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

News for parents :: Taking a new baby home is scary enough - but when they're premature or sick, it can be even more frightening.

The special-care baby charity Bliss is doing its best to help the parents of such children by giving them free 'Going Home' packs.

The packs feature information about issues including sleeping, feeding, follow-up appointments, car travel with sick or premature babies, breastfeeding and weaning, financial advice and helpful facts for fathers.

There's also a voucher booklet including discount offers on baby goods.

The pack is being distributed by staff in neonatal units.

:: The great dummy debate, which has perplexed parents for years, has been reignited by more evidence linking prolonged use to childhood speech defects.

Research by American and Chilean scientists found that children sucking their fingers, a bottle or a dummy past the age of three were three times more likely to have problems with speaking.

The team found that babies who were breast-fed until at least nine months old - and therefore not bottle-fed - were less likely to develop speech defects.

Some babies find great comfort in using a dummy, particularly when they have colic, and foetuses have been observed sucking their thumb in the womb.

But dental experts have warned that extended thumb-sucking or use of a dummy can deform teeth, and others have suggested that using a pacifier during waking hours prevents the child from joining in the chatter of everyday conversation.

:: Almost half of men are failing to take up their right to two weeks' paternity leave after the birth of their children, mainly because they can't afford to.

A study of 4,500 UK parents found that two out of five men are afraid to ask for flexible working arrangements because they think it would harm their career prospects.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission research revealed that many fathers are working long hours and struggle to balance work and family life.

Men want to take a more active role in caring for their children, but two out of five admit they don't spend enough time with their sons or daughters.

Most of the fathers surveyed said the availability of flexible working was important when looking for a new job.

Fathers taking paternity leave are paid a statutory rate of £123 a week, but the commission argues they should receive 90% of their actual pay.

It has also called for four months of parental leave that can be taken by either mother or father, eight weeks of which would be at 90% of pay.

:: Just one in three parents read with their children on a daily basis, while 3% never, or rarely, read with them.

New research has found that this is partly because kids as young as four are spending more time playing video games and watching DVDs than they are reading with their parents.

A study commissioned by reading charity Booktrust found that tiredness, cooking dinner, the demands of homework or other children, and simply having too much else to do are among the reasons given by parents which stop them from reading with their child.

The survey reveals that 48% of parents with youngsters aged four and five say their child already spends more time in front of a TV screen than reading.

And 57% of parents overall say their child spends more time playing video games or watching DVDs than with a book.

Around 8% of the children questioned said they rarely, or never, see their parent or carer reading for pleasure, with 60% saying they thought they were too busy to do so.

Ask the expert Q: "My 14-year-old daughter seems stressed and sometimes appears depressed. Is this normal for a girl of her age, and how can I help her?"

A: NSPCC parenting advisor Eileen Hayes says: "The NSPCC's 'How u feelin?' poll - to launch the new ChildLine online service at - found that almost half of girls aged 14-16 (49%) say they feel some emotional distress most of the time.

"This includes feeling sad, lonely, worried, stressed, depressed, scared or angry, compared to 31% of boys aged 14-16.

"The teenage years can be hard. Teens today face endless exams, career choices, family breakdown, growing up too fast and relationship pressures. Add to this the hormonal rollercoaster of puberty.

"Feelings are often all over the place, especially for girls who tend to be more emotional. The good news is that girls aged 14-16, despite the bad moods, are more likely to say they feel happy most of the time compared to boys the same age.

"Girls seem to do okay if they can talk about their feelings. At this age they turn to their friends first before their parents, and are comfortable sharing their feelings online.

"Even with growing independence, teenagers still need security, they need to know that their parents are always there. You can help her by listening, spending time with her, like going for a coffee, asking open-ended questions, negotiating solutions and keeping calm.

"The ChildLine site also offers a safe place for her to be creative, explore and talk about her feelings if she needs it.

"The teenage phase will pass."

Website of the week: The Vodafone Parents' Guide is a new website to help parents understand their children's online activities. It has been developed with the parenting website Mumsnet to help adults play an active role in their children's digital world and to get to grips with their use of mobiles, Twitter and other online social media.

Divided into two sections - 'Get to grips with technology' and 'Get involved and stay in control' - it offers up-to-date guidance on issues such as children's excessive use of technology, managing their presence in social media, access to location technology, cyber-bullying and the risks of meeting strangers online.

Three ways to... entertain the kids at half-term.

1. Take them to one of the many special children's events organised at local museums.

2. Get together with other parents and kids, wrap up and take flasks of soup for an autumn picnic in the park.

3. Check with your local council or the National Trust what events they have planned for children.

Reader tip :: Avoid buying tops with long white sleeves for young children. You'll be able to see the dirt on them within minutes.