The first sleepover is a big milestone. Is your child ready?

The sleepover is a rite of passage for children and parents—beloved by some, dreaded by others. And it's important that both be prepared for it.

Determining whether a child is ready to spend the night at a friend's house should be a “kid-by-kid” decision, said Dr. Dan Coury, a behavioral and developmental pediatrician at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

A child who has routinely slept at the home of a grandparent or other relative might have no issues going to a friend's house for an overnight stay, he said. Children who have limited experience being apart from their parents, on the other hand, may have more difficulty. As a precaution, Coury recommends avoiding friend sleepovers with children who are not toilet trained or unable to handle their own hygiene issues.

It's wise to have a thorough discussion about a sleepover invitation before accepting it, Coury said. “Find out whose idea it was, and if your child wants to do it,” he said. If your child is spearheading the effort, that's a good sign. If you get the sense the other child is pushing the idea, gauge how your child really feels, he said.

Let your child know it's fine if she doesn't want to participate, said Pam Gulley, a psychologist with Newark-Granville Psychological and Counseling Services in Granville.

If your child is uncomfortable with the idea, it's OK—even a good idea—for the parent to take responsibility for declining the invitation, Gulley said. “Mom can be the scapegoat,” she said. “The main role for a mom is to protect them. Let them save face,” she said.

She also suggests hosting that first sleepover so you can see how your child reacts. If he or she gets too wound up or wants to stay up all night, you'll know it's best to wait before sending him or her to a friend's slumber party, Gulley said.

When they do go to a friend's, make sure children know they don't have to stay if they feel uncomfortable. Arrange to call your son or daughter on the pretext of saying goodnight, Gulley said. While on the phone, ask these questions: Are you having fun? Are you comfortable spending the night? Do you want to come home? “If it's their first sleepover, always make sure you have a Plan B,” Gulley said. “Kids need to know they have a way to come home.”

If your child does want to leave, make sure to reassure him about his decision, Coury said. “Tell them, ‘It's fine, there's nothing to worry about. Next time, you'll stay later.' ”