Q: Our outgoing 8-year-old daughter began ice-skating three years ago and is so athletic, musical and fearless that we let her start private lessons when she was 6.

She has won medals in every competition she's entered, but her skating tests now require work as well as talent. We pay $60 an hour for lessons and $500 for skates, but she still needs to practice, and that has been a disaster. Our coach worked out goals and routines with her, to no avail.

We want our daughter to take her skating more seriously, not socialize with her friends at the rink, so we've told her that she can only have a lesson if she has practiced. This week will be the first lesson she has had to miss. We know that her natural talent is at stake, but talent without discipline is incomplete.

We've also told our daughter that we will be perfectly happy if she just skates for fun--no lessons, competitions or exhibitions. She can still continue with soccer, the school chorus and her volunteer work at church on Sunday.

But why won't she practice?

We don't scream at her from the sidelines. One or both of us is always at the rink when she's there; my husband coaches her between lessons and we ice-skate together as a big part of our family time. Maybe it is too much togetherness?

A: As much as you love ice-skating, you have to consider your daughter's dreams, rather than yours.

A preteen might want to practice enough to go for the gold, but most 8-year-olds think it's more fun to socialize instead. Hanging out may seem like a waste of time to you--and in many ways, it is--but your daughter is also learning how to network with girls. This is important to women today, and it probably has been ever since the first woman had a baby alone in a cave.

Your 8-year-old not only wants friends, she wants a wide and ever-changing array of activities. And she's right. Every time a child tries something new, she defines herself a little better.

Your daughter will want to skate more if you remember that the coach is "her coach," not "our coach," and that practicing is mostly up to her. Her dad can give her a few pointers when she's skating, and you can skate when she skates, but she'll just quit trying if you coach her too much or fuss when she stops to talk to her friends.

She also has to learn about consequences. She'll never believe that she has to practice to win medals--or get $60 lessons--if you're always reminding her to get on with it. That will squash her work ethic, rather than build it up.

If she won't practice enough, quietly quit any lessons for now, and let her skate for the pleasure of it. Your daughter may never go back to competitive skating but she can still hang out, fool around and have fun with her buddies and she'll bless you for it.

If grown-ups can have their casual Fridays, surely children can have their do-nothing Wednesdays, and maybe do-nothing Mondays, too. Children have had enough programmed afternoons in the past five years to last for the next 50.

Questions may be sent to margukelly@aol.com or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.