Creative parents pick up where science leaves off

April 26, 1993|By Martin J. Smith | Martin J. Smith,Orange County Register

What problem can a parent solve by tossing a couple of Cheerios into the toilet? By bolting a car seat onto the top of a clothes dryer? By tape-recording the humming range fan on the hood above the stove?

The answers (which also appear at the end of this story) are compiled in Tom McMahon's, "It works for us!" (Pocket Books, $9), a new book that begins where Benjamin Spock and T. Berry Brazelton leave off.

Consult books by those child-care experts for explanations of children's medical and behavioral problems. But for ideas on how to make hamburgers small enough for a 4-year-old mouth, how to wean a toddler from the pacifier or prevent the loss of a hooded jacket string, read Mr. McMahon's compilation of "proven child-care tips from experienced parents across the country."

"Soon after we brought our first daughter home from the hospital, we realized how little we knew," said Mr. McMahon, a father of two and an associate professor of counseling and psychology at Ohlone College in Fremont, Calif. "I spent 15 minutes in the hospital parking lot trying to get the car seat to work.

"Spock and Brazelton are great for developmental and health tips, but I found that the nitty-gritty practical tips were coming from other parents."

Finding no such book in his local bookstore, Mr. McMahon began circulating his request for parenting tips to newspapers across the country. That led to feature stories about his project, and before he was done he'd received nearly 1,000 responses from more than 300 cities and towns nationwide.

The project was so successful that he installed a toll-free number to encourage tips -- (800) 678-TIPS -- and is hard at work on a sequel. He's also collecting ideas while promoting the first book, scribbling them on the backs of napkins, business cards or parking lot tickets.

One of Mr. McMahon's favorites solves the age-old question: What do we do when there's no more room on the refrigerator for a child's school art projects?

The solution came from K. T. Hom of San Jose, Calif., who takes his son's picture in front of the refrigerator each time the door gets filled. They keep the photo but move the artwork to the garage.

"The photographs provide a permanent but compact record of our own van Gogh's creations, as well as showing how big he was at the time," Mr. Hom wrote.

Other solutions in the book are just as logical, and simple as well. For example, Julia Kiely of Irvine, Calif., suggested a way to get reluctant kids to write thank-you notes. "Have a rule that the child cannot play with the gift (or cash the check) until the note gets written and mailed," she wrote. "You'll be surprised at how quickly the note gets written."

But Cheerios in the toilet? Easy: a target to encourage boys to use the potty. A car seat on the clothes dryer simulates the noise and vibration of a moving car, which lulls many babies to sleep. Same with a recording of the hood range fan placed beneath a baby's crib.

"What I think this book shows," Mr. McMahon said, "is how creative parents are forced to be to solve everyday problems."

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