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11 Brilliant Little Fixes for Common Parenting Problems

published Sep 22, 2021
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I don’t know about you, but when I find a fix that wipes out an annoying daily stress, I feel like I won Mega Millions. And it’s not just the major solutions that bring me to that higher state — it’s often the little things. 

Like the under-$20 hanging bathroom hamper that is taking care of the mounds of clothes my two sons leave on their shared bathroom floor. Before that aha buy, I nudged ‘em to cart dirty clothes to their bedroom hampers. Tried to embarrass them with the thought of a friend seeing their underwear (not my finest parenting moment). But then, it hit me: Wait, we just need a hamper IN HERE — and that one click made things like 70 percent neater.

To pool our resources, we polled parents and caregivers of kids from newborn-age to college-bound to share their favorite discoveries for common challenges. Some of their solutions don’t require spending a dime. 

Here are the finds and fixes that are making a serious difference for parents everywhere: 

To buy that extra hour of precious sleep …

A reverse alarm clock

Every parent knows that feeling when it’s barely 6 a.m. and your early bird is at your bedside chanting, “Mommy, wake up!” To the rescue: alarm clocks that give kids a visual cue so they know when it’s a good time to get up. This genius buy has been a game changer (or make that a sleepchanger) for Nicole Evert, educator and founder of Creating Butterflies. “My four kids wake up early … by early, I mean they wake with the sun. ‘When the sun is up, it’s time to wake up,’ or so my youngest one misquotes Anna from Frozen,” Evert says. The Okay to Wake clock is almost like a reverse alarm clock — the clock turns green when it is okay for your little one (who can’t quite read a clock) to come out of their room. We love that it gives off a soothing light at night that helps ‘em feel cozy as they drift off to sleep.

For curtailing on-the-road-whining …

A kid-friendly podcast queue

Want to head off “are we there yet?” chatter that starts before you leave your driveway? Think podcasts. Yes, really — they’re a hit with kids, if you find ones that are right for their age group.  “For extremely long car rides, my 7-year-old daughter loves Kid Pod Theater. It’s fun and entertaining,” says Marisa Molinaro, interior designer and creator of the blog The Spotted Cloth. “She also likes Go with Nugget” because we like anything travel-related.” What about sibs who aren’t on the same page or who are very different ages? Let each one tune in to their own pick using bluetooth headphones for kids

Your tween may already be into Office Ladies, with The Office’s Jenna Fischer (aka Pam) and Angela Kinsey (aka Angela) divulging secrets about the show.  

For keeping the peace between siblings …

All members of a family need some privacy, says Ashley Howard, creator of the home improvement blog Mom Loves Home. “Sibling rivalry is one of the toughest parenting issues I face as a single mom of a 7- and 9-year-old,” she says. “I’ve found personal space helps avoid conflict. Separate dresser drawers are a great start. And dividing the bedroom into two spaces really helps.” Physical boundaries help make a small living space more functional — and harmonious. When Robert Frost wrote, “good fences make good neighbors,” we all know he was talking about sibs sharing a bedroom!

For easing the “No fair!” complaints …

Alexa to keep track of time

To help ease sibling rivalry, Alison French, founder of tech healthcare company Emerged Inc, turns to tech. “The biggest source of tension between my 5-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter is the jealousy from situations deemed unfair,” French says. “My daughter has high-functioning autism and the way she views fairness is very black and white. It’s hard for her to see things from her brother’s perspective. We’ve reduced the frequency of fairness meltdowns with the help of Alexa. ‘Alexa set a timer’ is probably one of the most common things my children shout throughout the day.” Setting a timer via a neutral party (Alexa or Google assistant) keeps things feeling impersonal, versus a parent “choosing” one over the other. Also, you’re teaching children how to use tech tools to solve their own problems and manage time.

French adds a giant dose of empathy. “I let them know life can’t always be fair and I understand how frustrating that is. My hope is these conversations will help them develop grit so they’re better prepared for a world where fairness is no longer a guarantee.” 

For tweens and teens who can’t wake up…

The Alarmy app

Not every child just pops out of bed when they hear gentle chimes. Alarmy has that kid covered, with extra, annoyingly loud ringtones. It also forces them to do “missions” (like shake the phone or solve a math problem) and if they don’t do them, the alarm won’t stop blaring. Excruciating but effective. Why does it work? It helps snap you out of that more-sleep-please half-awake state. “This has been great for my two teens who have trouble getting out of bed. The reason it works for them is you have to open the phone and the app to snooze it. And it’s really loud.” says Ken Greenberg, sales executive and dad of two teen sons

For making toilet training less intimidating …

A friendly potty

Sometimes it feels like potty training will just never end. “Probably the biggest anxiety I had as a toddler parent was around potty training,” says Thao Thai, Managing Editor of Cubby. “I truly thought we’d never get there. Then I got this little Elmo potty, and the potty woes all but disappeared. I know — that seems like an outsized recommendation. But something about the bright, friendly colors and Elmo’s cute little face helped my 2-year-old see that going to the potty wasn’t such a scary thing. The flusher imitates the sound of a real one, and includes Elmo’s encouraging words. It’s easy to clean and transport, and the design is super approachable for little ones. I just handed our (fully disinfected) toilet to another toddler parent, and I expect it to help her kiddo too!” It also doubles as a step stool when the lid is shut. 

For slipping fiber into their diet (shhh!)…

Let’s be honest, some kids won’t go near a whole-grain anything. Michelle Schmid, consultant and mom of 9-year-old twins, stumbled upon a solution in the cereal aisle: “My all-time favorite find is this chocolate-flavored fiber cereal for my chocoholic kid who suffers from constipation and has to be basically force fed food that naturally contains fiber,” she says. “She eats it up!” While it tastes like a chocolatey treat, it’s packed with 6 grams of fiber from good-for-them grains like oats, brown rice, barley, and rye. But who says it just has to be for breakfast? Give your tot’s yogurt or ice cream a fiber boost by sprinkling these cocoa crunchies on top. 

For helping tweens and teens dream big…

There’s a reason this type of creative journaling is all over TikTok. Bullet journaling encourages both blue-sky daydreaming and taking little steps to make dreams happen. Originally created by Ryder Carrol and explained in this bestselling book, it’s essentially a diary that helps you not live on autopilot. A big part of the appeal, especially for the younger set, is that it encourages their creativity. Tracking thoughts in a BuJo lets them create in a pressure-free form with so many fun accessories (washi tape, stamps, special markers, etc). Miran Robarts, PR advisor/consultant and mom of a 17- and 14-year-old, says it was that artistic aspect that captivated her older daughter. “Introducing bullet journaling has been life-changing for my daughter. She started in middle school and still does it as a high school senior. It helped her take ownership of her schedule and goals, especially because the artistic aspect really appealed to her.”

For streamlining…

A photo scanning app

Running out of fridge space to hang all the self-portraits? Out of spare shelves to display clay creations? No worries: Keep a few favorites and digitally archive the rest. Photographer Cristina Mella, live-in aunt to an 11-year-old and 10-year-old, has a go-to app: “There are many scanner apps, but I find the (free!) Evernote Scannable works best to scan school papers and art projects that you want to keep but not store.” One thing we love about Scannable is that it removes all the background noise so you have a really clean product. You can also scan in multiples at once, store them via Cloud, or email ‘em to grandparents and other fans of your mini Matisse. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

For nourishing the picky eater…

A (powered up) milkshake

Smoothies and milkshakes can be game changers if you have a picky eater, reports Lauren Levy, a San-Francisco-based safe sleep advocate. After all, you’re slipping super-nourishing ingredients into a yummy, slurpable package. “It is virtually impossible to get my 1-and-a-half year-old to eat anything. He was so obsessed with drinking milk that everything else pales in comparison. I found the perfect way to sneak vegetables into his diet: a daily milkshake! We make it together every day after his daily nap.” Her go-to ingredients are spinach, blackberries, walnuts, and bananas. “I let him drink it out of a ‘big boy cup’ using a straw and he thinks it’s the coolest thing ever.” This move also works for breakfast. You can even prep breakfast smoothie packs ahead of time to make things easier.

For protecting little climbers:

A safe stool

Does your little one try to scale everything in the kitchen to see what you’re up to and try to pitch in? Tony Grenier, CEO of Instrumental Global, found a hack for that. “My kids love helping with chores (even if they are really bad at them) so we bought the Adjustable Kitchen Helper Stool for Toddlers to keep them safe. You see, when they want to pitch in with meal prep or even clean-up, they’ll just try to do it by themselves — my little one once pulled a chair to reach the countertop. Now they’re safer when they want to reach something that is up high.” This kitchen staple is adjustable, too, so it will grow with your child beyond the preschool years.