, most cases of homesickness can be dealt with without making a middle-of-the-night transfer. Often a homesick grandchild who perseveres and stays the night will be proud of the accomplishment later.
Other Minor Sicknesses
A child who develops a minor illness during a sleepover should be isolated from any other children, made comfortable and treated with over-the-