Weird Parenting Wins: Bathtub Dining, Family Screams, and Other Hacks from the Parenting Trenches

In moments when the expert advice wasn’t working, and instead of freaking out, these parents had a stroke of genius.

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Karsen: From The Parent’s Club, I’m Karsen Kolnicki. This is your briefing.


Karsen: Today, we’re discussing Weird Parenting Wins: Bathtub Dining, Family Screams, and Other Hacks from the Parenting Trenches Written by Hillary Frank.

In this title, media professional, novelist, and award-winning parenting and family podcast host, Hillary Frank shows parents how not to lose it while bringing up their kids.

Karsen: Vincent Phamvan on the key takeaways [pause] and what you need to know.


Karsen: Vincent, one of the most common experiences that all parents are far too familiar with is whining or crying. What does the author emphasize as a way to handle these situations?

Vincent: Yes crying and whining are common occurrences parents are faced with. But the author in this title emphasizes that no matter the situation, creativity and imagination are key parenting skills needed to win all battles.

The author gives an example of a time she took her 6-year-old daughter, Sasha, to a ski resort and had to stand in the long ski rental line. Like most children, Sasha started whining about having to wait in the hour-long line. In a situation like this, you can’t just tell Sasha to cheer up, that wouldn’t work. So the author tried to come up with some ideas that would make Sasha’s crying a little more entertaining for both of them.

She suggested that if Sasha was set on whining, she would have to do so if she were singing the blues.

Karsen: And that worked?

Vincent: At first the author took the lead and sang a tune about being bored and wanting to get the skis before anyone else. Sasha didn’t join in right away and kept whimpering. But then the author got lucky by improvising a line about freezing her butt off. Sasha thought the word ‘butt’ was so funny and started giggling. She eventually joined in the singing and tried to use the word ‘butt’ as often as she could.

Karsen: It’s almost ironic that to handle situations you have to be imaginative, a trait commonly attributed to kids. And now the author remembers that as a successful parenting moment.

Vincent: Exactly. There’s no bulletproof method for how to parent every situation that arises, you have to be imaginative in the moment. Sometimes you stumble upon the solution by being weird and creative and testing things out as you go.

Karsen: So creativity is needed to stop young kids from crying, but what about babies?

Vincent: The author says it requires creativity and even more effort when babies are involved. She gives an example of Sarah and her husband who had a newborn that would not stop screaming through the night. In a final sleep-deprived and desperate effort, the dad picked up his electric toothbrush, switched it on, and began waving it over the baby's head. Amazingly, the baby stopped crying and fell asleep. Since discovering that creative solution the parents have done it every night since.

Karsen: Moral of the story, don’t give up! Try everything because you really never know what is going to end up working for your child. Another common struggle a parent deals with getting kids to eat. What creative solutions does the author discuss for eating?

Vincent: As a child, you may remember how frustrating it was to be stuck at the table when you could be playing. And as a parent, you may know how frustrating it is when your child doesn’t eat and would rather be running around.

The author shares how her own mother came up with a creative solution to the problem. She called it a “snack meal.” For example, she would take the chicken that was made for dinner, cut it up into small pieces and speared it with wooden toothpicks, and serve it on the counter. This meant that the author didn’t have to eat at the boring family dinner table but could perch up next to the table on a kitchen stool. Once she had her “snack” which was just dinner served hors d'oeuvre style, she could go play.

Karsen: And of course, the other advantage was that her parents could enjoy their own supper in peace. That’s an excellent strategy.

Vincent: It was a win for everyone. For babies, parents can still get creative to solve solutions for eating such as new breastfeeding positions. Overall the idea again is accepting adaptability, even if it’s unconventional, can be helpful in your unique parenting situations.

Karsen: What about situations when your child’s imagination is too vivid and scary, like being afraid of the dark or monsters under the bed?

Vincent: Many children have similar fears but there are definitely ways to hush a child’s overactive imagination. When the author was little she believed a lion hid under her bed. Her mother came up with a great way to lessen her daughter’s fear of scary animals.

In bold letters, she drew a sign that stated that lions, tigers, and bears were banned from entering her daughter’s room.

Karsen: And was it effective?

Vincent: Yes, almost instantaneously! The sign was so big, what wild creature would dare to cross it?

Karsen: That’s awesome, plus it would work for all kinds of creatures like monsters, mice, etc. That’s a good soothing strategy.

Vincent: Yes and when they took overnight trips to grandma's house, the guest bedroom there had a sign too. Another way to combat these fears preemptively is by helping your child develop their individual sense of bravery. Karsen, what were you afraid of when you were little?

Karsen: Hmm I was afraid of the dark.

Vincent: Okay so if your child is afraid of the dark, like Karsen and so many of us were, you can get creative and teach her to be brave. One way to do so would be to hold your child’s hand, go into their dark room and be brave together by counting to 15 or 20 seconds. Then if your child is enjoying being brave, after a few times you can have them try for a few seconds by themselves without you there as extra security.

Karsen: Wow, I wish I did that when I was young. That’s definitely one to keep in mind since it makes bravery feel like a game.

Vincent: That’s exactly why this strategy works.

Karsen: Okay so we know there are struggles that affect kids but let's talk about the parents’ well-being. What about when you, as a parent, get overwhelmed?

Vincent: As a parent, it’s totally normal to be overwhelmed. To cope you can scream into a pillow or eat some cookies or even have a good old cry. All of these are good to reduce the tension you feel.

Karsen: As good as crying can be, there are times when you have to avoid tears. Does the author give an example of how to do this?

Vincent: Yes there was a woman named Kristina who wrote to the author concerning her experience taking care of autistic children at a YMCA swimming pool. When one of the 13 year-old children refused to come out of the water multiple times, she was at a loss and overwhelmed. He was on the verge of tears but then she remembered his turtle obsession. So she asked him to show her how a turtle lays its eggs.

The boy didn’t take the bait straight away, so Kristina began mimicking a turtle hatching eggs on the poolside until he got out of the pool to show her how to mimic a mother turtle.

Karsen: It sounds like the lesson here is that whether it’s you or the child that’s struggling or on the verge of tears, the best strategy is clear: You have to shift children’s attention onto something that makes them smile.

Vincent: Yes, just insisting they do what they're told won’t get you anywhere. But the author says that you can teach your kids to entertain themselves so you don’t have to feel like you’re always on duty.

Karsen: Okay so for parents who want some regular calm breaks, how do you teach your kids to entertain themselves?

Vincent: It’s mostly a game of trial and error and finding out the things that interest your child for long enough for you to do things like go to the bathroom in peace. For example, do you know those soy sauce or condiment packets you get from restaurants?

Karsen: Yes, I have so many of those.

Vincent: So did the author. She used them in a creative way to keep her daughter Sasha busy. She always had a pile of sauce sachets on hand and Sasha loved playing with them so they made a game of organizing them by type. Sasha had also been given a pretend cash register as a birthday present but no pretend money to put in it. The author then suggested a new game: she showed Sasha that the condiments could be stored in the register by type and then taken in and out.

Karsen: Wow that’s a perfect innovation! So by tuning into what amuses your child, you can use random finds and games to teach them to keep themselves busy.

The next thing the author talks about is how to get your kids to open up to you about their emotions. How do your strategies have to change depending on whether you have young kids or teenagers?

Vincent: Yes, let’s start with younger children. One way the author highlights to get children to open up about their emotions is to role-play with them. Sasha was having screaming fits in moments of heightened emotions and had said something about a friend at school and in the moment the author started role-playing.

The author took on the role of Sasha while Sasha pretended to be her preschool friend, Lily. The role-play made it clear what was going on, Lily was stopping Sasha from playing with other kids at preschool. This helped Sasha express the friendship drama by acting it out.

Karsen: Since Sasha was younger the author could get insight into Sasha's emotions even if her brain isn’t fully developed to verbally express them.

While role-playing works well with young kids, what approach should parents take for teenagers?

Vincent: The author found that silent listening is a great method for teenagers. The author tells about her friend, Kirsten, who is a therapist. Each spring Kirsten’s teenage son Jack went through a grumpy period. He was moody and refused to talk.

Karsen: That’s difficult, especially with teenage boys, how did she break through?

Vincent: Kirsten made a new ritual of going on a walk with her son. She allowed him to walk and rant while she just listened in silence. She had learned that whenever she tried to contribute something, Jack would just withdraw into himself. If she just listened until he finished, he would calm down and walk home in peace.

Karsen: That’s interesting because my mom would do the same with my brother. Sometimes people want an outlet to vent to and unlike Sasha’s case, they aren’t looking for advice, just a listener.

Vincent: Exactly, parents can tune into what their child may need and try to find a creative solution to soothe them.

Karsen: It sounds like the key takeaway from this book is that parenting can be a lot of fun if you’re prepared to get weird and creative. Whether you’re using warning signs to stop monsters from your child’s room or using the hum of an electric toothbrush to get your baby to sleep, sometimes the wildest, most desperate moves solve common problems parents deal with.


Karsen: That’s it for your briefing. I’m Karsen Kolnicki.

Vincent: And I’m Vincent Phamvan.

Karsen: We’ll see you next time.


Some of the best parenting advice that Hillary Frank ever received did not come from parenting experts, but from friends and podcast listeners who acted on a whim, often in moments of desperation. These “weird parenting wins” were born of moments when the expert advice wasn’t working, and instead of freaking out, these parents had a stroke of genius. For example, there’s the dad who pig-snorted in his baby’s ear to get her to stop crying, and the mom who made a “flat daddy” out of cardboard and sat it at the dinner table when her kids were missing their deployed military father.

Every parent and kid is unique, and as we get to know our kids, we can figure out what makes them tick. Because this is an ongoing process, Weird Parenting Wins covers children of all ages, ranging in topics from “The Art of Getting Your Kid to Act Like a Person” (on hygiene, potty training, and manners) to “The Art of Getting Your Kid to Tell You Things” (because eventually, they’re going to be tight-lipped). You may find that someone else’s weird parenting win works for you, or you might be inspired to try something new the next time you’re stuck in a parenting rut. Or maybe you’ll just get a good laugh out of the mom who got her kid to try beets because…it might turn her poop pink.

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