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Busy Six-Year-Old

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Taken from Growing Concerns -- A childrearing question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson

Question: I have a 6-year-old daughter whom I want to keep busy with activities. How much is too much to handle at that age? And should the number of structured activities increase as she gets older?

Answer: Your daughter is at a good age to explore a variety of activities and discover her own special interests--sports, the arts, nature--whatever lights a spark. Structured, out-of-school activities can also provide great opportunities for her to develop valuable social skills, as well as reinforce the knowledge and skills she is gaining in school. But balance is also very important. Children need time for family, homework and quiet reading. And they need unstructured time in which to use their own initiative and imagination to decide what to do.

Keep in mind that children vary--as do adults--in terms of how much activity, variety and stimulation they need or want. So it's important that you pay careful attention and take your cues from your daughter, helping her find an optimal level of structured activity.

As your daughter gets older, she will be able to build more complex skills in her areas of special interest. But that doesn't necessarily mean she'll need to be involved in more activities. The demands of school--including homework--will increase, requiring more of your daughter's time and energy. And at all ages it's important not to let a hectic schedule crowd out time for your family to relax and talk together. Even in their teens, young people need strong family connections to help keep them on track.

Bottom line, it's not a matter of keeping your daughter busy. Rather, it's a matter of helping her build the skills and confidence to explore and learn from the world around her. It's a matter of guiding and supporting her in learning to find a healthy balance between work and play, family and friends, activity and rest. And while you're thinking about your daughter's activities, don't forget that the lessons you try to teach her will either be reinforced or undermined by how she sees you and the other adults around her living your lives. How you use your time and energy will provide your daughter the most powerful lesson of all.

Editor's Note: Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to mferick@tc.umn.edu or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 3 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.
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