Top Parenting Trends of 2009

From elephants in nurseries to the Obama girls, here's what people will be buzzing about in the year ahead.

  • Courtesy of the Jones family

    Grown-Up Nurseries

    For trendy colors (no pastels here) and sleek modern lines, parents will be looking beyond traditional baby stores for inspiration more and more this year. "New moms and dads want their child's nursery to be fun and kid-friendly but still reflect their overall style," says Janel Laban, Nursery Managing Editor at Apartment Therapy's Ohdeedoh.com, a popular blog on baby decor. This is especially happening with furniture selection. Laban is seeing parents mix in inexpensive thrift store pieces like dressers or armoires and kid-ifying them by refinishing and adding a changing table on top. Or she's seeing them pair a crib with more modern "adult" bookcases and rugs from places like CB2, Ikea, and Target. "Parents are being more practical and using pieces that can later be moved into a family room," she says, citing budget as another good reason to jump on this trend.

    Trend Tip: Focus on working in more grown-up accessories like lamps and rugs -- Urban Outfitters, PB Teen, and Delia's have fun and funky buys.

  • Dave Anderson

    Anything Malia or Sasha Obama Does

    As the first young kids to hit the White House since the advent of round-the-clock paparazzi coverage, we predict Sasha and Malia will be the new must-copy celeb kids, with their photos in Us Weekly alongside Suri and Shiloh. Case in point: the dress Malia wore on election night went back into production to match buyer demand.

  • Rita Maas

    "Homemade" Meals -- with a Twist

    This year families will be staying home to eat more, while relying more heavily on convenience products from the market, keeping the family dinner hour tradition but cutting down on prep -- and cost. Citing a study from market research company NPD Group, Regina Ragone, Food Director at Family Circle, says families are increasingly buying ready-to-go supermarket meals and adding their personal touches, like special spices or a quick homemade side dish. "They're staying home more, but not necessarily cooking," says Ragone.

    Trend Tip: Here's a busy mom shortcut: Buy a rotisserie chicken and get at least two dinners from it. Night 1: Slice up some of the meat and add to a salad. Night 2: Chop up the rest and toss into a pesto pasta dish or chicken fajitas another night.

  • Courtesy of CardboarDesign.com

    Use-Your-Imagination Play

    Forget toys with huge instruction manuals and lots of blinking lights. This year's hottest playthings are distinctly low/no tech and completely open ended, encouraging lots of imagination and make believe. "If you bought your child the toy cowboy from the movie 'Toy Story,' the child will probably already be familiar with the movie, with the character and how the character talks and acts. That narrows the range of pretend play options or scenarios the child will engage in," says R. Keith Sawyer, PhD, a professor of psychology who studies creativity in children at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. "However, if you get your child a generic cowboy toy, the child might act out scenes from 'Toy Story,' but might also do something completely different." Encourage your toddler/preschooler to make a fort out of chairs and blankets or to create kingdoms with cardboard boxes -- anything that promotes active, imagination-filled play.

    Trend Tip: Don't have an extra refrigerator box lying around? There are tons of use-your-imagination toys for sale at stores, too -- check out open-ended toys like Bilibo, Babal Balls and Bobles.

  • istock/Jupiter Images

    BPA-Free Pregnancies

    2008 was the year to get rid of BPA bottles for our babies (BPA stands for bisphenol A, a chemical found in some types of plastic). 2009 will be the year to avoid BPA during our pregnancies as well. Research from studies done on animals, recently reviewed by the National Toxicology Program's Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, shows that this chemical, which can act like the hormone estrogen, may pose a risk to babies in the womb -- causing an increased chance of early puberty, behavior disorders, and hormone-based cancers like prostate and breast. "Fetus' developing cells and tissues may be especially susceptible to hormonal changes in the womb," says Rebecca Roberts, PhD, associate professor of biology at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, who studies BPA. Although more research is needed to see how dangerous current levels of BPA exposure are to humans, most experts agree it can't hurt to avoid products containing it.

    Trend Tip: Don't make yourself crazy ridding your house of all plastics (not all kinds are dangerous), but do take some easy precautions to minimize your exposure. "Start by going through your cabinets and looking at your containers, plates, and bottles. A sign of BPA is a hard, clear or tinted plastic," Roberts says. It might be marked with a #7 recycling sign, but not all 7's have BPA. When in doubt, throw it out.

    Also, be wary of some canned goods, which may also be lined with BPA. "It prevents the food from tasting like metal or plastic," Roberts explains. "To avoid it, buy fresh or frozen veggies." And another warning for moms of babies: Pre-mixed formula is usually sold in BPA-containing bottles or metal cans, as are some ready-to-eat meals. Go for powder formula instead (it's usually sold in heavy paperboard containers), and always check the plastic you're serving your kids.

  • Jason Todd

    The Nature Vacation

    Money might be tight, but 2009's summer vacation is still circled on the calendar. A recent study from TripAdvisor, an online traveler review site, found that adventure vacations and National Park visits will see a spike this year, and as a result camping's on the rise too. After all, the wonders of nature don't (usually) have a high cost of admission, you cook your own food, and a tent's the cheapest lodging around.

    Trend Tip: Explore local state parks and campgrounds on sites like nps.gov and camping.com to find the best places to pitch your tent. If sleeping on the ground doesn't appeal to you, try "glamping" (short for glamour camping) by seeking out campgrounds with cabins and electrical power hookups.

  • Veer

    Med-Free Remedies for Kids

    Chicken soup is so in! Due to new warnings about the dangers of using cough and cold medicines on kids, parents will be employing more traditional techniques to soothe their sick tots. "Parents are going back to basics," says Jennifer Shu, MD, who recommends trying nasal washes and chicken soup, which eases inflammation, to help kids feel better (she also loves Breathe Right strips for her own 7-year-old son). "Medicine never sped up the healing," she says, "It only provided relief." More natural approaches are increasingly seen as a safer route, considering an average of 7,000 kids go to the ER every year as a result of side effects from over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. You can't overdose on soup. (However, some natural remedies may have side effects too, so check with your doctor first, says Dr. Shu.)

    Trend Tip: Next time your child has a cold, Dr. Shu suggests trying a nasal wash like NeilMed Sinus Rinse, which can help her blow out some congestion (you can also suck it out with an aspirator if your kid's too young to blow her nose). Or make a saline solution at home with 1/4 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of warm water. If your little one is eating solids, try giving her some chicken soup or broth to boost the immune system and keep her hydrated. At night, place a Breathe Right strip on her nose to help her breathe. Studies also show honey can soothe a cough if your child is older than 1.

  • The No-School Preschool

    As a backlash to overcrowded classrooms, subpar schools, or the crazy process to get kids accepted in private academies, more and more otherwise traditional parents will decide to homeschool, un-school (with no traditional structure), or mix the two teaching styles -- starting with preschool. In fact, the U.S Department of Education cites that homeschooling grew 36 percent between 2003 and 2007. "Today's parents are more educated than ever, and do not want other people making the learning decisions for their children," says Teri Flemal, educator and co-owner of Quality Education by Design (QED), a guided family-education program that helps New York parents hire personal teachers and build their board-certified home curriculum. The benefits? Perfect pacing. Flemal explains that your child can progress at a much quicker academic rate, not waiting for the rest of the class to catch up (and on the flip side, spending extra time when it's needed). Also, a unique, engaging curriculum can be tailored around your child's interests. Your kid's a huge dinosaur fan? Lessons can all be based on his favorite subject. (If five T. rexes meet a triceratops, how many dinosaurs do you get?)

    Trend Tips: Considering stepping off the track? Know that you're not alone, and it can be done. "I think that first and foremost, parents need to be sure their children are on board with this idea. Then I'd say you have to take an inventory of your resources. Do you have the ability to stay at home with your child to teach them? If not, then you'll need to hire someone to teach your children," Flemal says. She also recommends local support groups of to get information from other parents on how they are proceeding, as well as learning the state requirements that you need to follow.

    Check out your state's homeschool laws at:

  • Juice Images/Veer

    A Relaxed Approach to "Breast Is Best"

    While a few years ago new mommies used to fear flak from their healthcare providers or mommy-group member when breastfeeding wasn't working, the pendulum is now swinging in a less judgmental direction, with many doctors and lactation consultants emphasizing the importance of baby's steady weight gain over exclusive breastfeeding. Although breastfeeding is still strongly encouraged, many moms and doctors are coming up with more personalized plans to mix breast and formula or start pumping exclusively when breastfeeding just isn't working.

    Jatinder Bhatia, MD, member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition and professor and chief of neonatology at the Medical College of Georgia, fears that a breast-is-best-at-all-costs tactic could cause women to be afraid to seek nutritional alternatives, so by the time they get to the doctor, their baby has a failure to thrive. "Too much pressure to breastfeed can be counterproductive," he says.

    Trend Tips: If nursing isn't working or -- 'fess up -- the pressure of getting it right is making you too miserable to enjoy your babe, get frank with your doctor. Believe us, it won't be the first time they've heard it. Your doc should be supportive, and should help you find a feeding solution that works for you. And if your MIL, mommy friend, or nosy coworker gives you guff, just tune them out, and remember that only you know what's best for you and your baby.

  • Mark Thomas

    Mom-Centered Baby Showers

    The baby on the way may be excuse for the celebration, but the true guest of honor at a baby shower is the mama-to-be -- and so this year she's looking for more of a chic soiree than a cute-fest. "Expectant moms today are being showered at stylish celebrations that feature creative, grown-up themes, like Asian-inspired, eco-chic or even animal prints, instead of pastels," says Jennifer Sbranti, editor-in-chief at HostesswiththeMostess.com. The setting is less country club and more elegant fete or couples cocktail party, incorporating signature mocktails and pampering.

    Trend Tip: To do reconnaissance on your pregnant friend's tastes, ask how she felt about her bridal shower, and go from there. Sbranti also says a mom-friendly mocktail can really make the party -- incorporate "Momitos" or "Momosas" or just mix up an alcohol-free version of your friend's favorite drink and serve it in stemware, just like the real thing.

  • Omega-3s for Pregnant and Nursing Moms

    Want a smarter kid? Go eat a tuna sandwich. While mercury is still a concern, doctors and nutritionists are now strongly recommending that both pregnant and nursing moms eat two servings a week of fish low in mercury, but high in DHA -- one of the omega-3 fatty acids -- or pop a supplement. "DHA is the predominant structural fatty acid in the brain and retina," explains Stacey Nelson, MS, RD, LDN, Senior Clinical Nutritionist at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of You & Your Baby: Healthy Eating During Pregnancy. "It's been shown that the developing fetus and infant have a pretty high DHA requirement. At least half has to come from Mom in the womb, while the rest may come from breast milk during nursing," she explains. To further drive home the point, a recent study suggests that "higher maternal fish intake is associated with higher child developmental scores at 18 months," Nelson says.

    Trend Tip: While still being wary of high-mercury fish like swordfish and king mackerel, try to eat two weekly servings (12 ounces total) of fish high in DHA, like salmon, lake trout, or herring. If fish isn't your thing, find a DHA supplement that's mercury-free, like Expecta LIPIL.

  • Fancy Photography/Veer

    Facebook Is the New Mommy Group

    Out: E-mailing to tell everyone about your baby's first steps. In: Posting a video of it on Facebook. The online social networking site has reached critical importance for mommies, who will use its convenience and wide reach to keep friends and family up on kid news and photos, often on a daily basis, this coming year. There are more than 3 million active monthly users of parenting and family applications on the site, with more than 200,000 parents using the top baby applications, like How Big is My Baby, which tracks the progress of a baby's growth and shares it with your friends. If you're not on Facebook, get on in 2009 -- or risk being out of the loop.

  • Strong, Solid Baby Names

    One way parents react to a weak economy? They give strong baby names. First names with heft, like family names or monikers inspired by great people in history, will be all the rage in 2009. "People are giving classic, iconic names. They want names that have a history and a meaning," says Linda Rosenkrantz, co-author of The Baby Name Bible and co-founder of Nameberry.com. "They're names that would seem solid on a resume or up in lights," says Rosenkrantz, giving your kid that much more of a leg up in life.

    Trend Tips:
    Big for girls: Old Hollywood names like Harlow and Ava; virtuous words (think: Jessica Alba's daughter Honor), and regal and Shakespearean icons, like Isabella or Juliet.

    Big for boys: "People play around much more with female names, and return to family names for boys," says Rosenkrantz. However, when they do get creative, they tend to name their boys after strong historic figures. Look for Benjamin, Lincoln, Alexander, George, Henry, Thomas, Theodore, and Barack.

  • Courtesy of TopShop

    High Design, Low Price in Maternitywear

    2009 is the year for cheap, chic maternity fashion. Uber-cool Brit chain Topshop is the latest in an exciting line of cheapo maternity lines that will make it easier than ever this year to stay cutting edge without blowing a ton of cash (and we're still loving oldies-but-goodies Target, H&M, Old Navy, and Ann Taylor LOFT). And while it's not a bargain, Christian Siriano's new -- of course -- "Fierce" maternity line adds edgy designer cache to the world of maternitywear.

    Trend Tip: The budget-friendly essentials high-end maternity designer Liz Lange, who also has a line at Target, recommends: Bootcut, ankle, or crop jeans; tops with unique design elements such as sexy necklines, ruffles, and buttoned collars; a simple dress, paired with a cardigan or wrap; black pieces that can go with everything; and leggings that can be easily paired with color or print tops for lots of combinations.

  • Courtesy of Vinyl Wall Art

    Elephants Are Huge!

    These ginormous animals have always held special appeal for kids, and now parents are feeling the decor draw. "I'm seeing elephants show up in nursery items across the board," says Ali Wing, founder and CEO of Giggle and author of Giggle Guide to Baby Gear, who cites Horton Hears a Who! as a major influence. "Cartoon-like elephants are kid-friendly and baby comfortable." We also love how this look works equally well for boys and girls.

    Trend Tip: Baby on the way? Carter's makes the budget-friendly mod Elephant Stitch crib set in gender-neutral brown and green ($170). The Flensted Elephant Mobile adds a minimalist touch of pachyderm charm for $30. Or slap up an elephant wall decal from Vinyl Wall Art ($12 for the medium size). But if you've already planned your nursery and want to include a few cuddly elephants, Wing suggests starting with a stuffed toy (Etsy has amazing options) or book like Horton or Emma Kate by Patricia Polacco.

    Copyright © 2008 Meredith Corporation.