Lisa Salmon looks at the weird, wonderful and sometimes weary world of parenting.


:: A secondary school has introduced compulsory clip-on ties in a bid to smarten up its students.

Traditional knotted ties have been banned at the Arthur Terry School in Sutton Coldfield, and headteacher Christopher Stone claims that students' appearance, behaviour and attendance have improved as a result.

"Our attendance has risen since the ties were introduced and I think it's now one of the best in the area," Stone said.

Who would have thought that after all the wrangling about how to improve schools, all that was really needed was a clip-on tie?

:: A magnetic construction kit has won an award for the most intelligent children's toy.

The MagNext kit, which allows children to build towers, bridges and other constructions while learning the principles of engineering, has been named Smart Toy of the Year by the Science Museum.

The awards are designed to help parents and children choose the most fun, educational and intelligent toys on the market.

And if MagNext teaches children the principles of engineering in a fun way, that's very smart indeed.

:: Babies have a sense of rhythm early in their lives which could help pinpoint possible future problems, according to research led by the University of Plymouth.

A study of how babies perceive the world when they're born showed their brains can detect subtle changes in musical beats and the pitch of notes.

The results mean it could be possible to screen children at a much earlier age to identify potential cognitive problems which might lead to poor development.

And they give weight to the old adage 'born with rhythm'.

:: A leading state school has cut back on homework, saying too much can put children off learning.

Tiffin Boys' School, in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, has scaled back homework schedules from three to four hours a night to around 45 minutes to give pupils more time for developing their own interests.

Headteacher Sean Heslop said a review of homework had found that much of what was set was "mindless, meaningless and repetitive".

Surely it should be about quality, not quantity, anyway?

ASK THE EXPERT Q: "I've read about a new study which suggests mobile-phone use could increase the risk of brain tumours in children. Do I need to stop my 12-year-old daughter using her mobile?"

A: Eileen O'Connor, trustee at the Radiation Research Trust (RRT), an independent body that provides facts about electromagnetic radiation and health, says: "There have been numerous studies that support the theory that exposure to mobile-phone radiation causes adverse health effects.

"Most significantly, evidence shows an increased risk of developing brain tumours, particularly after long-term mobile-phone use of over 10 years.

"Recent research led by Professor Lennart Hardell in Sweden indicates that children and teenagers are five times more likely to get brain cancer if they use mobile phones.

"But what research hasn't determined to date are the long-term health effects associated with mobile-phone use. Existing guidelines only protect the public from acute radiation effects such as shocks and burns, and don't consider effects that take place over a longer period of time, for example a person using a mobile phone from a very young age.

"Our children are extremely vulnerable from mobile-phone radiation. Their brains, due to skull formation throughout childhood years, absorb a greater proportion of radiation emitted by mobile phones.

"Therefore, more research is urgently needed to establish the true health risks. While this takes place, the RRT believes the UK Government should adopt a precautionary approach, providing appropriate guidance to the public.

"We think the public, particularly children under 16, shouldn't use mobile phones while the jury is still out. If they must use them, it should be for emergencies only, keeping their calls short and making limited use of text messaging.

"We'd also advise people not to carry mobile phones next to their bodies."

WEBSITE OF THE WEEK: The recruitment website, which is aimed at helping professional women find family-friendly jobs after taking a career break to bring up their children, has expanded nationally after initially only recruiting in the London area.

The site helps employers fill part-time or job-share posts with high-calibre professionals after parents register on it and post their CVs. There's also a jobshare board and tips on interview techniques and updating CVs.

THREE WAYS TO... deal with whingeing 1. Don't reward whingeing by giving your child what she wants.

2. Try imitating her whingeing, which may surprise and stop her - but if it makes her angry, stop the imitation.

3. Give lots of positive attention when your child asks for something properly instead of whingeing, and when she does whinge clearly point out how she should be behaving to get what she wants.

WHEN IS MY CHILD READY... to give up his afternoon nap?

At the age of four, more than half of children are still taking naps, although about 70% have stopped by the time they are five years old.

It depends on how many hours your toddler sleeps at night - they need 12-14 hours per day - and they may also resist napping because they're scared they'll miss out on something.

When they're ready to stop napping, naps usually get shorter and then they start skipping them every few days before eventually stopping altogether.

READER TIP Get children to do chores quicker and without a fight by turning it into a contest and setting a timer.