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Reclaiming Your Family Time Together

Tips for Finding Balance and Reclaiming Family

Raising active kids is difficult, perhaps more today than ever before. Parents feel pressure to help their kids succeed. They want to keep up with other parents in an increasingly winner-take-all society. Too often, parents just like you feel that if they don't do everything for their child, they are bad parents.

In fact, surveys show that today's active kids and their parents get too caught up in the crazy sports vortex. Today's parents spend 11 hours less a week with their teenagers than they did two decades ago. The average mother spends less than a half hour per day talking with her teens. Only six out of ten 15- and 16-year-olds regularly eat dinner with their parents. Family vacations are down by 2 percent. Sports have replaced church on Sunday for many families. Children are being benched for missing practice to be with their families on religious holidays.

Surveys also show that your children most likely lament the lack of parental attention. They want to spend more time with you, not less. They want more free time, not less.

I sincerely believe it's time to reclaim our family time. Here's 6 tips on how you can find a balance between your children's youth sports activities and your family life.

1. Schedule family time.

Set aside one night a week or month as Family Game Night. Choose a board game, play card games, make tacos and just be together. Make it sacred time.

2. Consider your travel time.

Before you allow your children to play a particular sport, or on a particular team, consider your travel time to practices and games. Other things to consider include your work schedule, as well as your spouse's, your children's school schedule and homework demands, carpool availability and the needs of other family members.

3. Look for balanced sports programs.

Look for leagues and clubs that balance sports, family and school life. Make sure the program emphasizes having fun more than winning. Children shouldn't be penalized for missing practice on Christmas Eve to be with their family.

4. Find a balance between sports.

Introduce your children to sports such as golf, tennis, squash, racquetball, cycling, sailing, windsurfing, rock climbing, jogging, kayaking, rowing or canoeing. These are sports that they can enjoy after their competitive careers are over. Encourage your children to engage in sports and activities with you as long as they enjoy them, like bike riding, hiking, skating, sailing and running. Encourage them to play different sports and avoid early specialization. It will help them develop a variety of transferable motor skills such as jumping, running and twisting and simultaneously reduce the risk of overuse injuries that too often result from early specialization.

5. Allow for a social life outside of sports.

Being on a travel or select team often requires a year-round or near year-round commitment and extensive travel. If you allow your children to participate, they can end up socially isolated from the family, their peers and the larger community. The athletic role can become so consuming and controlling that their childhood essentially disappears. Early specialization can thus interfere with normal identity development, increasing the risk that a child will develop what psychologists call a one-dimensional self-concept in which they see themselves solely as an athlete instead of just a part of who they are.

6. Coach your child's team on "kid time."

Too many parents fall victim to the idea that practices have to happen after an adult's workday is over. This falls during the dinner hour, when children should be spending time with their family. With the new statistics of parents (primarily mothers) working from home, why not get your coaching license and run the practice in the afternoon right after school is over? This will give you time to be with your children and their friends and still be home in time for dinner with the rest of the family.

It is possible to create balance within your family's everyday life, even with children who participate in sports. But it is up to you as the parents to make certain that your kids don't over schedule and that they establish the right priorities.

Brooke de Lench, youth sports parenting expert and author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (Collins, 2006), has helped more than 42 million moms and dads worldwide get the tools and information they need to make their child's youth sports experience safer, less stressful and more inclusive. For more information on balancing your child's sports life with your family life, go to momsteam.com and sign up for Brooke's free newsletter.

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