26 Moms and Dads Share Their Best 'Aha!' Parenting Tips

You just never know when someone’s two cents will be worth a million bucks. Here’s what parents learned when they least expected it.

Mother and Daughter Nose Touch Priscilla Gragg

Ten years later, I still cringe when I see a little kid wearing water wings in a pool. Back when my daughter, Sydney, was in preschool, a lifeguard warned me about floaties: “They can give her a false sense of confidence, and she may just jump in without them one day.” It made total sense to me, and stuck. While parenting is a learn-as-you-go adventure with no official manual, thank goodness for gems of wisdom we pick up along the way and can’t forget. We’ve gathered a windfall of “aha” moments that moms and dads have scored from random corners of their lives.

1. What I Learned From My Facebook Obsession: Balance 

“I needed to put down my phone! My social-media habit was stealing precious bonding time with my daughter. One night, I was scrolling through Facebook while breastfeeding and caught my then one-and-a-half-month-old daughter staring up at me. Locking eyes with her then was a great moment that I almost missed. After that I ditched my phone for good during night feedings, which became my favorite time with her.” —Jennifer Petersen; Chicago, Illinois

2. What I Learned From a Registered Dietitian: A Healthy Shortcut

“During a nutrition talk at my son’s preschool, the dietitian said frozen organic vegetables are just as healthy as raw and she suggested giving them to kids straight out of the bag frozen. I’d put a combo of frozen peas, carrots, and corn in front of my kids and call them ‘frozen Popsicles.’ ” —Carin Simon; Virginia Beach, Virginia

3. What I Learned From a Coworker: Setting Boundaries

“She often logged on to work after dinner and her daughter said, ‘Mommy, I don’t want to be like you because all you do is work.’ My heart sank for the coworker, but this helped me force balance in my life. I may peek at my phone if I’m waiting for an important email, but between 6:30 and 9 p.m., it’s my kid’s time.” —Heather Broome; Oakland, California

4. What I Learned From My Mom: Fun Surprises

“Growing up, we always received an abundance of toys at Christmas and on birthdays. But my mom would sneak a couple of the unopened toys into the closet, and then when it was raining or there was nothing to do, she’d give us one of the new toys. I do this for my two daughters, and it’s like Christmas all over again!” —Julie Remo; Emerson, New Jersey

5. What I Learned From Chrissy Teigen: Body Image 

“After I had my second, I read that Chrissy said it’s unrealistic for real women to compare themselves to celebrities who are back to a size zero right after pregnancy; they have chefs, nutritionists, and personal trainers, and can make their own schedule. I wasn’t as hard on myself about trying to achieve that Hollywood ideal.” —Erica Benstock; St. Petersburg, Florida

6. What I Learned From Another Mom: Keeping Kids in Line

“Being in a parking lot with my boys makes me a wreck! A mom friend made her children stand on the white painted line alongside the car, and they weren’t allowed to move until she gave them permission. Now my two older sons, who are 8 and 5, stand on the line next to the rear end of the passenger door. I watch them out of the corner of my eye while I take my toddler out of his car seat.” —Lydia Edwards; Starkville, Mississippi

7. What I Learned From Another Dad: Diaper Changes 

“Always point a boy’s ‘winkie’ down in a diaper or else everything is going to be soaked!” —Scott Edwards; Starkville, Mississippi

8. What I Learned From My Son’s Coach: Playing the Game

“Early in the season, parents were frustrated after a loss and the T-ball coach called us together to explain that the first few years of any sport are meant to be more instructional than competitive. He wanted us to understand that young kids should focus on the basics—sportsmanship, paying attention, hitting, and throwing—and having fun. There’s plenty of time for the stresses associated with winning and losing.” —Barry Liebowitz; Hollywood, Florida

9. What I Learned From A Grocery-Store Clerk: Choosing a Name

“She saw that I was pregnant and told me to pick a baby’s name that works for someone who is young, someone who’s trying to get a job, and also an older person. Then she pleaded with me to make sure the initials don’t spell something dumb. She said, ‘I don’t own anything monogrammed because my initials are COW, and no one wants that on their clothes or bag!’ ” —Rachel Martin; Waxhaw, North Carolina

10. What I Learned From Being a Camp Counselor: Outdoor Play

“Campers have to get up and out of their cabin early every day regardless of the weather because it makes them—and the whole day—more carefree. Now as a parent of two, I say, ‘Nothing good happens inside the house after 9 a.m.’ It’s for everyone’s sanity. If it’s hot, turn on the hose. If it’s cold, bundle up. If it’s raining, put on boots. My crew always feels better after romping around the yard, the streets, or the park.” —Courtney Jacobs; Pawtucket, Rhode Island

11. What I Learned From Scary Movies: Wise Research 

“When my daughter was in preschool, suspenseful movies were too much for her to handle. Beauty and the Beast was the first movie that made her run out of the room. I needed a way to check if a movie was okay first before letting her watch. I was relieved to come across commonsensemedia.org. The site gives very specific details about the age-appropriateness of tons of movies and tips parents off about any scary elements. We skipped many Disney movies during that stage.” —Elizabeth Russell; Somers, New York

12. What I Learned From a Blue-Frosted Cupcake: Food Choices 

“After celebrating a child’s birthday at preschool, my daughter came home with her whole mouth stained blue. Later, she called to me from the potty, ‘Mommy! Help! My poopies are blue!’ It was like her insides had been dyed blue by a cupcake’s frosting! This was a wake-up call for me to pay more attention to what my family was eating, and I became committed to replacing some of the processed junk with real food.” —Emily Kevern; Johnson City, Tennessee

13. What I Learned From Traveling With Three Kids Under 5: Ordering Ahead

“Sending diapers and wipes to your destination lightens your packing load. It’s also a nice gesture for hosts, so they don’t have to worry about running out to buy baby supplies. How did moms survive before Amazon?” —Molly Hubbard; Alexandria, Virginia

14. What I Learned From Yoga: Taking a Pause

“My practice has taught me that focusing on my breathing is very calming, and I’ve been able to apply this at home. When my boys had to stop one activity and shift to the next, tempers always ran high. Rather than raise my voice, I’ve used a four-part breathing activity with my kids: Inhale, pause, exhale, pause. Repeating that a few times made transitions much easier.” —Nancie Carollo; Denver, Colorado

15. What I Learned From My Hair Stylist: Potty Training

“I told her I was embarking on the process with my son. She said, ‘Have him sit backwards on the toilet and draw on the inside lid with a dry-erase marker or a bathtub crayon to occupy himself while he is trying to go potty.’ ” —Mindy Carrington; Orinda, California

16. What I Learned From Having Twins: Color Coding

“Rather than labeling everything for my boys, it was easier to buy all of one baby’s things in blue; then all other colors worked for my other son. As the boys got a little older, blue became that one son’s favorite color and the other twin chose red; there was less fighting about who got which cup or whatever because they just chose their favorite color.” —Francine Rossen; Herndon, Virginia

17. What I Learned From Messy Flights: What to Pack 

“Always bring a change of clothes with you for every member of the family, as well as a sealable bag and a hand towel for dealing with spills and spit-ups. Little kids’ bodily fluids (at least my kids’) seem to be wired to escape at the most inconvenient times. Whenever that happens, you are desperately going to want to have something dry and fresh smelling to change into. And the rest of the passengers on the plane will also thank you.” —Amber Steffens; Denver, Colorado

18. What I Learned From a Baby-Shower Card: Being A Good-Enough Mom 

“A friend who has older kids wrote in her card: ‘You will always love your child, but you may not always like your child. For instance, she may act like an a-hole and that will make you mad! But this is all normal, and it doesn’t make you a bad parent.’ ” —Vanessa Wetherill; San Antonio, Texas

19. What I Learned From Leading My Daughter’s Girl Scout Troop: Teaching Kindness

“When my troops were in kindergarten, first, second, and even third grade, I overheard lots of girls with hurt feelings because they had been left out of birthday parties that were supposed to have been kept secret. I realized that no matter how mature they may seem, children this age just can’t be relied on to not say anything. Because I was super-aware of this fact, there were times around my own daughter’s birthday when I’d have to say to her, ‘Rather than letting feelings be hurt, would inviting that one child really make a big difference to you or your party?’ ” —Jodie Fratantuno; Culver City, California

20. What I Learned From My Pediatrician: Sibling Rivalry 

“She’s amazing and her advice isn’t always healthrelated, like when I was pregnant and stressing over how my toddler would handle the new baby’s arrival. She suggested having the newborn ‘give a present’ to my older son during their first meeting at the hospital (the gift turned out to be a Mr. Potato Head set). My doctor did this with her own two, and receiving the present helped the older sibling accept the new baby as a positive.” —Allison Muser; Timonium, Maryland

21. What I Learned From My Husband: Sensible Screen Time

“I used to pass whenever my 4-year-old invited me to watch TV with her; I’d use that precious time  to do housework instead. However, my husband would let that stuff go and sit and chat with her about the show. I eventually realized that by doing that, he was letting her know that he was interested in her choices, and he also better understood the references she made during play and knew her favorite characters and songs. I now see there is some merit in occasionally vegging out with a child in front of the TV!” —Annabel Kaplan; Napa, California

22. What I Learned From A Favorite Childhood Photo: Simple Pleasures

“In the picture, my sister, cousins, and I are having lots of fun playing on a concrete driveway with a hose and a dinky plastic pool. Looking at it reminds me that less can be more, and that the best kind of fun is usually free.” —Cristina Migliaccio; East Williston, New York

23. What I Learned From My Mother-In-Law: Avoiding Power Struggles 

“I adopted her smart approach to meal prep for toddlers in our family. She asks: ‘Would you like milk or water? Broccoli or carrots?’ She gives them a choice, but doesn’t let them dictate the meal. It works even on the pickiest family members.” —Laura Fenton, Lifestyle Director for Parents

24. What I Learned From My Dry-Cleaner: Saving Money on Laundry 

“I’ve lucked out with a superhonest dry-cleaner. Many times I’ve brought him something and he’s told me to go home and clean it in the washer. His directions are inevitably cold water, delicate cycle, line-dry. Now it’s how I treat a lot of our clothes, especially jeans, and it really does keep things nice for longer.” —Jessica Hartshorn, Sr. Lifestyle Editor for Parents

25. What I Learned From A Friend: Easier Dentist Visits

“She told me to bring my daughter’s favorite sunglasses to the dentist during checkups to shield her eyes from the bright light.” —Karen Cicero, Sr. Editor for Parents

26. What I Learned From Our Puppy: the Art of Forgiveness

“Leo reminds me every day that you shouldn’t hold a grudge against anyone you love. He also believes that you should never take no for an answer.” —Diane Debrovner, Deputy Editor for Parents