When your child tells you he or she needs more free time, you may be inclined to chuckle. It's hard to imagine that the average six-year-old in first grade who plays soccer, or the 14-year-old high school freshman needs more free time. However, if you ask most kids in any age group if they wish they had more free time, the answer will most likely be yes. So, how do moms and dads who are struggling to balance their own hectic schedules help their kids balance sports and life?
Lead by example - The best way to teach kids to find a balance in their own schedules is to make time in yours. If the kids are always seeing mom and dad running around frantically, showing up late to every event, and forgetting essentials at home due to a time crunch, they'll fall into the same pattern.
Prioritize - Parents need to prioritize tasks and teach kids to do the same. Use a dry erase board, a chalkboard, or a shared family calendar to number and prioritize events, from the "must do" and "would like to do" to "can skip this week" events.
Narrow down the options - As parents, we can narrow down the options for the kids. If they are overwhelmed by playing too many sports, help them choose one to drop. While this is not easy for kids or parents who have invested time and money into the sport, sometimes less is more.
Budget time - Help kids with their time management skills so they can complete homework, attend sports practice and still have time to catch a movie with friends. This can be as simple as helping your child write out a schedule, or setting a timer at home to help keep kids on task.
If there is still not enough time in your child's day for sports and life, have your child keep a log of how they spent their day. Do this for a week. There may be some activities (like TV or Internet use) that can be dropped.
Limit technology - Encourage family interactions, socializing with friends, and spending time with their teammates, over social networking and texting. Technology is a great too, but it can also eat up a lot of time in a kid's life.
Schedule the fun stuff - School, practices and games are scheduled, so don't forget to schedule the fun stuff in any blocks of time that are left. This is one way to avoid plopping down in front of the TV and losing and hour or two. Plan to have dinner together as a family regularly; be sure block out time in the schedule for recreational activities including hiking, boating or tennis. Encourage kids to place free time on their schedules so they have a visual reminder of their "me time."