Do your homework for easier back-to-school clothes shopping. Here are tips:

"For clothes, back-to-school shopping can be both bonding and fun," says Carol Weston, author of "Girltalk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You" (HarperCollins, $14.95, 2004). "But all too often it's a train wreck."

To stay on track, Weston offers these tips:

--Protect your child's confidence. Don't say, "That makes you look heavy." Say, "I think the other skirt is more flattering." Don't say, "That doesn't look good." Say, "You look great in everything, but I love the fit of those jeans."

--Protect your wallet. If you can't spend hundreds of dollars, make that clear ahead of time. Shop at bargain stores, and don't try on high-end clothes.

--Be patient. Your daughter may want to try on seven jackets. Set aside enough time so that you don't start snapping at her. Your son may not care about shopping at all. If something fits him, why not go nuts and buy it in two colors?

--Be practical. Remind your child that it's easier to take good care of wash 'n' wear clothes than white or dry-clean-only ones.

--Take a break. Sharing time together is a privilege, but if you and your son or daughter hit a wall, stop for lunch or make a rain date to finish another day.

--Keep receipts and know a store's return policy. It's not now or never, and there's much to be said for having your kids check out what other kids are wearing rather than buying everything on sale ahead of time.

Weston, who writes for Girls' Life, has a website at www.carolweston.com.

A Davidson, N.C., mother of two in elementary school, suggests: Identify your favorite stores, ones that you patronize regularly; learn about the deals offered through card membership; decide whether getting a card makes sense for you; then act on those deals.

"I think getting rewards cards at your favorite stores can be worth it," she says. "If you're going to shop at a certain store anyway, getting the card can hook you in to some good deals, such as $10 coupons."

Rather shop online? Among a new trend in private online discount shopping sites with free memberships is Zulily at www.zulily.com. Shoppers receive daily e-mail alerts on deals on 500 brands. Two dads launched the site to help moms find clothes for their kids.

Other tips:

--Recycle. Get more than one year out of backpacks and lunch boxes.

--Hit consignment shops and thrift stores. Resist the temptation to stockpile on clothes, because kids hit growth spurts.

--Before you shop, know the dress code at your child's school so there are no surprises once the school bells ring.

Parenting tip

When thrift shopping, note that some clothes have been recalled. A consumer testing company, SGS at www.sgs.com, says among recalls are jackets and hoodies that have a drawstring through the hood, around the neck, that can strangle a child if the string is caught. Remove the string. Also make sure any drawstring at the bottom of jackets is no longer than 3 inches.

Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, N.C., is a mother and teaches preschool. E-mail her at p2ptips@att.net or call Parent to Parent at 704-236-9510.