Did you know that Supernanny US has uploaded a ton of full episodes to YouTube?
Rebecca told me and I was so excited, because the girls and I used to love watching that show when they were teenagers. We’d sit on a Saturday morning with our breakfast and watch these parents with AWFUL kids learn how to control them and get less chaos in their lives.
If you’re having trouble getting your kids on a schedule; if your kids are whining a lot or rarely listen to you; if you get into power struggles a lot with your kids, it’s honestly a great show to watch!
My husband Keith is a pediatrician who sees a lot of families for behaviour problems, and he loves this as a resource, too! We’re watching all the episodes through and tagging them for different issues, so that if he sees a family for something, he can tell them, “Okay, you need to watch season 2 episode 6!”
Anyway, I thought I’d share 10 lessons that we can learn from Jo Frost’s intervention with families–lessons that it’s important for all of us to know.
1. Kids need routine
The way Supernanny’s method works is she spends a day or two watching the family and immersing herself in it so she can get an idea of where the strengths and problems are. Then she talks to the parents, and invariably she shows up the next morning with a new family routine plastered on a giant poster-board that is mounted up in the kitchen for everyone to see.
What routine does for families is it ensures everyone gets what they need. Whiny kids who are clingy and anxious calm down when they can rest assured that they will get their snuggle time with mom. Mom’s stress level drops when she can see that there is enough time in the day to get everything done and she will have some time to herself, too.
When we don’t live with a routine, everything gets mandated by what the biggest emergency is right now. And as a result, quiet time to do nothing together often gets left behind. And kids act up as a result.
2. You can get a better bedtime routine going. You can win this battle!
If you’re struggling with getting kids to bed, you are not alone. That is one of the most common issues that she deals with! And no matter how severe the problem, those kids end up sleeping in their beds.
She’s dealt with elementary school age kids who have never slept through the night, toddlers who bite and pinch every night, even children who refuse to even try to go to sleep until well past midnight. And for all of them, the method is pretty much the same. Fun bedtime routine with snuggles and books, hugs and kisses, and then leave. Kid comes out of bed, first time you say “Bedtime, darling,” then you just say “bedtime,” then you just put them right back. You don’t engage, you don’t explain, you just take them by the hand and put them in bed.
And within a few nights all those kids are sleeping.
3. Kids often misbehave because they’re bored
So many of the Supernanny episodes are of kids hitting each other or demolishing the living room, but if you take a look, it’s clear that they are bored. There’s nothing to do, and mom hasn’t taught them how to play together or what play looks like.
When our kids were small we lived in a tiny apartment. Every morning, at 9:30, we would leave for our daily outing. One day a week was the library; one day was a park or the farm (there’s an awesome farm in downtown Toronto!); two days a week were playgroup; one day was grocery shopping and errands. On our outings that were fun for the kids, they’d have my undivided attention. That helped them feel as if I cared about them and loved them, but it also tired them out so that when we got home, they’d be ready for down time, and they’d often leave me to myself for a bit.
4. Kids need you to spend part of the day interacting with them
When mom is always running around after the kids, trying to put out fires, it doesn’t work. You need to get proactive and actually plan things to do together. We had our outings, but we also had times where I’d set up the craft table in the living room and I’d fold laundry and talk to them while they played or painted. I never, ever, once played Barbie’s or dolls with my kids. Playing with your kids doesn’t mean that you have to do what they do. It just means you have to give them your attention.
For us, that meant reading books, or me talking to them while I was doing chores (and I’d often give them a bucket of water or spray bottle to play with at the same time, so we were doing things together).
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5. Positive time is more important than discipline techniques
We often think that raising good kids is about having the right punishments. But that’s not actually the most important part: engaging with your children in positive ways is.
In almost every episode the family is prescribed “productive play” time with the kids. Time where you’re colouring, painting, playing board games, or at the park together just having fun while doing something that is helping you grow (in other words, not just watching a movie together). Because if you can have that kind of interaction regularly with your kids, you can often teach lessons while avoiding having to discipline because the kids are having fun, you’re having those conversations naturally, and they are “accidentally” being trained for good character. It’s not enough to punish Jack for not sharing with his brother–he also needs to be shown that sharing can be fun.
6. When kids don’t have your attention, they will act out
One episode of Jo Frost’s (Supernanny) that I love is with a mother who never put down her cell phone. Her children were tearing around the house and driving her crazy. They were picking on each other. They were messy. She didn’t know what to do.
When Supernanny talked to the 4 year old son, he said, “Mommy is on her phone quite a lot so sometimes we say BOO and then she drops it!” He was quite proud of himself for fixing the problem even if just for a short time.
As soon as this mom put limits on when she could be on her cell phone and instead started reading stories or just being emotionally available to her kids, 80% of the bad behaviour stopped overnight. The kids weren’t acting out because they were bad kids; it’s because they desperately wanted their mother’s attention and they just weren’t getting it unless they were being bad.
7. Many parents yell and sound strict but are actually quite permissive
Like Rebecca talked about in her book Why I Didn’t Rebel, Permissive parents are any parents where the kids end up getting to do whatever they want no matter what you say. It doesn’t matter how many threats you give, how many times you say “You’re grounded,” how many times you yell at your kids–if at the end of the day they did what they wanted with minimal consequences, you’re a permissive parent.
But often these parents feel quite strict because they are constantly telling their kids to stop doing something. They yell and scream and think, “I’m being strict, but it doesn’t do anything. I must just have a really willful child.”
Here’s the thing: threats and yelling do not count as discipline. In fact, one of the things Supernanny has many parents do is practice in the bathroom mirror how to talk to their children so they stop yelling. That’s right–someone comes in to teach them how to discipline their kids and one of the first things she says is, “Stop yelling!”
Yelling is not an effective parenting method. It’s just a fight for control.
What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?
8. Slapping children rarely works
Often parents slap their kids, whether on the hand or on the bum, because they’re at their last straw. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t actually work that well if at all. What slapping works for is stopping the behaviour right then and there, which is why so many parents use it. But what it doesn’t teach is why you shouldn’t do the behaviour. And often it seems very hypocritical to the child when they’re being told, “Don’t hit!” but Daddy just hit them.
Research has shown that children who are spanked are significantly more likely to be aggressive themselves when they are older. It has also shown that they often are more emotionally distant from their parents than kids who were not spanked. Supernanny deals with incredibly badly behaved kids–kids who bite, kick, punch, jab, and hit. She never prescribes spanking because, frankly, it doesn’t work. And there are much better alternatives that have proven effectiveness with none of the bad outcomes. I’ve got a post of 10 alternatives to spanking that are much more effective!
9. Parenting works better when you’re on the same page
Kids are smart. They know which parent to go to for different issues. So if you aren’t agreed on something, your kid will get away with it because they’ll just go to the “right” parent!
Parenting needs to be a joint venture. That doesn’t mean you should always just give in if you don’t agree with your spouse–it means you need to have real, honest conversations about what kind of people you want your children to become and what is helping and what is hurting you in that cause. Get on the same page, communicate about boundaries and punishments with the kids, and then live it out.
10. Kids need to be listened to.
When kids yell, there’s often an underlying emotion they can’t express. Helping them to identify that emotion can defuse the situation (“Andy, you look frustrated. Can you tell me why you’re frustrated?”)
When we’re upset and stressed, we run the risk of getting upset when the kids are just kids and have any negative emotion themselves. But their emotions matter, too. Helping kids talk about what they’re feeling, and manage those emotions, is far better than yelling at them for being angry or for being frustrated.
What’s really wonderful at the end of each show is that the families honestly enjoy being with each other again.
That’s what I felt with my kids, and looking back, I think it’s because I naturally did some of tehse things without realizing it. But the biggest ones, I think, is that I gave my kids focused, undivided attention at regular times everyday. They knew that I enjoyed listening and talking to them. They knew that I enjoyed being with them. And so they really enjoyed being with me, and they rarely acted up. Rebecca did have tantrums at times because she had trouble with emotional regulation (she talks about that in Why I Didn’t Rebel; she still struggles with anxiety or crying at the drop of a hat); and Katie had impulse control issues, but the big thing is that we could always talk about it, and they knew, even from a young age, that we genuinely enjoyed them.
When kids act up or are whiny, they can make the home so miserable to be in, and that’s exhausting for parents, and so hard on a marriage. So I thought some of you may need this today. Your relationships with your kids should be something that you enjoy, that brings you smiles, not stress. If it’s not, then ask yourself if learning some of these lessons may help.
No, the show isn’t perfect. But we hear all these parenting techniques, yet we rarely see them in action. Here’s a chance to see how to implement different things, and to see what doesn’t work–and what does. I’m glad the shows are finally out there for all to see!
What do you think? Have you ever watched Supernanny? Or which of these 10 points is most important, in your opinion? Let’s talk in the comments!
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