published Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Baumgardner: Guarding family time is important goal

By Julie Baumgardner

To many, the beginning of the school year feels more like a new year than Jan. 1. Children and parents are getting acquainted with new schools, new teachers and new schedules, not to mention a buffet line of new opportunities for extracurricular activities. If parents aren't careful, they will have kids involved in three activities, going in opposite directions, and what little family time there was is now nonexistent.

How many times have you found yourself grabbing the kids from school, running by a fast-food place to get dinner and heading out to practice with one child doing homework in the car and the other throwing on their practice clothes? Many parents have resigned themselves to believing this is life as we know it, and the goal is to survive.

Before your life becomes a runaway train, now is the time to consider what is best for your family when it comes to after-school activities and the amount of time you spend together.

Extracurricular activities can make your child's life richer, but they can also create additional stress and anxiety for the entire family. When you rarely sit down for a meal together or have the opportunity to connect, it begins to feel like ships passing in the night instead of family. Trying to keep up can be exhausting.

Here are some suggestions from kidshealth.org to help you manage activities and family time:

• Set ground rules ahead of time. Plan on kids playing one sport per season or limit activities to two afternoons or evenings during the school week.

• Know how much time is required. Does your child realize soccer practice is twice a week, right after school? Then there's the weekly game. Will homework suffer?

• Set priorities. School comes first. If kids have a hard time keeping up academically, they may need to drop an activity.

• Know when to say no. If your child is doing a lot but really wants to take on another activity, discuss what needs to be dropped to make room for something new.

• Keep a calendar to stay organized. Display it on the refrigerator so everybody can stay up-to-date. If you find an empty space on the calendar, leave it alone. Everyone needs a chance to just do nothing.

• Even if kids sign up for the season, let them miss one or two sessions. Sometimes hanging out on a beautiful day is more important than going to one more activity, even if you've already paid for it.

• Try to balance activities for all of your kids -- and yourself. It hardly seems fair to expend time and energy carting one kid to activities, leaving little time for another. Take time for yourself and spend time together as a family.

• Create family time. Plan a few dinners when everyone can be home at the same time.

Family time is a precious commodity. In the blink of an eye, your children will be grown. Planning now will help you set your shared priorities, avoid unnecessary activities and help you be intentional about spending time together as a family.

Contact Julie Baumgardner at julieb@firstthings.org.

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