- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 1, 2002

Deciding what is right for your family might not get your budding athlete a football scholarship, but it may help you feel more in control.

In the end, that will make everyone less stressed, says Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, a psychiatrist and co-author of "The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap."

Some things to remember:

•It is OK to limit activities. Some families make firm rules, such as one activity per child per season, while others decide what is right on a case-by-case basis. But if you say yes to too many activities, the whole family will pay the price, Dr. Rosenfeld says. Weigh the benefits of participation against the cost not just monetarily, but in time, energy, logistical effort and expense to you, your child and the rest of the family.

•Watch for signs of stress. If a child repeatedly does not want to practice or complains about going to the activities, then that might be a sign of overscheduling. Also, when the parent starts to resent all the commitments, it may be time to re-evaluate.

"Some signs your children may be doing too much are when they say 'Do I have to?' when it is time to go to practice or you grumble that you feel like a chauffeur," Dr. Rosenfeld says.

•Make family a priority. Your children are with you for such a short time before they head off into the world of friends, college, jobs and their own families. Family life should not be overloaded with commitments that add unnecessary resentments to daily life, he says. Family life should be as important as education, athletics, social activities and other outside commitments.

•Buyer beware. Americans live in a market-driven society where just about everyone is selling something, directly or indirectly. Remember that when checking out a particular coach or training method or hearing that your child has great talent, Dr. Rosenfeld says.

•Childhood is a preparation, not a performance. By definition, children are immature and should not be expected to perform to adult standards. Resist the pressure from the media, the neighbors and the coaches, who say you have to push your child early to excel.

Children should be given opportunities to explore different activities, but should not compete until they have some mastery of the game, says Brad E. Sachs, a family psychologist in Columbia, Md.

"It is fine to have an interest in sports at age 4, but a child does not have to be part of an organized activity," he says. "It should be more about developing social skills and self-regulation skills at that age. A music class at age 3 is fine, but don't expect them to necessarily like it, or to sit still.

"Also, be aware of where a child is developmentally before signing him up," Mr. Sachs says. "I have had parents come to me upset that their 3-year-old is not enjoying dance class. Parents shouldn't have expectations until well into the school years that a particular child will behave consistently."

Children should not "specialize" in one thing until around age 10, says Dr. Jordan D. Metzl, a New York sports medicine physician and author of "The Young Athlete: A Sports Doctor's Complete Guide for Parents."

"Kids really should be encouraged to try all different sports until then," he says. "I mean, Tiger Woods wouldn't be Tiger Woods if he didn't just play golf when he was young, but most children will benefit, socially and physically, from trying many things."

•Pay attention to what your children say and do when they are competing. A child who might have enjoyed the low-pressure soccer league as a first-grader might be miserable when the stakes get higher a few years later. Not all children will thrive on competition, Dr. Metzl says.

"In general, the trend has been to be involved in competition at a younger age," he says. "Your kids should be laughing and having fun if they are playing sports. If they are not, they might be in too competitive an environment. ''

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