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Now is time to guard children's schedules

September 01, 2006|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Families can be particularly vulnerable at the beginning of the new school year, when children might want to sign up for more activities than they can possibly participate in. Children have much to choose from, and they can easily become too involved. Protecting some of their time is important and, like adults, they need down time to rest and re-energize. Sometimes saying "no" to a child can be difficult, but it might be best for the child and for the family. For parents, knowing that you should say "no" might not make it any easier to do it.

Protecting family time is important, too, because the family serves as a support system for each member of the family. Consider the following tips as you monitor your children's activity load:

· Consider each request, but try to make one decision at a time.

When a child is younger than 8 years old, it's generally best for parents to make such decisions. As a child ages, though, asking them to help identify the negatives and positives in choosing an activity or additional responsibility can help them learn decision-making skills. Together, you can practice the five-to-one rule: Finding five positives for each negative.

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Involving them in the decision-making process also can be helpful in moving them toward accepting the decision that is made. Doing so lets them know that their request was considered.

· Weigh the pluses and the minuses.

Whether a child already is participating in another sport, musical group,drama production, Scouts, etc., needs to be weighed when considering one or more additional activities. So do scheduling conflicts. If adding another activity means interrupting family mealtime three nights a week, adding the activity might not be in the best interest of the child or the family.

Talk about expectations - the child's and your own, as parents.

If, for example, a student wants to learn how to play a musical instrument, a willingness to practice regularly needs to be discussed. If a student wants to have his or her own trombone, rather than a rental, that also needs to be discussed. It might be best for a student to start with a rental instrument to see whether he or she likes playing the instrument and also whether he or she has fulfilled the promised to practice.

· Consider a compromise.

When a new activity is considered, current activities need to be reassessed. It can be advantageous to focus on one or two activities of high interest, rather than several of so-so interest.

Factor cost into the decision-making process.

Rental fees for equipment, uniforms and other costs need to be considered. Expenses can add up, particularly when travel to away games or tournaments or other events are considered.

· Consider sharing expenses.

If an older student demonstrates an interest in playing a musical instrument or a sport (such as tennis) that requires one or more racquets, asking them to help share the expense might prompt a continuing interest, as well as a willingness to be more careful with the instrument or equipment.

Asking students to contribute toward expenses should be weighed carefully - where will the student's money come from?

An allowance might be increased to cover part of the expenses. Some student income that might have come from an occasional job or summer employment opportunity also might be applied. Allowing students to work during the school year might, however, be another time when parents need to say "no." It is important for parents to assess why and how much a student wants to work.

Does a student want to work after school in a dental office because he or she wants to learn more about becoming a dental hygienist or dentist? Does she want to save for a school or 4-H trip? Or does he want more money to spend out with friends?

Some work can be beneficial. A part-time job can help students accept responsibility; learn to work with others as a member of a team; take pride in their work (and build self-esteem in the process); and help them learn to view earning power more realistically.

When students work more than 10 hours a week, though, their studies usually suffer. The fact that they have more money to spend also can make them more open to risky behaviors, like purchasing drugs and alcohol.

Parenting isn't easy. Some decisions might be unpopular in the short run, but monitoring a child's activity "load" is important to their physical and mental health. Protecting time as a family is important, as well. The family can serve as a support system for each of its members, and it's always nice to have someone in your corner.




Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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