Back-to-school days often generate a mix of anxiety, excitement and stress for students and parents alike.
There is a natural tendency for parents to want to provide opportunities for children, yet at the same time, protect time for the family as a unit. Sometimes the best solution is stepping back and thinking about the family and its priorities before beginning to evaluate the opportunities available through school and community activities.
Charlotte Shoup Olsen, K-State Research and Extension family systems specialist, offers this advice: be realistic and willing to ask tough questions.
“If both parents work and children are in after-school or day care programs, picking up the children, settling into the home after a day away and getting a meal on the table may be all a family can reasonably manage,” Olsen said.
While such a schedule might seem to best match families with younger children, the reality is that skipping some after-school or evening activities at any age level to bring the family together matters. Does that mean a family should shun school and community activities? “Absolutely not,” Olsen said. She encourages families to communicate and work together to choose a mix of school, community and volunteer activities that will work within a realistic schedule.
Olsen offers these tips when evaluating opportunities:    
• Talk with your child. Listen and observe. See where a child’s interests lie before comparing the extent of the commitment with the time available and resources needed.
• Look at the big picture. Being on a soccer team will include afterschool practices, family time at games, travel to away games, and weekend time. A 30-minute music lesson once a week is another example.
Practice requires a time commitment plus renting and insuring an instrument and cost of the lessons requires a financial commitment. In addition, scheduling transportation to and from an afterschool lesson can be difficult when both parents work.
• Teach decision-making skills. List the pros and cons for different activities, and then ask questions that will help a child evaluate opportunities, rather than deciding for them.
• Consider peer pressure for what it is, and decide accordingly. Children and parents alike can be subject to peer pressure, which doesn’t benefit anyone when quick decisions are made to participate.
• Schedule family time, but occasionally, encourage a child to invite a friend. Doing so nurtures the child and his or her relationships, and provides an opportunity for parents to get acquainted with a child’s friends.
• Volunteer at school or community events as a family. While giving back is a way in which to share personal talents and energy, doing so as a family allows children to see their parents and siblings in leadership roles working to help others.
“Volunteering to staff a food pantry one Saturday morning a month or pitching in to help older neighbors with a seasonal yard cleanup provides a service while also uniting the family,” Olsen said.
Working together also can lay a foundation for community involvement and service that will benefit both the child and his or her community in the future.

Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, is a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the wellbeing of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide.
Its headquarters is on the KState campus in Manhattan. For more information, visit the Leavenworth County Extension Office at 613 Holiday Plaza, in Lansing, call the office at (913) 364-5700, or visit our website at