There are many things to like about the television show Super Nanny that has captured the public interest in recent weeks.
First, the nanny character is very likeable, if a little scary at times. She has that old-fashioned school-teacher demeanour that says, 'Listen up. I know best and I am in charge here.' Many of the families featured need someone who takes charge.
Second, if you are a parent, how can you not get involved in a show that gets you into the challenges of child rearing in such a nitty gritty, warts n'all way that doesn't involve you? Okay, it is voyeuristic but it is doesn't relate to you, does it???!!! Importantly, this program has got people talking about raising kids, which is fantastic.
Third, while I don't agree with every technique presented the program gives good, solid advice and strategies about some common challenges many parents face. Importantly, it helps parenting become a happy experience again for many people as it is the little challenges that we face that can make the job so difficult.
Following is a user's guide for watching Super Nanny to help you be discerning about what you see and to encourage you think about some of the principles that may be behind (or should be behind) the strategies presented.
1. Who owns the problem?
A crucial principle that the Super Nanny ignores is that of problem ownership. Problems in families are owned by either by parents, children or the family as a whole. Too often parents take on responsibilities that should belong to parents so issues escalate into power disputes. A simple question to ask when you see a misbehaviour presented is: Who owns this problem?
Let's give it a try:
a) Who owns the problem when a child comes into his parents' bedroom at 3.00am? Answer: Parents so they need to come up with a strategy to deal with it.
b) Who owns the problem when a child refuses to eat at mealtime or is fussy at mealtime? Answer: The child so he or she needs to worry about eating, not his parents.
c) Who owns the problem when the family room is left in a mess? Answer: The family so everyone needs to address family room tidiness.
When watching this program make sure that the owner of the problem takes responsibility and parents stay out of problems such as eating and dressing that should belong to children.
2. What is the purpose of the behaviour?
When children are less than perfect look for parents' place in their behaviour. Look specifically for what the parents do to contribute to the continuing misbehaviour. The point being is that children don't misbehave in a vacuum. Misbehaviour generally has the purpose of getting attention, defeating someone else or retaliation. Children throw tantrums because they are a great way to get control back. Eating refusal is a great way to get some attention or prove a child's power over a parent. Secondary bed-wetting is a great form of retaliation. Ask yourself, if the parent didn't respond to the misbehaviour as they routinely do would it continue? If not, then it gives a clue to the purpose of the behaviour.
3. How does the household routine contribute to the problem?
Make no mistake, even families with no obvious routine have a routine. It is just all over the place. Kids love an orderly routine as it gives life predictability. A large percentage of challenges can be prevented by having sensible child-friendly routines; particularly around mornings, around dinnertime and at bed-time, which are the three manic times in most families. A daily routine that gives time for children's activities and that separates work and family is an essential in many families.
4. Do parents talk too much when children are less than perfect?
Parents often spend a great deal of their time telling children what they already know. Anyone ever said something like, "How many times do I have tell you to put your toys away before dinner?" Kids know what they are meant to do yet we remind them. It is better to put an action in place ? i.e. don't put dinner on the table until toys are packed away ? so kids know you mean what you say.
5. Does the misbehaviour intensify before it is eliminated if a change strategy is used?
Notice how children's misbehaviour will often get worse before it is eliminated. A child who usually cries out successfully for his parents when he is put to bed will turn up the volume if his parents change their behaviour and ignore his cries for one more drink or another story. He will probably add tears and say some pretty hurtful things as a way of pressing the old guilt buttons. It may take a while but he will test his parents' new found will and work out if they have a backbone or not.
6. Do parents have some time for them?
Many family challenges stem from the fact that parents are tired and stressed. Parents with two or more children close in age or those with children under five generally have a difficult time of it. Parents need some time each day (very hard) and each week just for them. If not then they generally become overwhelmed and lose perspective. They say they want strategies to deal with kids, when all they need is a break.
7. Do parents work together or does lack of teamwork contribute to the problems?
A big challenge for many parents is working together and getting on the same wavelength rather than working at odds with each other. Bedtime is a typical time when parents can inadvertently work against each other. For instance, one can settle the kids down while the other is busy amping them up with a game or two.
8. How will fixing one problem impact on the family?
It is amazing how resolving one parenting issue has a snowball effect on other problems. For instance, many parents who finally solve the battle of bedtimes find it is amazing how their children's whinging and whining disappears. Yes, it is easier to cope with children when we have plenty of sleep under our belts but often the resolve we gain from overcoming something so draining gives us energy and the will to deal with lesser issues. And kids suddenly realise that mum and dad are suddenly different.
Keep an open mind if you do catch an episode of Super Nanny and look for principles behind the strategies so that you can adapt some of the ideas presented to suit your own family.
Michael Grose is Australia's most popular parenting author and presenter. The author of six books for parents, published in numerous countries and translated into many languages Michael is well-known to readers around the world. Subscribe to Happy Kids, his forthnightly newsletter full of practical, thought-provoking ideas at http://www.parentingideas.com.au . While you are there subscribe to a free on-line parenting course.