Having children is a great excuse to act like a big kid, says Rebecca Howard-Dennis, and they'll love you even more for it
‘You come into our house and a giant elephant and lion welcome you. We have toys everywhere.’
Keep it tidy
We're guessing Heidi doesn't live in your average semi but while stuffed toys are no doubt de rigueur in her circles, most can round up a gaggle of Jellycat Critters. Experts agree a happy home will (and should) bear a few battle scars it's important kids learn to respect belongings.
Our advice: For domestic harmony, the 'put-one-toy-away-before-getting-another-one-out' rule is a good starting point. We love Skip Hop for their fun, durable storage solutions. They make tidying up a doddle and help kids into good habits.
‘I'll play Pretty Pretty Princess with you if you just let me watch a little bit of basketball first.’
Do a deal
Ah, the familiar note of desperate negotiation; we know it well Matt. Life as a parent is peppered with games, activities and impromptu dress-ups where your wholehearted participation is both demanded and expected.
Our advice: Believe us when we say resistance is futile, so save yourself the torment and just throw yourself headlong into the proceedings. For the moment, any uninterrupted basketball-watching (like most other grown-up leisure pursuits) has to take second place.
‘Two boys can be a lot, sometimes I think it would be easier with girls playing with dolls.’
Give equal rights
The politically correct may be heard gasping at such gender stereotyping, but Naomi actually has a scientifically proven point. According to a recent clutch of American studies, babies as young as three months express gender preferences for toys and how they play. At Texas A&M University, tracking the eye movements of three- and four-month-olds showed that boys are more drawn to balls, vehicles and construction toys, and prefer playing in larger groups. Psychology Today published findings showing that boys love motion and commotion, while girls are happier with conversation and more contained play.
Our advice: Give your kids equal access to everything, so they can experience traditionally 'blue' and 'pink' toys, and remember the grass is always greener – girls and their tea parties aren't always the teddy bears' picnic they seem, Naomi!
‘We play The Three Little Pigs and Suri is the Big Bad Wolf.’
Be a drama queen
Of course Suri is the Big Bad Wolf – she doesn't strike us as the kind of girl happy to play first, second or third piggy. If you have your very own little starlet, eager to take centre stage, then consider channelling all that raw talent into a drama club. Nationwide organisations such as Stagecoach offer classes for children aged from four to 18 at over 600 different locations. For younger thespians, Creative Movements, currently only in limited locations in the South East, is a fusion of dance, music and storytelling available for toddlers (with parents) of just 15 months.
Our advice: Stellar performances need fabulous clothes, so stock your dressing-up box with a few beautiful outfits from Dress Up By Design. With fantasy, animal and historical costumes this is the perfect fusion of style and substance. Suri would approve.
‘I've played with a lot of Barbies and Kens for my kids. It's actually one of the things I'm good at.’
We imagine the man who brought us Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands and Willy Wonka can do a mean Barbie. Many parents can't wait to get voicing a few of their kids' toys, but don't fret if you're not a natural. Your kids will lap it up anyway and practice really will make perfect – just ask Johnny.
Our advice: Whether you go big on puppets or prefer plush toys or plastic figures, acting out little escapades with the children is a great way to encourage their imagination. According to the Play for Change report commissioned by Play England, this kind of interaction not only aids children's mental health, it also teaches them risktaking, problem-solving, morality, independence and creativity. And dads have never been more involved in this kind of play. Men who put the enjoyment of their daughters (and sons) before social stigma about playing with dolls earn big brownie points. Fact.
‘When Lila was born I felt like, now I've got a partner in crime.’
Share the girl stuff
Mossy's reaction to motherhood is one shared by many women, especially when they have a daughter. Not that this feeling of 'completion' is exclusive to the ladies, but in recent years more pregnant women have expressed a desire for their unborn child to be a girl than ever before. According to one survey, 45 per cent of mothers secretly wish to give birth to a daughter. The majority said they felt they would 'bond with and understand' a girl better. As recent birth records show, Britain's biggest baby boom in four decades still sees 105 boys born for every 100 girls.
Our advice: If your heart is set on the pitter-patter of tiny pink feet, increase your chances with the latest advice from Maastricht University. Apparently the trick is to swap sodium- and potassium-rich foods for those high in magnesium and calcium. So bin the bread and rice, and stock up on the oatmeal, figs and beans. Tasty!
‘We sit on the floor and play for hours. We run andlaugh and just have fun. Grown-ups forget how to do that.’
Embrace your inner child
Xtina's right – when was the last time you had a good old run around and really played? What with cooking, cleaning and putting the kids to bed it can be too easy to spend the day dashing from chore to chore, trying to squeeze in a quick story here and the odd jigsaw there.
Our advice: Try to carve out time to follow Mama Aguilera's lead. Just grab whatever's at hand and let your imagination run riot. You'll get a kick out of old-fashioned fun and your kids will love seeing your playful side. If you still need convincing, pick up Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown (£17.99, Avery). Psychiatrist Brown thinks play is like oxygen and vital for the survival of the human race. We couldn't have put it better.
‘I took my kids to the playground where I went... It was fun to feel that connection of having gone there as a kid and being there as a parent.’
Share the memories
✦ Like Ben, most of us can't wait to introduce our kids to the people and places that meant a lot to us growing up. Sharing tales from your childhood is one of the joys of parenting and these anecdotes create the fabric of family life.
Our advice: Hearing about and, even better, seeing what you got up to as a kid will give your kids a thrill so dust off the camcorder, dig out the old photo albums or perhaps take a trip to your home town. It will help give your kids a strong sense of where they came from, which experts agree makes them happier and more confident. Just remember how spectacularly unflattering Eighties fashion was – flash those photos and you'll never live down the ra-ra skirts and double stone-washed denim.
‘I love everything about being a mom, but our talks and walks on the beach are my favorite moments.’
Talk the talk
Not to get all scientific about it, but as well as the obvious emotional and physical closeness that comes from spending quality time with the kids à la Courteney, research continues to prove that children who feel truly listened to when they talk are far more likely to excel socially and academically. A study by the UCLA School of Public Health found that two-way adult-child conversations were more potent for promoting language development.
Our advice: So engage your children in back and forth chat – it gives them the chance with language and that their thoughts and opinions matter. Research presented at last year's American Sociological Association conference showed that encouraging our children to be 'assertive advocates for their own needs' by getting them to talk has a bigger influence on their educational achievement.
‘I made a tent with fabric, bought a beanbag chair and put together an art table where my daughter could paint.’
Kids love a bit of creativity. Whether you're getting artsycraftsy like Mira or want to feed their imagination with a game of dens or dressing up, every home needs rainy day staples.
Our advice: For a truly impressive selection of arts and crafts supplies, shop online at bakerross.co.uk, where you'll find everything from bog standard pens, paints and paper to elaborate make-and-decorate 3D kits (they're also a great go-to for party bag fillers). For beautiful built to-last kids' furniture, check out the classic designs at pintoys.com for a great choice of chairs, tables, easels and toy boxes. And if you ant to upgrade the DIY den to something a little more substantial, consider fairytale fabricators Win Green. Hand appliquéd and embroidered, their playhouses will let your child's imagination soar, whether you have a swashbuckling pirate or a woodland fairy chez vous.