Parenting Style: The 80 Best Tips for Parents from PARENTS

In honor of our 80th anniversary, we bring you The 80 Best Tips for Parents from Parents. You've always trusted us to bring you the best advice for raising healthy, happy, and well-behaved children. Now we bring you the wisest of our wisdom.

The First 12

1. Be your best. Right now, your child thinks you're the greatest person in the world, perfect in every way. You're not, of course, but you're a powerful figure in his life. Strive to be a great role model.

2. But give yourself a break. Being a parent means making mistakes. Don't beat yourself up about them. Learn and move on. Teach your children to do the same.

3. Create rituals. Once a week, do something as a family: Take a walk in the park, have pancakes for dinner, play charades. Everyday customs and traditions strengthen family ties, which in turn nourish a sense of caring and respect.

4. Show your affection. Begin and end each day with "I love you," and give lots of hugs and kisses.

5. Learn to apologize. One of the most important things you can say to your child is "I'm sorry. I messed up." You'll teach her honesty, responsibility, and justice.

6. Foster responsibility. As soon as your child is old enough, give him small chores -- putting napkins on the table or matching socks in the laundry. He'll learn what it means to be part of a community.

7. Trust your gut. In 1946, Dr. Benjamin Spock wrote, "The more people have studied the different methods of bringing up children, the more they have come to the conclusion that what good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is the best after all."

8. Practice patience. Don't watch the clock or tap your foot or constantly chide your child to hurry up. Instead, kick back, live in the moment, go with the flow, and soak it all up.

9. Let go of the guilt. From our April 1977 issue: "Bad or glad, mad or sad, proud or ashamed -- it's not the fact that Mommy works that accounts for a child's response, but how the parents feel and act about it themselves."

10. Seek support. In the words of an ancient Ashanti proverb: "It takes a whole village to raise a child."

11. Laugh a lot. If your guiding principle is to pick "laugh" over "cry," you've got the right attitude. Use humor to defuse power struggles, enforce rules, and impart life lessons.

12. Be a booster. "Make sure you praise your child for worthwhile accomplishments and encourage him to make his own decisions, even if he occasionally makes a wrong one," we told readers back in 1942. "And let him know that he has your complete confidence and backing." Good advice then -- and now.


13. Set clear rules about pushing, hitting, sharing, lying, and whatever else is most important to you. Make sure your child knows them inside out.

14. Be firm. Your child craves limits. Without them, her world is scary and out of control.

15. Act immediately. When a kid breaks a rule, impose a consequence right away. Wait too long and your child may forget what he did wrong.

16. Don't spank. Most child-development experts agree this is not a good way to discipline kids.

17. Try time-outs. Give a time-out of one minute for each year of a child's age. And make sure it's no fun. Opt for the bottom step, not the toy-filled bedroom.

18. Catch your kid being good. Don't think of discipline only as what you do when your child acts up. A big hug or quick "Good job!" when he does something right is the best "discipline" of all.

19. Stop yelling. A tall order for sure, but screaming intimidates children and rarely works. Try this the next time you're tempted to shout: Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and count to 10. Or 20. Or 100 if that's what it takes.

20. Ban bad-mouthing. Kids aren't born to hate -- they learn it. Don't tolerate mean and nasty remarks of any kind. Help your child discover the positive traits in people, and teach her to focus on these.

21. Make honesty a priority. If you expect your kids to tell the truth, don't lie to them or in front of them -- ever.

22. Switch gears slowly. Transitions are difficult for little ones. So give you child a few minutes' warning before it's time to leave the playground, turn off the television, or head upstairs to bed.

23. Tame a tantrum. Some tried-and-true tricks: Redirect your toddler's attention -- sing him a song or offer him a snack. Throw a tantrum yourself -- your child will be so surprised, he'll forget why he was upset. Put him in front of a mirror -- he'll see how silly he looks.

Food & Nutrition

24. If possible, breastfeed. Nature designed the perfect food for babies. It's cheap and convenient, too.

25. Eat dinner as a family. It doesn't matter what's on the table -- just who's around it. Studies have consistently found that kids whose families have frequent meals together have better relationships with their parents and perform better in school.

26. Don't reward with food. Using sweets as an incentive ("You'll get ice cream if you do all your chores" or "No dessert if you don't finish your peas") sends the wrong message and creates bad eating habits.

27. Get the kids in the kitchen. The more involved they are in meal preparation, the more likely they are to eat. And by the time they're teenagers, they'll be able to cook for you.

28. Go for greens. Get your kids to load up on the healthiest foods by putting veggies on the dinner table before anything else. Let them use their fingers for green beans, cucumbers, and broccoli while they wait for the main course.

29. Keep trying. It's normal for toddlers to resist new foods. If your child says "Yuck!" remember that it can take as many as 10 tries to get kids to like new flavors.

Health & Safety

30. Learn CPR. Chances are you'll never have to use it, but it could be a matter of life and death in the event that you do.

31. Insist on helmets. Whenever he's on a bike, a scooter, skates, skis, or a snowboard, and when he plays sports like baseball, make sure that his head is protected.

32. Know the number for the poison-control hotline: 800-222-1222.

33. Watch your windows. Install guards on all windows above the first floor. (Make sure they have an emergency release in case of fire.) Never put a crib -- or any other furniture that a child could climb on -- alongside a window.

34. Never relent when it comes to using a car seat. No matter what, keep kids in a rear-facing infant seat until they're at least 1 and weigh 20 pounds. After that, use a forward-facing seat until kids are about 40 pounds. Use boosters until they are 4'9" tall. Don't let anyone under 13 ride in the front seat.

35. Think back. To help prevent SIDS, never put an infant to sleep on her tummy. Make sure she's on her back. Keep blankets and toys out of the crib until your child is older than 12 months.

36. Make hand-washing a habit. It's the best way to avoid germs. Encourage children to wash with soap and water for 30 seconds, the length of time it takes to sing "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

37. Be wary around the bathtub. A child can drown in a matter of seconds, even in a few inches of water. Don't rely on bath seats or rings; when your child is in the tub, he needs constant adult supervision.

38. Don't smoke. Need we say more?

39. Heads up! Always call the doctor if your baby falls out of her crib onto her noggin -- even if she seems fine. Children under the age of 1 have very fragile brains and skulls.

40. Make sure babies are immunized. Despite all the controversy, studies overwhelmingly show that vaccines are safe and they protect kids from serious illnesses. Make sure your child has all his shots.

41. Enjoy bathtime. In the 1940s, we wrote: "Bathing is the good-grooming habit on which all others depend, so keep baths fun!" So simple, so true.

42. Keep a health history. In a small notebook, write down info about your child's illnesses, immunizations, allergies, chronic conditions, and medications. Put it in your purse or have it handy, and be sure to grab it if you have to take your child to the ER.

43. Get moving. In 1933, Parents advised readers:

"Unless you give your baby a chance to exercise, he cannot develop sound habits of sleep and elimination and immunity." We feel the same way today: Find an activity your child enjoys and encourage him to pursue it. If he discovers the benefits of exercise now, he'll be more likely to keep it up throughout his life.

44. Monitor medication. Before giving a child any prescription drug, check to make sure the pharmacist gave you the right thing. Double-check dosage. And make sure that you always read labels on over-the-counter drugs: Never give two medicines with the same active ingredient.

45. Safeguard skin. Slather your child with sunscreen of at least SPF 30 all year long, and reapply it every two hours when your kids are outside, and after swimming.

46. Do a tick check. If your child has been playing outside, inspect his skin. If you see a tick, remove it with tweezers.

47. Know these fever facts. Contact your doctor immediately if a baby younger than 3 months old has a fever of 100.4 degrees F. or higher. For children ages 3 to 6 months, call if the fever is 101 degrees F. or above. Also get on the phone when any child under 2 has a fever that lasts more than 12 hours.

48. Act quickly if your child loses a permanent tooth. Put it in a covered container of cool milk or saline solution and take her to the emergency room right away. These liquids will preserve the roots in case the tooth can be reinserted.

49. Call the pediatrician immediately -- day or night -- about green vomit. Unless your child has eaten a lot of spinach for dinner, this could be a sign that she has a serious intestinal blockage.

50. Don't overlook a cough. Kids who frequently cough -- especially at night -- may have asthma, even if they never wheeze. Get it diagnosed early.

51. Put antiperspirant on mosquito bites. The aluminum salts in it can help to relieve swelling.


52. Encourage zzz's. Babies from 12 to 35 months need 12 to 14 hours of sleep a day; kids 3 to 5 years need 11 to 13 hours; and kids 6 to 12 years need 10 to 11 hours. Make sure they get it. Tired kids are more likely to be sick, have accidents, get fat, and have trouble in school.

53. Swaddle a newborn. Studies show that infants who are swaddled wake up less frequently and sleep longer than others -- probably because their own movements don't startle them awake.

54. Soothe nighttime fears. A night-light makes darkness less scary. A spray bottle filled with "magic" water can banish ghosts and goblins. And a photo of Mommy and Daddy at his bedside lets your child know that you're watching over him -- all through the night.

55. Make a firm bedtime. The more you stick with a specific time, the better your chance of setting your child's internal sleep clock so she'll fall asleep without a fuss.

56. Settle down. Get kids to relax by slowing the pace at least half an hour before bedtime. Turn off the TV and play a simple board game, tell a tale, read a book, or relax by recapping the day.

57. Don't neglect naps. Encourage good napping habits by having your baby sleep at the same time each day, in the same place he sleeps at night. Kids benefit from an afternoon rest up until age 4 -- try not to give up napping before then.

58. Do it your way. Should you tend to your fussy sleeper, or should you let her cry it out? It's up to you. What matters is that you both get the sleep you need.


59. Let kids play. "As an antidote to TV watching and the mad rush from one activity to another, today's children need play that sharpens their wits," we told readers in 1964. If it was true then, it's a zillion times truer today.

60. Keep talking. A constant dialogue with your child is the best way to help him learn. When he's an infant, respond to his coos. In his first year, speak slowly and exaggerate the highs and lows of your voice. As he grows, keep up the chatter: At the playground, teach abstract concepts by saying, "You're getting closer. Now you're far away!" when he's on the swing. Describe how he's going "up and down" on the seesaw. Count as you put items in your grocery cart to help him master math.

61. Read to your child. And when she's old enough, encourage her to read by herself.

62. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Sing your child's favorite songs and read his favorite books over and over. Repetition boosts memory development.

63. Select the best preschool. A good first experience will set the stage for future learning. Look for a teacher who's warm, loving, and well trained, and a program that offers a mix of group and individual activities. Beware of too much structure: The best curriculums leave room for creativity.

64. Give props to the teacher. She is a professional with an enormous amount of influence on your child. Make sure she knows how much your appreciate her.

65. Join a parent group. Kids whose moms and dads are actively involved in their education perform better in school.

Practical Matters

66. Write a will -- right away! If you do nothing else, name guardians for your child. Review your choice every few years.

67. Save for college. It may be as simple as giving up your morning coffee and bagel. A typical American family earning $60,000 a year could send a child to a four-year public university by saving as little as $4.42 a day.

68. Buy life insurance. To figure out how much you need, use an online calculator (such as the one at or talk to a financial planner.

69. Take lots and lots of pictures. For an ideal close-up, get down at your child's level and let her face fill the frame. Experiment with candid shots, and remember that you don't need to make her smile for every photo.

70. Create a master calendar. Assign a different color marker to each family member (let kids pick their own), and record everyone's activities and appointments.

Good Times

71. Dig into your past. Think of your own childhood and recall which toys, games, music, and books you loved best. Introduce them to your own kids and relive your youth.

72. Take vacations. You don't need to blow your savings on an extravagant trip, but try to budget in at least one yearly family getaway. The memories will last a lifetime.

73. Trim a tree. Make (or buy) a special ornament for each of your children every Christmas. By the time they're grown, you'll have quite a collection.

74. Join your friends. Go to a Hanukkah party, an end-of-Ramadan fest, or a Chinese New Year gala. It's a joyful way to teach kids about the global village they're growing up in.

75. Encourage creativity. Stock a costume box with hats, old clothes, and accessories. Buy some basic musical instruments. Fill a drawer with art supplies.

76. Start a birthday tradition. Bake the same great cake or serve your child his favorite meal, year after year.

77. Raise your hand. Try this game when you're standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for food at a restaurant: Play raise your hand if you, dogs, SpongeBob, whatever. Just keep throwing things out. Anyone can play, and everyone finds it endlessly entertaining.

78. Buy the basics. No need to buy every new gizmo and gadget for your child. But make sure she always has building blocks, balls, and puzzles. They're easy to share and lots of fun.

79. Embrace nature. Sometimes we all need to slow down. Exploring the great outdoors with your kids is one way to help them do that. Bonus: They'll learn to appreciate the wonders of the natural world.

80. Find the joy! From our October 1942 issue: "Above all, we should allow ourselves to enjoy our children, to enjoy being with them. This will give them the greatest sense of being appreciated and loved."

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

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