Of all the cool kids' toys out there, which one does conservative North Carolina family psychologist John Rosemond most recommend? An empty Quaker Oatmeal container -- the better to encourage kids to be inventive and to develop problem-solving skills along the way, he writes in "Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children" (Andrews McMeel, 1989).

Rosemond, a leading exponent of the "because-I-said-so" school of parenting, will suggest other ways to foster these skills when he speaks Monday, Oct. 25, in Alexandria about raising kids with good values and strong character. The speech is sponsored by the Parents Council of Washington (PCW).

Parenting is more intuitive than most people -- especially most psychologists -- think, said Rosemond in a phone interview.

"The best parents are the most relaxed people . . . those with a good sense of humor," he said. Among Rosemond's tips: Parents should show that "their relationship [to each other] is actually stronger than their relationship to their child. That gives the child full permission" to do things on his own and to leave one day. Also, parents should encourage self-reliance and expect mistakes (on homework and elsewhere) en route. Talking back, though, is out of bounds.

To register for the 7:30 p.m. program at St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School Chapel, at 1000 St. Stephen's Road, call 301-767-2385. Or register on-site at 7 p.m. For PCW members, the cost is $10 per person, or $15 per couple; nonmembers pay $15 and $20.

-- Samantha Ganey

Conservative parenting pro John Rosemond stresses values, character.