The how-to guide that didn't come with the kid.
Everything in this slideshow
Answer an Awkward Question
What should you say if your child asks, "What's a gentleman's club?" when you drive past that horrible billboard on the way to Grandma's? "While you want to adequately answer your child's question, most kids don't want the gory details," says Sandra Sexson, M.D., a psychiatrist at MCG Health, in Augusta, Georgia. Give a simple yet honest explanation. A good rule of thumb: If your kid starts to fidget, you're probably telling too much.
Soothe yourself with a mantra
Repeat this phrase when you're feeling like a bad, sad, or insecure mom: "No parent is perfect, but I love my child more than anything and that's what truly counts."
Rig an emergency diaper
Step 1: Take an absorbent piece of fabric, such as a dish towel or a burp cloth and fold it into a triangle.
Step 2: Wrap it around baby's bottom and between her legs (stick a sock inside for extra absorption).
Step 3: Use duct tape to secure the sides. Snap a pic and text to partner as a reminder to buy more diapers.
Create an indoor fort that won't fall down
Andrew Jones, Thingamababy.com blogger and father of two, swears by binder clips to craft sleepover-worthy blanket-and-pillow forts. The same handy tool that clamps office papers together can connect blankets and furniture edges up to ?" thick, turning them into extended fort canopies and walls.
Decorate a cake in a snap
Cover with dots: Nothing's more festive than a cake covered in round colorful candies (we used M&M's and Skittles).
Lollipop garden: We used different sizes to create this bouquet. Let your kid help stick the lollies in the cake.
Use a cookie cutter: Press cutter gently into frosting, fill with decorating icing or sprinkles, remove and repeat.
Wash a beloved stuffed animal
Put it in a pillowcase and machine wash on a gentle cycle using cold water and mild detergent, says Steve Boorstein, host of the DVD Clothing Care: The Clothing Doctor's Secrets to Taking Control! Tumble-dry with a tennis ball.
Change a diaper in 14 seconds
The 411 from Linda Dockery, R.N., Loma Linda University Medical Hospital, in California:
5 seconds: Open the diaper and use the front to begin wiping the poop.
4 seconds: Keeping the diaper underneath your baby's bottom, use wipes to get her clean, placing the dirty ones inside the diaper.
3 seconds: Holding your baby's legs with one hand, pull the old diaper out and put the new one in place.
2 seconds: Pull tabs snugly around her hips.
Tell jokes that will make your kid laugh
Create a riddle by taking things like a favorite character (Thomas the Tank Engine) and fave food (grilled cheese) and smush them together:
Q: How does Thomas eat his sandwich?
A: Hechoo-choo-choos it!
Or snag one of these jokes by Orange County, California, dad and comedian Craig Mattes:
Q: What was the cowboy's favorite cartoon?
A: SpongeBob SquareDance
Q: What did the cat get on its test at school?
A: A purr-fect score
Q: Why are pirates so good at basketball?
A: Because they all have a great hook shot
Turn a cereal box into a fun activity
Craft blogger Megan Heep (myplumpudding.blogspot.com) has this easy how-to:
Puppet theater: For curtains, tape or glue fabric pieces to the sides of the rectangle.
Post Cards: Cut box into rectangles with an eye toward bright colors and patterns.
Memory Game: Use boxes with enough like colors to cut out multiple same-size matching pieces.
Get your child to take her medicine
It's reward time. Charlotte Cowan, M.D., author of the Dr. Hippo books, suggests having a small wrapped present tucked away for such occasions. Place it where your kid can see it. Once she takes her medicine she gets her gift.
Find a perfect book to help solve a tough problem
The staff at Bank Street Books Children's Bookstore, in New York City, proposes these titles for serious situations.
Teasing: Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes, 3 to 6 years
Lying: The Empty Pot, by Demi, 12 years+
Bullying: The Recess Queen, by Alexis O'Neill, 4 to 8 years
Tantrums: Sometimes I'm Bombaloo, by Rachel Vail, 3 years+
Friends: My Best Friend, by Mary Ann Rodman, 5 to 8 years
Siblings: The Pain and the Great One, by Judy Blume, 5 to 8 years
Assemble DIY activity kits for a rainy day
Give out cheap and simple kits to kids 4 and up as favors, sick-day surprises, or just in case you're homebound due to inclement weather. Supplies can be found at your local craft store. Look for fun packaging for each -- a Chinese-food take-out container, Lucite box, or sand pail.
Help your child when a pet dies
Be both comforting and direct. Expect to give repeated reminders that his pet isn't coming back, advises Jane Le Vieux, Ph.D., a nurse at Children's Medical Center, Dallas.
Shake up breakfast
Start a weekend flapjack tradition. Try this PB+J Pancake recipe from Food Network's Cooking for Real host Sunny Anderson.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
? tsp. salt
2 Tbs. sugar
1 cup plus 2 Tbs. milk, plus extra if needed to thin
? cup creamy peanut butter, melted (15 to 30 seconds in microwave)
2 Tbs. oil
4 Tbs. butter, divided
Preheat griddle. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Slowly add egg, milk, peanut butter, and oil until combined. Let stand 5 minutes. Coat heated griddle with 1 Tbs. butter and pour ? cup batter per pancake. Flip when a quick peek on the underside reveals a golden color. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve with blackberry-flavored syrup or spread pancakes with jelly or jam.
It's easy to make up a thrilling tale on the fly. Kids love an ongoing saga -- especially if the main character and your child have a passing resemblance to each other. Throw in a time machine and you've got an endless supply of nightly installments at your fingertips.
Originally published in the January 2011 issue of Parents magazine.