Q.We are concerned grandparents who need the judgment of a neutral observer.
We think our grandchildren -- a boy, 7, and a girl, 5 -- are worn out and overcommitted. They regularly skate, swim, play soccer and attend Sunday school and the boy is also in the Scouts. In addition, they have the usual computer stuff, puzzles and stories as well as scooters, bikes, a Ping-Pong table and a basement full of toys and many neighborhood parties.
The kids are never in bed before 10 p.m., partly because they want to spend some time with their father who doesn't come home until late. Their mother also works, but not full time.
When the children visit us, they are unable to stick to one activity for more than a few minutes and they run in and out of the house, again and again.
The boy gets good grades at school, but is consistently faulted for lack of concentration. We think they suffer from social overload and that both of them are tired, especially the boy.
A.It sounds like your grandchildren -- like most of the grandchildren in America -- are being stretched to the limit.
It all began in the '70s, when appliances made housework much easier and mothers rushed back to work. While this gave many women a sense of freedom, and some money too, day care was quite scarce, and the juggling act was hard, especially for parents of elementary- and middle-school children. They either had to find after-school sitters or give latchkeys to their children and hope for the best.
This inevitably made working mothers anxious and the more time they spent apart from their children, the more they worried about them. By the '80s, every stranger had become a potential kidnapper and every free hour had to be filled.
Parents, who had once enrolled their children in one or maybe two after-school classes a week and let them join a team around age 8, were now signing them up for every activity they could, as soon as they could, to keep them safe and supervised.
By now busyness is such a habit that children are on the go all the time, and if there are any minutes to spare, they usually spend it with a tutor, in front of the tube or with a video game. Unfortunately, this has made many children rely on the imagination of others, instead of their own.
But even parents who want to stop the world and get off are finding it hard to do. If they don't let their child try out for a team soon enough, all the slots get filled, and if they decide to have a "do-nothing day" once a week, their child might not have anyone to play with after school. Given a choice, most children like to hang out with their buddies.
As much as you want to tell these parents to slow their children down and see that they get more sleep, it's their decision, not yours.
You'll do better if you ask them whether their son's concentration is as poor as the teacher thinks and if she -- or they -- know why. Give them your opinion if you want, but only after they've voiced their own, and after you've asked them how you can help.
Perhaps the mother could drop the children at your house one afternoon each week so you and your wife could take them out separately. There's nothing like a little decaf latte or some steamed almond milk at a coffee shop to start a special relationship, make children feel like grown-ups and give them a day off from the hurly-burly of their lives.
You also need to be as open-minded as you want the parents to be.
While your grandchildren may be worn out, the boy, in particular, may also have attention-deficit disorder and need special treatment to overcome it.
ADD can often be corrected or ameliorated by auditory processing or vision therapy, a special diet, behavior modification and other treatments, but if none of these works, he may need a drug to calm him down.
To learn more about ADD, read "Driven to Distraction" by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey (Bantam; $14), one of the many eye-opening books on this complicated subject.
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