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CUT THE KIDS SOME SLACK

Experts offer these tips for balanced involvement with children:

Admit fallibility. Children who grew up with controlling parents "almost to a T, had never heard their father or mother say 'I don't know' or 'I was wrong,'" said family therapist Dan Neuharth. "Parents who exert an unhealthy control are afraid that admitting they're wrong will erode their authority. But it's a healthy lesson for children to hear parents say, 'I don't know.'

Allow kids to see you recover from your mistakes. "Teach them that mistakes are a natural and normal part of the learning process that persists through life," said Clarence school psychologist Michelle Braun-Burget. "In my experience, some of the most successful adults as well as the best-adjusted kids are those who have developed functional coping mechanisms; they are not the ones who always won or always got their own way.

Get a life. "Some parents are so focused on their child's development that they forget to pay attention to their own development," Neuharth said. "Have your own hobbies and friendships. It's important to make that a priority."

Don't push development by pressuring children. "It doesn't work," said psychologist Michael Thompson. Plus, children pick up on parents' anxiety or disappointment. "Unless there are clear signs a child is significantly behind, I want parents to trust a child's development."

Make family time a priority. It should be as important as education, athletics, social activities and other outside commitments, advises Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld on his Web site, www.hyper-parenting.com.

Don't overschedule. "Childhood needn't be an endless treadmill of productivity and self-improvement," Rosenfeld notes. "Kids deserve to have fun, down time and empty spaces in their lives to fill any way they choose to."

Follow children's lead. "If children consistently don't want to do an activity, it's best to leave it alone," Neuharth said.

Focus on your child, not your dream of what your child should be. Parents must be "willing to consider a wide variety of ways to be successful and feel fulfilled in life," said Tedd R. Habberfield, a Williamsville psychologist. "We need to acknowledge that professions such as parent, homemaker, craftsman, mechanic and other professions are as important and meaningful as becoming a doctor, a lawyer or a financial genius. It is what will work best for them, not what will make us most proud as parents, that is important."

Don't expect perfection. "If you use the same standards you have for adults, kids will always feel inadequate," Rosenfeld said.

Give more space as children grow older. "Parents have to take a step back at each (developmental) step along the way," said Michael Murphy, head of Seattle Country Day School. "At each grade level, children should have more ownership."

Work with teachers first. Sometimes if parents have a problem, they go right to the principal. "Teachers should be the first line of communication," said Jo Ann Yockey, head of Westside School, an independent school with preschool through fifth grade.

Take a deep breath. See if kids can work out problems before stepping in, or wait a day until everyone has calmed down before addressing an issue.