Category Archives: parenting

Child and Teen Athletes: Saying NO to early specialization in sports

Standard

Early specialization in sports? Not for this family.

by Laurie Winslow Sargent

Back when my kids were ages 11, 17, and 22, I wrote an article called Encouraging Young Athletes — on discouraging early specialization — for Cedar Valley Athlete magazine. Now that my 11-year-old is a teen athlete, I’m glad for choices I made for her back then.

Image: chrisroll / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Until I had my third child, I was a semi-sports parent.

Semi, because although my two eldest were involved in multiple sports, those sports were school or city sponsored, seasonal, inexpensive, and close to home.  We still had plenty of time for family fun, including sailing, hiking, and vacations. Our children were able to explore non-sports interests too.

Between preschool and high school Kid One (boy) was on soccer, basketball, football, and wrestling teams. In college he enjoyed rugby, scuba diving, skiing, and weight-lifting. Kid Two (girl) played soccer and basketball, swam, and ran cross-country. Both, now young adults, are committed to physical fitness and enjoy running, hiking, and other recreational sports.

Kid Three (girl), however,  pushed me into a whole new athletic realm, with far more decisions to make — with time and finances.

Raising an Athletic Child (Whew!)

Her athletic inclinations were noticeable — no kidding — at about ten months old. As a toddler all her first words were verbs (run, jump, swing). As a young preschooler, she was always planning physically precise movements. She became very upset when I moved the ottoman, because she had invented a headstand-flip routine with it. At city parks other parents looked on with horror as my 3-4 year old scrambled up full-sized play equipment while I looked on nonchalantly, as she’d done it since about 16 months old (well, yeah, that gave me a heart attack too). At age five or six she challenged my husband’s weight lifting gym members to a pull-up contest (hilarious).

Then came basketball, gymnastics, swimming, soccer . . . (I’ve lost track already).

Parental Pressures for Specialization

By the time she was 11, parents and coaches were chastising me: “You should get her on a team.” (Meaning: an expensive club team with year-round commitments.) You should, you should, you should. No matter what sport she played, it was always implied that if I didn’t get on the ball and be a real sports parent, I’d be wasting my kid’s talent and ability to play competitively in her teen and college years.

YIKES! Was that possible? My gut said no. At first I even resisted locking her into any classes or teams at all. We had so many fabulous parks to explore. When she did finally join teams, I wanted to her challenged but still to have fun simply playing without pressure, specialization, or year-round sports. I also wanted to use family funds for family fun as much as possible. Upward basketball at our church was fun, and mountain hiking was still a family favorite.

At that time I felt very affirmed by the book Revolution in the Bleachers: How Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy Over Youth Sports. The author, Regan McMahon (journalist and mother of two athletic kids) addressed concerns experienced by parents of young athletes: loss of family time, pressure to join costly clubs (with “potential”, but rare, scholarships as lures);  loss of children’s opportunities and time to explore other interests; kid stress; and competitive use injuries.  McMahon offered practical advice as well.

Now – fast-forward — Kid Three is an 11th grade teen athlete. Through middle and high school she has enjoyed basketball, competitive cheer, track and now cross-country, all courtesy of her public schools. The closest I’ve come to being a real sports parent has been needing to manage far more sports/games/meets in a year than Kid One or Kid Two ever wanted. It’s also been more important to Kid Three for us to be present at as many sports events as possible, and travel farther, but we are pleased to oblige and support her. It just means I fill my calendar first with sports obligations — then work around them.

My Teen Athlete’s Own Choices

This past fall of her junior year in high school, my daughter has finally chosen, to specialize:  in running, at least for a while. That was a tough choice for her, having competed nationally with cheer as a flyer. However, now she’s experienced ever-increasing opportunities to run cross-country and track at very competitive invitational levels, which has been very exciting, including a national meet in Manhattan this past weekend.

This has given me confidence that I made right decisions for her in avoiding early specialization in sports. As she runs increasingly competitively, it does add some stress for her that could have so easily discouraged her at a young age. Also, income that could have been spent on club sports for her  instead helped Kids One and Two through college and should help Kid Three as well. Any scholarships on the horizon? If so, that will be a bonus and of course, very welcome! But I’m so glad I didn’t spend my child’s elementary school years pushing her to pursue that, and allowed plenty of time for her to enjoy childhood and the sheer love of sports.

There’s a new great book out called The Real Story of a High School Coach which I’m delighted to see affirms my choices. A teacher and coach of baseball and cross-country, the author, Michael Miragliuolo has led many high school teams to championships, and many of his athletes have gone been awarded college sports scholarships. He grew his cross-country team in an unusual way from 25 runners to over 200, so was featured in USA Today. We also happen to be thrilled that he is my daughter’s head coach. That’s how I found the book. Yet I  nodded in agreement while turning the pages, as his views on early specialization in sports are vehement and mirror my own. Then I noticed he’d included a photo of my daughter’s 2013 state winning cross-country team — an unexpected, fun surprise!

My youngest child-now-teen’s trademark has been the way she’s always grinned while playing sports. Coaches and teammates have consistently commented on that. That’s because her participation has been for the joy of it. Yes, she’s always been competitive and at times very serious. But there has always been joy underlying her sports choices. A basketball referee once joked that her smile was blinding him. When her grins turned to grimaces when playing that particular sport, she was done with it.

As long as she can run and still enjoy it, I’m right behind her. (Well, not right behind — she leaves me in the dust.) But it will remain her choice. We will both know when the smiles stop that it will be time for a change. For now, she’s running and grinning.

A final note: no sport will be fun all the time, of course. My daughter has run track for five years, and now cross-country, through rain, snow, and sleet (even when the mailman wouldn’t). She’s experienced aches and pains, and many emotional highs and lows with team successes and struggles.  It’s her dedication, competitiveness, and underlying joy for the sport that keeps her going, encouraging others along the way.

[Image: chrisroll / FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

Fun and Learning with Picture Puzzles (8 Developmental Stages)

Standard

by Laurie Winslow Sargent:

Previously published in Christian Parenting Today magazine.

Puzzles can offer a window into your child’s mind, helping you see how he thinks and problem solves.


I still remember learning about the way my child thought logically through problems as we worked this puzzle together, many years ago. (Ignore the 80′s hairdo!)

Puzzles can be a fun diversion.  But do you know that they also will help your child develop the following skills?

* color, shape, and pattern identification and matching,
* recognition of integrated parts, and their relationship to the whole,
* fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination,
* problem solving skills, and
* the ability to make choices independently (even when uncertain about the outcome) with self-confidence.

In my occupational therapy work with young elementary school children, I often used picture puzzles. Puzzles can be used to teach kids new skills and also offer a window into a child’s mind. Watching a child and having him verbalize what he’s thinking helps you to better understand his ability to problem solve.

Following are eight developmental stages in puzzle problem solving, which I believe children move through sequentially, from preschool through elementary school.  Thinking about the stages your child has passed through (and the stage he is currently in) will help you choose appropriate puzzles for him.

Understanding how your child is thinking makes playing with him more exciting, as you see him go from one stage to another. This also may give you clues as to how your child problem solves in general, which may affect his schoolwork as he grows older.

Let’s begin, using a typical preschool puzzle (separate holes for each piece; differences in shape are obvious), with:

1) HOLE FILLING: A very young child discovers that holes in a puzzle can be filled with loose pieces.  She usually tries to push all pieces in all holes (regardless of color or shape) to “make” them fit.

2) MATCHING HOLES AND PIECES: She now realizes that each hole has only one corresponding piece.  Tends to rely on color  to find the correct one.

3) RECOGNITION OF DIFFERENCES IN SIZE and SHAPES:  Your child now takes size and shape into consideration, looking closely at both holes and pieces.  Finds the correct one more quickly.  Does not yet understand turning a piece to make it fit, however (especially if small protrusions mean the piece fits only one way).   May abandon the correct piece and try another, incorrect one.

4) MANIPULATION: She will turn a piece to see if it fits.

At any of the above stages, after completing a puzzle, your child may be able to re-do it easily alone by simply relying on her memory and fine motor skills.  But she may now be ready to tackle a jigsaw puzzle, with interlocking parts and an outside boundary (cardboard back with raised edge on all sides), using the following skills:

5) INTERRELATING PIECES AND SORTING:

Your child sees relationships between pieces; begins to sort and group them by similarities in color and design.  He is beginning to discern tiny differences between pieces; and may compare the puzzle pieces to the design printed on the box.  Realizes the scale is different.  May not yet understand significance of straight edges on the sides of some pieces.

6) VISUALIZATION and PART S V.S.  WHOLE:

He now can “see” in his mind, how pieces will look together (i.e., pieces with a black line running through them, together will form one continuous line.)  He sees individual sections, as well as the whole. (ex., clown puzzle: sorts out face pieces, even if different shapes and colors, then leg pieces, etc.)

7) MIRRORED OPPOSITES:  She now does the above, but also with  mirrored opposites. (i.e., a butterfly; wings pointing opposite directions.)  Visualizes how pieces will look together; reverses images in her mind.  Recognizes similarities despite reversed directions.

     Now your child can move on to standard jigsaw puzzles, done on a table with no confining frame.

8) CORNERS AND EDGES (square puzzles):  She realizes that two connecting straight edges, at 90 degrees, makes a corner piece.  Know there are only four such pieces; will actively look for them.  Realizes that only one straight edge indicates that piece will create an edge of the completed puzzle.

Note: Your child may be able to do a 70 piece jigsaw puzzle alone after trying it a few times with you, but still not understand corners and edges.  He may still rely on visual memory (remembering how the puzzle looked when it was completed).

By the end of first grade, your child should progress through the first five stages (and may progress through all eight).  If by fourth grade he still seems unable to grasp the concepts in stages 6 & 7, a learning problem might be indicated.

Watch your child do a puzzle. You can practically see how he thinks as he looks and sorts pieces.  If he struggles, have him verbalize how he’s figuring it out.  Resist the urge to tell where pieces go as you coach him. Model problem solving by asking questions: “How are these two pieces alike?” “This piece has a straight edge–where could it fit?”.  Don’t forget to be cheerleader too, giving your child an enthusiastic “Yay!” when he’s successful.

Copyright © Laurie Winslow Sargent. Contact the author here for reprint permission.

How Do I Stop My Kids’ Fighting?

Standard

By Laurie Winslow Sargent:

One frustrated mom asked, “How I stop my kids’ fighting? It’s driving me crazy!”


Photo by Stuart Miles: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ooooh, been there, done that, felt that. I know, it can be enormously frustrating. I think what  made me craziest was the noise level–just having to listen to it.

Even handling it perfectly (and how would that be?) won’t make it go away entirely. Kids are learning how to relate to each other and will practice with their siblings.

As we enter this discussion on sibling squabbles, ask yourself this:  “What am I most reacting to?” Is the answer:

#1 The noise?

#2 The issues at hand, which you feel you must intervene in (and should you–really–or must they work it out themselves?)

#3 The need to protect one child from another, physically or from wounding words?

Kids pick at each other for all kinds of reasons and many do require adult intervention (AKA refereeing). But for this first post on kids’ fighting, let’s examine your own attitude as a parent, as I was forced to examine mine.

Is it possible that your interventions in kids’ fighting sometimes make things worse?  Consider your:

(CLICK to cont. for 6 Ways parent attitudes can affect kids’ fighting…)

Read the rest of this entry

Are We There Yet? 3 tricks to help kids travel (more) patiently

Standard

By Laurie Winslow Sargent:

How do you keep your sanity when traveling kids whine, “Are we there yet?” Here are 3 ways to keep them occupied, so they travel more patiently and pleasantly.

How do you keep kids from whining, “How much farther?”           Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today I had to lay still for half an hour for a simple medical test, but couldn’t see a clock. To pass the time (and distract myself from moving) I played an old mind game, Count the Music, which I played with my kids on long road trips.

Try this, plus two more ways to keep your own kids occupied as you drive:

Way#1: Count the Music

Consider that most songs on the radio are 3-4 minutes long. In your own head, take the number of minutes you expect it to take to reach your destination and divide by three. Tell the kids “We’ll be there in 7 songs,” (or whatever). They can keep track of the number of songs on their fingers.

While listening to music during my medical test, I’d calculated that would hear eight or nine songs. I only heard three, so must have dozed off while counting and focusing on the music. It tends to work the same way with kids–they either get into the music or fall asleep. It also gives them a sense for how much time is passing if they can’t grasp what “half an hour” is nor tell time.

(CLICK TO READ Way #2 and Way #3)

Read the rest of this entry

A Huge Thank You for Playful Fathers

Standard

This makes me ache for every child who has no dad to play with, or a father who is present but not available. And it makes me very thankful for my own husband who has been so wonderfully involved with our own three kids and helped them grow to become such fine grown up people.

I appreciate Igniter Media for creating this video showing the empty spaces and places left by missing fathers. It truly reveals the power of parent-child play and especially the impact of playful fathers. Visit Igniter Media’s website at  ignitermedia.com and their YouTube channel. You can also find them on Twitter as @IgniterMedia.

Links to Articles on Parenting, Faith and Writing

Standard

I’ve neglected Parenting by Faith for awhile, but haven’t forgotten you!

I’ve been writing for Finding God Daily and Sell Your Nonfiction. I also am the editor for Finding God Daily (with Right to the Heart ministries) plus a new Christian suicide prevention site, Thinking About Suicide (which we hope will save many lives!)

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As a consolation prize for you, I added a page to Parenting by Faith called More Articles: Other Topics.

That page has links to some of my articles not related to parenting, posted on other websites. So far I’ve added links to 27 articles written in the past year or so. I’ll eventually add links to older web archived articles originally published in print magazines or books.

You can also visit my other page here at Parenting by Faith: More Parenting Articles. That has links to my parenting articles on other sites including Focus on the Family, Christianity Today International, and CBN.)

Meanwhile I’m bursting with ideas for Parenting by Faith, and hoping for a lull in my editorial work to add more parenting tips for you here!

This week, have a lovely time with your kids. Summer parenting memories you create with your children now will be remembered by them as adults. Have FUN together!

By the way: at Finding God Daily, I post content every weekday, 52 weeks a year! Whew. That’s a lot of posts. I work with over 20 wonderful pro Christian writers and speakers from AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association). I try to add a video to every post at FGD so am always looking for awesome ones. If you know of any great ones, send me links! Even if you’ve made them yourselves! I also love leads to interesting topics or people.

Thanks for your interest in Parenting by Faith! See: Blog Posts by TopicMore Articles: Other Topics and More Parenting Articles.

Have a great day!

Laurie

Mom Plays the Fool; Baby Giggles

Standard

Quite a few parents have asked me, “What qualifies as play?” as if there were one answer.  One dictionary defines the word playful as:

“high spirits, gaiety, and humor in action or speech.”

Hmmm. Fun is a key element!

Do you have fun with your children? Do they have fun with you? And how do you do that?

Let’s look at one bunch of intriguing synonyms for play:

“. . . cut up, be the life of the party, play the fool, carry on.”

Playing the fool may be tough for you if you struggle with spontaneity. Yet it can be learned, and I believe it is worth learning. You don’t have to truly be a fool, but you can be willing to look a little silly on occasion in order to connect with others in a fun way. Silliness comes easier if you start with babies. Merely sticking a shoe on your head makes a baby laugh, because he’s learned just enough about the way the world works to know that sneakers make ridiculous hats.

One evening when my son Tyler was six months old, he was trying desperately hard to crawl, but just couldn’t get it. Instead, he flopped about like a fish out of water…

Read the rest of this entry

7 Ways to Get Your Child to Clean His Room: What Supernanny forgot to tell the Phelps

Standard

Wondering how to get your child to clean his room? Here are a few tips Supernanny forgot, at least in this one episode.

On ABC’s Supernanny episode with the Phelps family (Season 6: Episode 3) plenty made me cringe. However, one scene stuck in my head for days.

In that scene, the mom repeatedly asked her child to clean up his toys. In a video shot of the floor, it looked as if every toy he owned covered it. Most moms can identify with that: Lego® blocks, mixed with action figures, mixed with who-knows-what. Aaack!

When the boy didn’t comply, Mom became enraged. Yelling and spanking didn’t work. Supernanny Jo’s suggestions, including the infamous Time Out (until the boy agreed to pick up his toys), plus anger management for Mom, helped some. Indeed, Mom had to handle her anger differently. (See Kathy Collard Miller for inspiration for Christian moms with anger issues.)  And I’m all for time-outs, although effectiveness varies according to personalities.

Yet critically missing from Supernanny’s advice were tips on how to prevent the problem in the first place.

Read the rest of this entry