Our best parenting advice

For a quarter of a century, Today's Parent has waded through the sometimes murky waters of child rearing. We've seen good ideas and bad, watched fads come and go, and emerged with some essential, timeless truths. Here are 25 of the best

By Cheryl Embrett

Our best parenting advice

1. How to swaddle an infant
The “burrito wrap” will help keep baby snug and secure for the first six weeks of life until she’s ready to stretch out, says paediatrician Ari Brown, co-author of Baby 411. Here’s how to perfect your technique.

• Take a square receiving blanket and lay it out, diamond shaped, on a flat surface.

• Fold the top corner toward the centre of the blanket. You now have a horizontal line at the top.

• Place your baby on the blanket with his neck at the level of the horizontal line.

• Bring the bottom corner up to the baby’s belly button.

• Bring one side corner over your baby and fold over the other side of the belly.

• Bring the remaining corner over baby and fold over on the opposite side.

2. You can’t spoil a baby, say the experts, so kiss, cuddle and coddle her to your heart’s content.

3. Hurts happen. Don’t fret, says Michelle Moreau, a child and family therapist and mom of three in Saint John. “They need to gain the confidence that they can try, fail and get back up to try again.”
4. How to handle “me do it” when you’re in a hurry:

Be realistic Set the alarm 20 minutes early on busy workday mornings so little Madison can pour her own cereal or practise tying her shoelaces.

Plan ahead Try to do as much as possible the night before — help your child pick out her clothes, make school lunches, pack knapsacks, sign any forms.

Choose child-friendly clothing Look for bottoms with elastic waistbands, skirts with no zippers, shoes with Velcro closings.

Make getting ready a game For example, one, two, three, we do up a snap. Four, five, six, we do up another snap.

Don’t lose your cool You’ll both end up upset (and still late).

Our favourite read: Tame Your Time-Wasters

5. How to tell when your child is ready to start toilet training
Studies show most children aren’t developmentally ready to potty train until they’re between the ages of two and four. Watch for these signs of readiness:

• He can stay dry in diapers for a few hours in a row.
• He can follow one or two simple instructions.
• He lets you know when he needs to use the potty, and is balanced and steady while sitting on it.
• He can walk to the potty on his own.
• He wants to be independent, but also wants to please you.

Best bathroom reading: The No-Cry Potty Training Solution by Elizabeth Pantley

6. How to keep your cool
To prevent a blow-up — your own, that is! — have a discipline plan in place, advises parenting speaker and Today’s Parent columnist Kathy Lynn, author of Who’s in Charge Anyway? “When you’ve figured out what the rules and expectations are, it’s just plain simpler for everyone.” If Jack has a habit of darting off in the grocery store, for example, let him know that you’ll give him one warning and then you’ll both be leaving the store, pronto. “When you deal with these situations quickly, you’re calm because you still feel like you’re in control,” says Lynn. “We lose it when we go on and on and on, pleading, warning and reminding.”

7. How to cope with separation anxiety
Separation anxiety usually peaks between eight and 18 months of age. These four steps can help smooth the transition:

• Dealing with a new care arrangement? Visit the centre together so your child can get comfortable while you’re there. Or ask a new babysitter to come an hour early so you can all spend time together before mom’s night out.

• Keep a security object or two on hand — a favourite blanket, a stuffed toy or a picture of mom or dad.

• Have a goodbye ritual (a hug, a wave, a “See you soon”) and do it every time you leave. It helps to reassure your child that you will be back.

• Don’t sneak out without saying goodbye — it only leads to more anxiety and mistrust.

8. How to get your not-so-sleepyhead to bed at night
A consistent routine helps kids unwind and paves the way to dreamland. It can be anything you like — a bath, a game of peekaboo, a bedtime story — as long as it’s quiet, relaxing and predictable.

Our favourite read: Blanket Solutions
9. Read to, read with, read beside your child at every opportunity
Paul Kropp, author of How to Make Your Child a Reader for Life recommends these three R’s for every age group:

• Read with your kids every day (even if it’s the back-cover blurb or a page of the text from your son’s grade-seven novel).
• Routinely visit libraries and bookstores so your tot, tween or teen can get books, magazines and other reading material that interests him.
• Rule the TV. Put a reasonable limit on television, videos and video games so there’s time for your child to curl up and read.

Our favourite read: Raise a Reader

10. How to teach your child manners
The best way to get across the manners message to kids is to make it fun, says Vancouver’s Judi Vankevich, a.k.a. The Manners Lady, author of Manners Matter and Character Counts for Kids.

Act it out Children love to role-play different scenarios — especially if they can do it the “wrong” way first.

Use a code If you’re on the phone and your son wants your attention, teach him to put his hand on your elbow or your hip and wait (patiently) until you have a natural break in the conversation and can excuse yourself.

Be a manners model Your polite actions — holding the door for someone, remembering please, thank you and excuse me — teach your child better than any lecturing on manners.

Our favourite read: Party of Four

11. How to handle a tantrum in public
Parent-educator Maggie Reigh in Kelowna, BC, and author of Taking the Terror Out of Temper Tantrums, has this advice:

DO carry or guide your youngster — kicking and screaming if necessary — to a quiet place and stay until he calms down.

DON’T tell your child in mid-tantrum you’ll buy him something if he stops, no matter how frazzled you are. You want to teach him tantrums don’t work.

DO try to keep your own emotions in check. If you’re upset and angry, your child will feed off your frustration.

DON’T put your child in a situation that tends to trigger a tantrum (a trip to Toys R Us, for example), until you’re confident he’s ready to handle it.

DO try to avoid a tantrum by making sure your tot is fed and rested before tackling any errands with him. Even better, leave him with a caregiver if
at all possible.

Our favourite read: Top Temper Tamers

12. Make space for family rituals. Whether it’s Friday-night pizza or a trip to the pumpkin farm at Halloween, rituals and traditions are the glue that holds families together.

13. How to leave your child home alone for the first time
While children can legally be left alone between the ages of 10 and 12 (depending on the province you live in), that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready. “Make your choice based on capability, not convenience,” advises Samantha Wilson, a former police officer and author of Safe Kids, Safe Families. Is your child comfortable being home alone? Can you depend on her to follow house rules? Is she able to handle unexpected situations? If you answer yes to all of the above, she’s probably ready. Here’s how to get things off to a good start:

Begin with short test runs — a trip to the supermarket — and see how you both feel.

Rehearse emergencies Ask your child, “What would you do if the fire detector went off or the power went out?”

Set firm rules with clear do’s and don’ts (no using the oven, for example) and make sure you keep emergency phone numbers handy.

Tip: For more information and a copy of the On Your Own Home Safety Checklist

14. How to prevent sibling squabbles
Does it seem like your children are constantly bickering? Research has shown that siblings aged three to six fight seven to 12 times an hour. These tips can help keep the peace:

• Beware of favouritism Try not to compare kids with one another (“Why can’t you keep a neat room like your brother?”) or pit them against a sibling (“Fastest one into the car wins”).
• Book special alone-time with each child It can be 10 minutes daily or an hour every other week, depending on what’s realistic for your family’s schedule.
• Reinforce co-operative behaviour The moments may be few, but when you find your kids supporting one another, let them know you appreciate it.

Our favourite read: The Fight Stuff

15. How to avoid one-up Momship
“My Ava started reading before her second birthday.” “Max is taking chess lessons!” Welcome to the world of competitive parenting. “We put an incredible amount of pressure on ourselves worrying about our kids keeping up with the Joneses,” says Karyn Gordon, author of Dr. Karyn’s Guide to the Teen Years. Here’s how to stop:

Refuse to play the game If one of the moms in the schoolyard starts bragging about her daughter’s athletic prowess, say, “You must be so proud of her” and then casually change the subject.

Choose your friends wisely If the parents in your moms-and-tots group make you feel inadequate, maybe it’s time to find some new friends.

Don’t live vicariously through your child Sure you can be proud of her, but don’t let yourself be defined by her successes or failures.

Our favourite read: Mommy Direst

16. Talk less, listen more. Nuff said.

17. How to keep a good sitter
Return on time. If you’re running late, don’t forget to call — and then pay generously for the extra time.

Problem-solve If your sitter has an issue with your kids, deal with it promptly.

Don’t cheap out Just how much you pay your sitter will vary from $5 to $20 an hour, depending on where you live, how much experience your sitter has, how many children she’ll be watching and what her duties will be. Ask around and find out what your friends, neighbours and the babysitter’s references pay.

Show your appreciation “A 50 cent raise goes a long way,” says Martha Scully, founder of, an online babysitting service. And nothing feels better than a compliment from the boss.

Our favourite read: The Babysitter Diaries

18. How to raise a good sport

Praise effort over results Remind him that doing his best and having fun is what really counts.

Model good sportsmanship If your child’s team loses, make a point of congratulating the parents and kids on the other team, and let him see you do it. Better yet, do it together.

Let him lose If you let your child win everything from Candy Land to crazy eights, he’ll develop unrealistic expectations and have a harder time losing when he’s playing with friends. You’ll also risk losing credibility when he catches on.

Keep family games simple and age-appropriate If the rules are too complicated or your child is playing out of his league, he’ll get frustrated and may be tempted to cheat or give up.

19. Don’t forget to cheer the good stuff.

20. How to deal with a picky eater

DON’T become a short-order cook. Try to serve one meal a day family-style — putting dishes in the middle of the table so everyone can serve themselves. Make sure there is at least one food on the table that even your pickiest eater will like.

DO eat with your kids. Children are less likely to become picky eaters if you have family meals on a regular basis, says Emma Waverman, co-author of Whining & Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and the Families Who Love Them. It doesn’t have to be a sit-down dinner every night — a bowl of cereal together in the morning counts.

DON’T distinguish between “kid food” and “adult food.” “You don’t want to teach your children that their food is different and plain and less exciting,” says Waverman. “A one-year-old can eat anything you eat — including that chicken breast in a nice lemon sauce — as long as you cut it up smaller.”

DON’T nudge, pressure or comment on what your child is eating. If your picky eater senses that you’re unhappy with her eating habits, it may turn into a battle of wills.

DON’T overload her plate. Children’s stomachs are about the size of their fists and it doesn’t take much to fill them up (except when it comes to ice cream).

DO involve kids in grocery shopping and meal preparation. They’re more likely to eat something they helped select and make.

Our favourite read: Sneaky Solutions to Picky Problems

21. Make time for fun
Overprogrammed children are prone to stress, and miss out on important childhood activities like dreaming, drawing, building, fantasizing and just hanging out. “Make a decision to say, ‘We’re not going to be committed every day; our kids are not going to be in a zillion things,’” advises Katherine Gibson, author of Pause: Putting the Brakes on a Runaway Life. “Help your child choose one activity he can get to without you chauffeuring him — and only two activities per school term.”

Signs of stress: Headaches, upset stomach, tearful over minor things, continual fatigue, irritability, disinterest in activities once enjoyed, declining grades, behavioural problems at school.

22. When to talk to your kids about sex
“If you want to be the first to discuss sex with your children, you have to start early,” says Meg Hickling, a sexual health educator in Vancouver and the author of The New Speaking of Sex: What Your Children Need to Know and When They Need to Know It — especially when you consider that 27 percent of Canadian teens aged 14 to 17 report that they are sexually active. Begin by teaching toddlers the correct names for their body parts, including their genitals — “This is your nose, this is your tummy, this is your penis.” Answer all of your preschooler’s questions simply but honestly (no stork stories, please, but no obstetrics courses either), and teach your curious preteens the basics of puberty before they get there.

Our favourite read: Talking to Kids About Sex

23. How to negotiate with a young teen

Rule No. 1 Be clear on what’s negotiable and what’s not. An unsupervised party might be non-negotiable, for example, no matter whose house it’s at. What time your child comes home after school, however, might be open to debate.

Rule No. 2 Listen to your child. “Be really, really quiet and hear what he’s saying,” says Today’s Parent columnist Kathy Lynn. You may find that a change of rules is in order now that he’s older.

Rule No. 3 Avoid lectures. “He won’t be paying attention, guaranteed,” says Lynn. Most teens tune out if they sense that they’re being talked at or talked down to.

Rule No. 4 Don’t tolerate rudeness. If your teen is being verbally abusive, let him know that there will be no further negotiation until he can express himself appropriately (no yelling, name-calling, put-downs or insults).

24. How to raise a kid who cares
Teach your child how to give back, and she’ll keep on giving.

When children are under five, they can:
• help bake and do other household chores, like tidy their rooms
• say “thank you” for gifts at birthdays and holidays
• learn to share their toys, or pick out old toys and donate them

Between ages five and 11, children can:
• help take care of a younger sibling
• look after a pet

In junior and senior high school, children can:
• certify as lifeguards or junior coaches
• volunteer or get a part-time or weekend job
• learn how to use power tools and lawnmowers

25. Savour the everyday moments.