by: Michael Kabel

The sleepover is a time-honored tradition and sometimes one of the most fun parts of growing up. Stories are swapped, feelings are shared, and some of the most important bonding between childhood friends takes place simply when one child "stays over" with another.

As a parent, it's no surprise that your job is to make sure the sleepover goes over as successfully as possible. A big part of that is keeping both your own child and the guest child safe. Listed below are five rules to keep the children safe while they’re having a good time.

1. It's better to be safe than sorry.

This applies to all parts of the sleepover, and it's an important rule to mention when the child arrives. The guest child will often be nervous, so letting he or she know that you're not going to let anything happen will help them feel more at home.

You can gently mention to both children that they have to look out for one another at all times. This will help foster the sense of "togetherness" that’s a big part of the sleepover adventure.

2. Stay on the property.

Children sometimes have backyard sleepovers outside, but in any event they shouldn't wander off your property after dark. Staying inside the yard keeps them safe and limits the space you'll have to search for them "just in case."

Rather than letting them feel confined, afford them lots of other safe things to do within the yard, including telling stories, looking up at the night sky, and listening to music.

Also, as a parent, you'll want to check on them as much as possible, to make sure they're doing okay. Try to restrain yourself to a minimum of visits. Remember, they're on an adventure - and no one likes to drag their parents along on an adventure.

3. Eat dinner early, but provide snacks later.

You'll want to serve the evening meal early so the kids can get a fun start on their evening's activities. It'll be easier for you, too, since they won't dawdle coming to the dinner table. The sleepover is an excellent occasion to fix your child's favorite meal, including his favorite dessert.

Later, prepare a snack of popcorn, ice cream, or cookies and milk to keep them having a good time. But don't give them caffeine - they'll need to sleep at some point in the evening.

4. Suggest a "lights-out" but don't enforce it.

Sooner or later in the evening, the kids will get ready for bed - of course, they're probably not really going to sleep. As a parent, this is your time to play "the parent," turning out the lights and closing the door. They're not really going to sleep, but you've done your part by moving the night along.

5. Stay vigilant but not intrusive.

Only you can decide how closely to watch your child and their guest, but again remember not to "helicopter." It's not good for the children, it's not fun, and it sort of takes the wind from the sleepover's sails. Be a good parent, but not a smothering one. The sleepover is a big part of the child's growing up, and it's one where a little tacit help on your part is all that's needed.