Slumber party, sleepover, spending the night. Whatever you call it, the all-night play date with a friend (or group of friends) is sort of a rite of passage in American culture. It’s a chance for your growing child to exercise some nocturnal independence while (hopefully) still being under the watchful eye of caring and responsible adults. But how do you know when your child is ready for her first sleepover? And how can you be sure your cherished little one will be properly cared for away you’re your home and out of your control?

Every child is different, according to experts such as Ann Douglas, author of several books on parenting, and there is no right or wrong age to begin sleepovers. Some kids will be ready at age 5, Douglas told WebMD magazine, and others won’t be ready until they’re 10. Some kids will never be ready for sleepovers.

The important thing to remember, according parenting psychologist Heather Wittenberg, is to let the decision about a sleepover at a friend’s house be your child’s to make, not yours. Your kid’s first sleepover must not be parent-driven, Wittenberg said in an interview with Parents Magazine.

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Signs experts say show that your child is ready for a sleepover:

  • She is fully potty trained and able to get to the bathroom at night if needed, without, say, being afraid of monsters.
  • She is flexible, open to new foods, and easily handles transitions.
  • She is able to ask for what she needs from adults.
  • She expresses great desire to attend the sleepover, as in “Please, please, pleeeeease?!”
  • She knows what to do in case of an emergency, including calling 911, asking reliable adults for help, and being able to tell a police officer (but not strangers) her full name, address and phone number.

Once you’ve determined whether your child is ready for a sleepover, it’s time to start doing your research as a mom, to ensure that your kiddo is going to be safe and cared for.

Things to find out before letting your child spend the night away from home:

  • How many children will be at the sleepover?
  • Who are the adults who will be in the house? Get their full names, and run background checks on them. It might sound paranoid, but when it comes to your child’s safety, you can never be too prepared. Sites like family watchdog make it easy to find registered sex offenders by address and name.
  • What are the grownups like? Ask to meet the other child’s parent or parents ahead of time. Invite them to join you for a cup of coffee. If they are good parents themselves, they will appreciate this gesture. If they are offended, keep your kid home.

Once you’ve decided your kid is ready and that the family they’re staying with is nice and stable, it’s time to pack your her bag.

What to pack:

  • Sleeping bag and pillow. Even if there is a bed provided for your child, it will still comfort her to have their own gear.
  • Pajamas and two changes of clothes.
  • Toothbrush and other toiletries.
  • A little notebook with important information in it, including her own family’s contact data.

Finally, relax. The less worried you are (or appear to be) the more likely it will be that your child will relax and have a great time being independent and among friends.