Three generations of Chicago moms share their best baby advice


Whiskey to soothe teething babies? Teaching a kid not to bite by biting them back? Yep. That's your great grandma's generation talking. While some aspects of parenting have changed significantly in recent decades, much of grandma's-and even great grandma's-advice still rings very true.

We reached out to three generations of mothers in the same families to hear their best advice for dealing with common parenting dilemmas. These experienced mamas shared their thoughts on everything from soothing a fussy baby to teaching a toddler not to hit.


The Basile/Panfil/Ober family

Meet the Moms

Great Grandma: Evelyn Basile, mom of two

Grandma: Susan Panfil, mom of four

Mom: Brooke Ober, mom of three

Fussy baby/teething

Great Grandma: We would rub whiskey on their gums.

Grandma: A lot of holding and walking and Tylenol, of course.

Mom: I would give them a dose of Tylenol for the pain and chilled teether toys, but cuddling helped soothe them the best.

Sleeping through the night

Great Grandma: Both my kids were colicky for five months. We just suffered through it. Once I took my baby to my mom's house for a night to get some sleep (she had the patience of a saint), but she called after 10 minutes and she had to give her back!

Grandma: I picked them up when they cried and nursed. I often brought them into bed with me.

Mom: After 6 months, I would start putting the baby down awake, which seems to help them learn to fall asleep on their own. I did try sleep training, but hearing them cry for long periods was too heart wrenching.


The Basile/Panfil/Ober family

Potty training

Great Grandma: My daughter was still in diapers in kindergarten. I tried and tried, I just had to wait until they were ready do it.

Grandma: I tried diligently with my first and failed at it. And then the other three kids did it when they seemed to be ready and interested.

Mom: With my first, we started at around 2 1/2 and tried and tried and tried. Finally we gave up for several months. Then a few weeks before his third birthday we let him run naked for a week. There were lots and lots of accidents, but by the fourth day, something clicked in him and that was it.


Great Grandma: Just ignore them. I remember just stepping over my son on the kitchen floor.

Grandma: Distraction worked best. Give them a toy, treat or remove them from the situation.

Mom: I would try to give them all my attention or a hug to calm them down. But as my oldest has gotten older, that doesn't work so well, so we typically ignore the tantrum and he will stop on his own.

Biting or hitting

Great Grandma: I remember once, my son bit another little girl in the leg. I was so embarrassed. For punishment, we would spank, as that's how we were raised.

Grandma: I stopped it right away and let them know it was NOT tolerated. Worked really well.

Mom: If my child would bite me or another kid, I would always take them away from whatever they were doing or sit them down if I was holding them. But more than anything, we try to nip it before it happens. Really paying attention to them keeps the bad behavior from even starting.


Cooning/Erickson/Pero family

Meet the Moms

Great Grandma: Grace Cooning, mom of four

Grandma: Kathy Erickson,
mom of two

Mom: Lauren Pero, mom of two

Fussy baby/teething

Great Grandma: For teething, we had a round rubber ring that we put in the refrigerator. We also used paregoric to rub on their gums to numb them.

Grandma: Keep calm and try to change the environment. Sometimes just picking the baby up and walking, rocking or bouncing will help. A little bit of children's Tylenol is helpful. Lots of love helps!

Mom: My oldest daughter had colic, so there was lots of crying. We used a pacifier for soothing. When she was small we also wore her a lot so the BabyBjörn was our lifesaver!

Sleeping through the night

Great Grandma: Feed the baby late and put some cereal in the milk and the bottle to try to fill their tummies so it would hold them through the night.

Grandma: I think a full tummy at night will help with sleeping. If your child does wake during the night and cannot seem to settle, I would go in and pat and rub their back. If at all possible, don't take your child out of the crib.

Mom: Two words: Sleep training. We used the Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child book by Dr. Weissbluth, and my husband and I still say it was one of the best parenting decisions we've made so far. I can't emphasize enough how great it is to have a child who sleeps from 7-7.


Cooning/Erickson/Pero family

Potty training

Great Grandma: When your child wakes up dry, put them on the potty. After each meal you should put them on the potty and before and after naps and bedtime. I started this as early as eight months.

Grandma: When your child is able to tell you that they are using the bathroom in their diaper, that is the appropriate time to introduce toilet training. Once you start, be consistent. Give your child the opportunity to sit on their potty first thing in the morning, after each meal, before nap and bedtime and any other time that you know they normally go potty.

Mom: We're in the beginning stages of potty training. My daughter sometimes tells us when she poops but is oblivious to having a wet diaper. We have potties set up downstairs and upstairs and let her sit on them and read books whenever she wants.


Great Grandma: Our children didn't have tantrums. I was lucky!

Grandma: The first thing you do is make sure your child is in a safe place and cannot hurt himself. Let them throw the tantrum and ignore them. If you are in public, remove the child.

Mom: Oh boy, my oldest is a champion tantrum-thrower. What's seemed to work well for us has been to remove her from the situation and redirect attention. If that doesn't work, I'll put her in her crib to calm down.


The Armbrust/Doody/Griffith family

Meet the Moms

Great Grandma: Vada Armbrust, mom of seven

Grandma: Carol Doody, mom of three

Mom: Rachel Griffith, mom of two

Fussy baby/teething

Great Grandma: You just have to pay more attention to the baby than usual.

Grandma: I think the most helpful thing was understanding that there would be a period every day (we called it the bewitching hour) that the baby would be fussy and hard to comfort and we could try different things, but we'd all just have to get through it. For some reason, I decided not to rely on a pacifier. But I have observed many a baby calmed instantly when given one, so I would definitely add that to my repertoire if I had it to do over again.

Mom: Patience, pacifiers, cold teethers and a little Tylenol when teething interrupts sleep.

Sleeping through the night

Great Grandma: When the babies were newborn I slept when they slept and was awake when they were awake. When they got a little older, I started letting them cry it out.

Grandma: We always had the baby in a bassinet in our room for the first couple of months (no monitors) and I felt like I never got sound sleep.

Mom: Wait until you feel your baby is ready (doesn't NEED you) and start letting them try to cry it out for an amount of time that you are comfortable with.


The Armbrust/Doody/Griffith family

Potty training

Great Grandma: Let them do it when they want to.

Grandma: I don't remember potty training being traumatic for any of our children. The guideline at the time was that if the child was not potty trained by the time they were 3, then you had to do something about it.

Mom: Start putting them on the potty once in a while (maybe before getting in the bath) around a year just to introduce the idea, talk about it a lot, read books about it, buy the potty seat and then wait until they are ready. Basically, give them all the tools and information and then wait until they want to do it. They will let you know.


Great Grandma: Park them on a chair or in their room.

Grandma: My effectiveness at handling tantrums directly corresponded to how sleep deprived I was. On a good day, I would calmly state why they could not have the toy at the checkout and then leave the store as quickly as possible. On a not-so-good day, I would try to reason with them and give them chances or count on more than one hand several times to no avail.

Mom: Stay calm and first try ignoring, then leave a public place if it doesn't stop or put them in their room if at home to cry/scream it out alone. Once the child is calm, then have a conversation about why it happened and how to handle a similar situation in the future.

Biting or hitting

Great Grandma: For biting, I may bite them back (gently, of course) so that they realize that it hurts.

Grandma: This behavior warranted an immediate removal from the situation. I think the first time one of my children hit another child was at a playgroup and I was mortified. I had to learn to be firm, but not treat the behavior as a federal offense. Most children go through a phase of expressing frustration inappropriately and need to be shown what's OK and what's not.

Mom: Remove them from the situation, talk about better ways to solve problems, and help them understand that if they choose to do that, they should expect the person to do it back.


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