Master these basic skills, and you'll make your life as a parent a whole lot easier.

By Naomi Rand
June 11, 2015

Success Secrets 1 - 5

1. How to Find the Perfect Birthday Present for Under $10

  • Scout discount stores such as Costco or Price Club for last year's hot toys at deep discounts.
  • Plan ahead -- grab a toy or game whenever you spot a good buy, whether you've got a party coming up or not. Stocking up will save you time, money, and energy.
  • Think cheap but fab -- creative ideas include painting and craft kits, action figures, and plastic watches. And, of course, for older kids, a good book.
  • Surf discount Web sites such as and, or click on the bargain section at

2. How to Find a Reliable Sitter

  • Ask mom friends, neighbors, and your pediatrician's office for recommendations.
  • Narrow the list to those who have at least three years of childcare experience and CPR training, then check that their references are recent and impeccable.
  • Next, set up interviews. Lisa Magaro, owner and operator of Pinch Sitters Agency, in New York City, suggests asking several "what if" questions to test how candidates would handle various childcare situations. "What if you have to entertain my 3-year-old and my 7-year-old on a rainy day?" Or, "What if my 18-month-old throws a fit when I walk out the door?" (A sitter should be able to tell you how she'd calm a fussy infant, provide comfort, keep kids entertained, and handle an emergency.)
  • Pay attention to her behavior during the interview. Does she establish eye contact? Listen to the questions and answer them thoughtfully? Does she seem self-assured and in control? If she's resourceful and reliable, and if the chemistry's right, you've found a prime candidate.

3. How to Find a Bathroom in a Hurry

Your child has to go-now. The obvious spots are rest stops, service areas, fast-food joints, department stores, and hotels. Gap, Starbucks, and even grocery stores are other good bets. If none of these are available, go into the nearest restaurant. Ask the hostess or a waitress if you can use the restroom -- tell her your child is desperate. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, she'll point you in the right direction. For car-trip emergencies, keep a "potty kit" -- plastic seat, wipes, bottled water -- in the trunk. Pull over to the side of the road and set up your porto-bathroom.

4. How to Cut Your Child's Bangs

Invest in a pair of barber scissors or thinning shears, available at any beauty-supply store.

  • Wash, dry, then neatly comb your child's hair. Sit her on a high chair or on top of phone books so her face is eye level to yours.
  • Divide her bangs into two equal horizontal sections, one above the other, suggests hair stylist Jennifer Bobal, owner of Pure Energy Hair Studio, in Nutley, New Jersey. Clip back the top section.
  • Hold remaining hair between your pointer and middle finger, and cut straight across until you reach the desired length. Unclip the top layer and trim, using the shorter section as your guide.

5. How to Say No When Other Parents Say Yes

Instead of relying on the old standard, "Because I said so," try this approach recommended by Parents advisor Sal Severe, PhD, author of How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too! Simply say, "Other families have their rules, and we have ours." You want your kids to know that other people's decisions aren't necessarily bad. You might add, "I'm not saying no to make you feel upset," says Dr. Severe, "I am saying no because I don't think this is good for you. That's my job -- to do what I think is best for you." You don't always have to give your children a thorough explanation when you say no.

Success Secrets 6 - 10

6. How to Clean Up Throw-Up

The trick to cleaning up vomit -- no matter what the surface -- is to get it up as quickly as you can.

  • First, use a paper towel to lift away any solid remains. For hard surfaces, cat litter works to soak up what's left so that it can be scooped up and thrown away. You don't have a kitty? Sprinkle baking soda or cornstarch on the affected area to absorb the throw-up (and the odor).
  • For carpeting and rugs, consider investing in dry-cleaning fluid (do a test run to make sure it won't bleach out the color). After cleaning up the vomit, pour the fluid over the stain. Blot with a dry, white cloth. Rewet the stain with a squirt of mild liquid detergent, then blot again with the cloth. Flood the stain with water and blot, repeating until there's no soap residue.
  • If your child vomits on a wood floor, use a pH-neutral cleaner or a solution of white vinegar and warm water. If you're cleaning a mattress, car seat, or the living-room couch, sponge the stain with cool water, then cover the spot with baking soda and allow to dry, then vacuum.

7. How to Breastfeed Discreetly in Public

Choose clothing for easy access. If you're wearing a button-down shirt, undo the bottom two buttons (not top two) and tuck your baby inside. For extra privacy, drape your infant with a shawl or baby blanket. Or nurse your infant while holding her in a baby sling. "The fabric will cover you so you'll look as if you're carrying a sleeping baby," says Katy Lebbing, manager of the Center for Breastfeeding Information at La Leche League. To avoid attention, keep an eye out for your baby's cues that she's hungry -- sticking her tongue out, rooting, or rolling her head -- so you can begin to feed her before she cries.

8. How to Change a Diaper Anywhere

Most malls, bus and train terminals, and many family restaurants provide pull-down changing stations in their public restrooms. The backseat of your car can also double as a changing table. If you're stuck outside, find a park bench or put the stroller in the recline position and change your baby there.

9. How to Get Kids to Eat Veggies

You have to be creative if you want to raise a vegetable lover. Sneak the healthy stuff into foods they already like, suggests nutritionist and Parents advisor Connie Diekman, RD.

  • Mix shredded carrots and zucchini into meat loaf.
  • Chop carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes into small pieces and add to canned or homemade chicken-noodle soup.
  • Spike spaghetti sauce with finely chopped peppers and celery.
  • Layer spinach leaves or romaine lettuce with turkey and mozzarella cheese on a flour tortilla. Roll tightly and chill, then cut into 1-inch slices and serve with salsa.

10. How to Tell a Great Bedtime Story

  • Start with "Once upon a time there was a problem in the land." Then introduce your hero or heroine. The character, whether animal or human, should be instantly recognizable as a stand-in for your child. Does she love to paint? Is he obsessed with dinosaurs? A joke teller? Animal lover? Throw in a giveaway physical attribute -- missing tooth, long curly red hair, freckles.
  • Use the day's events for the plot. "Transform mundane activities by making them bigger, sillier, or scarier," says Judith Black, an award-winning storyteller. That miserable traffic jam you were stuck in on the way to a playgroup can become magical with a few small changes. Let your imagination go wild. Does a good witch wave her wand to create more space on the highway? Are the cars equipped with wings? Is the tunnel a portal into the future? Ask your child to join in on the fun by helping you weave the story.

Copyright ? 2006. Reprinted with permission from the September 2006 issue of Parents magazine.

Parents Magazine