Q: My wife and I were both varsity athletes in college, and we're very competitive. Our 6-year-old twins want to start playing soccer this summer. We're all for it, but we want to make sure that we maintain a healthy family perspective about competition. Do you have any advice?
Jim: I can relate -- my athletic career was everything to me until an injury cut it short prior to college. I'm a competitive guy myself, so I've had to temper my approach with my own sons.
It's bad news when a youth sporting event disintegrates into poor sportsmanship, yelling and even fistfights. It's even worse when it's the parents' behavior in question. We've all heard stories about adult behavior at children's sporting events that leaves us shaking our heads. Fortunately, most parents wouldn't dream of acting out violently. But it's not just extreme cases that take the fun out of youth sports. Yelling at coaches, officials and players, or criticizing your child's performance, can be humiliating for all concerned.
If you're one of those moms or dads who experiences soaring blood pressure while sitting in the stands, keep perspective on what's really important. Winning isn't everything, and a child's bad game isn't the end of the world. There are many positive character traits they can develop through sports, even if they aren't the best player. They may decide they'd rather do something else, and that's OK. (These days, my older son leans toward science and chess.)
Tell your kids that you're proud of them regardless of whether they win or lose -- and really mean it! And treat everyone connected with the game with respect. The way you handle yourself when you disagree with a referee's call or a coach's decision will teach your child how to act as well. When moms and dads are team players and good sports, everyone wins.
Q: We have three kids (ages 8, 11 and 15) and want them to learn personal responsibility while earning their own money. At what age do you recommend that a child start a summer job?
Danny Huerta, Executive Director, Parenting: First of all, make sure to check applicable child labor laws -- state regulations vary concerning when kids can formally go to work, what kind of jobs they can perform, and how many hours they can work each day/week. Beyond that, the child's age is less important than his or her level of maturity, and your reasons for encouraging summer employment.
Practically speaking, teenagers may need to work in order to help defray education-related expenses or meet personal financial needs -- auto insurance, gas money or cellphone bills. In the case of younger children, you're probably thinking more about teaching discipline, responsibility and the rewards of hard work.
Since kids aren't developmentally ready to grasp these concepts until the mid- to late-elementary grades, I suggest waiting until they're between ages 8 and 10 before giving them a summer job of some kind at home -- vacuuming and dusting, for instance, or watering and weeding the garden. As they get older, it's good to have them transition to working for someone else. The benefits in terms of learning how to live in a responsible manner -- to be on time, to work carefully and efficiently, to take instruction from other authorities, to manage the money they earn and so on -- are simply incalculable.
There may be circumstances under which other activities would take priority -- for example, a planned mission trip, summer school, participation in sports or an extended family vacation. In other words, I wouldn't necessarily recommend that children work at all costs. But on the whole, I think the benefits of holding a summer job far outweigh any potential negatives.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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