Life Hacks for Parents

We have computer professionals to thank for the term “hack.” It’s a quick and probably inelegant solution whose chief virtue is that it works. From there, the word grew to signify any strategy that gets the chores done fast. In more respectable language, it’s a time management technique; an efficiency aid fulfilling the criterion of “Work smart, not hard.” It used to go by a more genteel name, like “helpful hint,” but by now, most people are familiar with the term “life hack.”

A life hack is a useful shortcut or fix, the sort of everyday remedy our parents might have passed on to us, if we had not been so busy fending off their concerns and rejecting their efforts to teach us something. We probably all went through a stage of not wanting to be told a darn thing, and in some cases that became a prolonged stage. Anyway, we’re all grown up now with kids of our own, and have entered the stage of shouting into the abyss, “Help! Help!”

And then, along comes an expert who can solve all our problems and with no pain or friction, lead those young’uns onto the right track! Well, not quite, because very few techniques ever work in every case. That’s just the multifactorial nature of life, which can become ornery. Still, it never hurts to choose one of the reliable, time-tested tricks of the trade, and give it a whirl.

For instance, there is the old standby, the fake choice. As a blogger Adriadne Brill described it,

Let’s say your child is doing something completely unacceptable. Provide her with two alternatives that are safe, respectful and acceptable, and let her choose what she will do from there. By receiving two choices, the child can keep some control over her decisions while still learning about boundaries.

So, the kid scoops a handful of crunchy nuggets out of the dog’s dish. The parent can offer, instead, the choice of a graham cracker or a handful of dry cereal. Often a parent can be surprised by how easy it is to divert a naive child’s attention and preserve the peace.

Childhood Obesity News has previously offered “hacks” for particular situations, like Halloween and the pandemic.

In fact, they might be worth looking at again, because of the adaptability factor. And never underestimate the power of a deepfake. If your very young and innocent child is in love with a certain brand of cereal because of the character depicted on the box, it might be possible to buy a more nourishing and/or economical brand instead, and just keep pouring it into the same box for about six months. Who knows? A motivated parent could get away with this ruse until the child starts kindergarten.

Some might call this deception; others might affirm that it is perfectly okay to go with a gentler, more forgiving expression, and “pull the wool over a child’s eyes” for the child’s own good.

Schedule = excellent idea

For a straightforward and totally frank household rule, the standard of consistent meal times is a good one to set, and important for more than one reason. First, a meal schedule implies the absence of snacking, whose banishment is always desirable. If a child is consistently hungry before mealtime, some research needs to be done into the possible reasons.

Together, the parent and the child could look up the facts on what kind of food is likely to promote that feeling of satiety the longest. A parent could keep track of the results, or it could be a mutual science project, with its own clipboard. When that child gets older, she or he could help a sibling do the why-am-I-still-hungry? research.

Who knows? Thirty years from now, you might look back and marvel that this DIY project led to your child winning a world-class science award. Try to look at every parenting annoyance as a challenge, and every challenge as an opportunity, and see what happens.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “12 alternatives to spanking and timeout,”, 10/02/14
Image by Marco Verch/CC BY 2.0 DEED

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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