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The Super-nanny Show and you

nanny; naughty; show; television; control; behaviour; techniques; separation; play; discipline; relationships; fears; naughtiness; punishment; toddlers; toddler; playtime; parenting; super; supernanny; nanny;

The Supernanny Show is presented for television and makes things look easy. It is about controlling behaviour and it doesn't show what else is happening in children's lives or take into account the reasons for what the child is doing. Here is some of the advice from the Supernanny Show, looked at in the light of what research and early childhood knowledge tell us about what works in parenting.

Contents

Many parents have been interested in the Supernanny Show on TV and are wondering about the advice that it gives. The Supernanny Show is presented for television and makes things look easy. It is about controlling behaviour and it doesn't show what else is happening in children's lives or take into account the reasons for what the child is doing. It also doesn't show the bits that don't work or what happens behind the scenes, so trying to adapt it to your family might not be as easy as it seems. Some of the techniques shown on the show might control children's behaviour at least for a while, but without dealing with the causes, the problems will come back in some other way. Here is some of the advice from the Supernanny Show, looked at in the light of what research and early childhood knowledge tell us about what works in parenting.

Getting down to their level

One thing the nanny stresses is to make sure that children hear and understand you, by getting down to their level and making eye contact when you want to tell them something. This is sound advice. It gets the child's attention and is not talking down to them from a great height. This way you can be sure the child has heard.

Naughty corner (or stairs or mat or chair)

Putting a child in a naughty corner has several problems.

  • It makes the child believe he or she is naughty and perhaps unloved and unlovable, and this damages self-esteem. Children see themselves through your eyes, so if they think you see them as naughty, that is what they will believe about themselves. This leads to feeling bad about themselves and more 'naughty' behaviour.
  • Separating children when there is a problem does not teach them what they should do – and it does teach them that when there is a problem, people should separate and deal with it by themselves, rather than help them to learn to do better. It is more helpful to take the child away from the situation and then explain what it is you want them to do. This is teaching them that you will help them deal with problems (you may need to keep them with you for a while if they are very upset about something).
  • Making children say sorry to get out of the naughty corner, when they don't feel sorry, is helping to teach them to tell lies and manipulate. Children need to learn to say sorry if they really feel sorry, not just to achieve an end.
  • Research into long term effects of discipline shows that positive discipline methods such as teaching have much better long term results than negative methods such as punishment. The child sees being put in a naughty corner as punishment.
  • Whatever might seem like 'time out' or 'time in', there are lots of differences.
  • There are more topics about discipline:

Giving a hug

This is not emphasised very much in the Supernanny Show, but if you look carefully you will see that she encourages quick forgiveness for wrong doing and getting back to good relationships. This is really important for young children. Usually they want to please parents more than anything else but sometimes things get in the way. They need to know that you love them, even though sometimes you have to teach them not to do something or to do it differently.

Play time

Again this is not emphasised very much during the Supernanny Show, but it is there and is very important if you want children to feel good about themselves and to want to please you. Children need some time with parents every day that they can enjoy and feel good about. This builds your relationship with your children, and discipline and teaching work best within positive relationships. Children see your love through the time you spend with them, and investing in this time is very worthwhile.

Structuring your day

The Supernanny presents most families with a daily schedule that she has worked out for them. Schedules usually work best if families work them out for themselves. Some families work very well to a schedule, others are more flexible about what they do and when they do it. Children are helped by knowing what is happening in their lives. Having some predictability about their day helps them to feel safe, eg. how they will get to school, who will pick them up, that someone will be reliable and on time to pick them up, that they will have more or less regular meals, that there will be some bedtime routine to help them wind down for the night.

Night time fears

The Supernanny insists that even very young children sleep on their own, and persists with that even when the child is very distressed. Families have different ways of sleeping and in many parts of the world young children sleep with parents or with each other. This gives a feeling of safety and comfort. If your children are doing this and you are happy about it, there is no need to change. They won't be sleeping in your bed when they are 21!

However, if you have concerns about it and want to change your child's sleeping, you need to remember that the biggest fear that young children have is fear of abandonment, and that you need to make changes in a such a way that your young child still feels safe and secure. This means not leaving them to cry it out, but gradually removing your presence and always coming back to comfort them if they are upset. It is best not to pick them up if you can still comfort them in their cot, but you may need to pick up a child who is very distressed for a while. Try to help them feel relaxed before bed and don't make night-times play times or exciting times (see our topic Sleep in early childhood for more ideas).

Forcing children to eat

Making a big fuss about what children eat can lead to eating problems later on. Have good healthy food available. Offer choices of what they like and let children choose what they want to eat within these healthy options. Toddlers are often fussy eaters and want the same thing every day for a week or more. Eventually they will eat more. Don't feel that children have to eat a hot meal or everything on the plate. Cold food is a nutritious as hot if that is what they like, and everyone's appetite varies from time to time. If you are worried about what your child eats, check with your local child health centre. Usually if you do not pressure children over food and there is healthy food available, children will choose a healthy diet over time.

And if there are no biscuits and lollies and soft drinks in the house, young children are more likely to learn not to ask for them.

See our topic Feeding children and Feeding toddlers for more information.

Forcing young children to eat something they do not want to eat can cause them to choke on the food. See the topic Choking.

Discipline – what helps

  1. Make sure that you spend time with your child and that your relationship is good.
  2. Make sure that what you expect of the child is reasonable for his or her age and development.
  3. Plan your day so that problems are less likely to arise, eg. don't take a tired child shopping.
  4. Get down to their level and tell them clearly what you want. Show them, if possible.
  5. If they do the wrong thing, show them again. Say "no" clearly and explain the reason simply, eg. "don't touch the stove – that burns"; "don't push your sister – that hurt". Remember that under-twos don't have the self-control to be able to manage their own behaviour, and you might also have to distract them, move them away from the situation, or keep them with you for a while.
  6. If behaviour problems go on, look for a cause and try to deal with it. For example, jealousy of a new baby is common – the toddler thinks the baby is more loved, so he or she behaves badly. Then the toddler gets punished and that proves that parents love the baby better, so 'naughty' behaviour goes on (see our topics Toddlers - tips for toddler troubles  and  Second baby for more information). Parental stress and parents' relationship problems often cause children to misbehave because they are upset, but not able to express it in words.

Parenting

Parenting is much more than just managing behaviour, and current research shows that positive relationships are the foundations of good behaviour and good mental health.

Parenting is one of the most important jobs you will have in your life. Every child needs to feel safe and loved, to have food and shelter. They need to be protected from abuse and neglect, family violence, parental anger towards them or each other, and bullying. These are the bases you build from.

Children need to live in an atmosphere of warmth and nurturing. The foundation that underpins children's well-being comes from parents or carers who support and respect and care for each other and their children.

If these things are not there, children's development is compromised.

Research shows that children do best when parents:

  • find out about child development so they know what to expect and how to help their children
  • show their children that they are loved and lovable – children perceive love through things like time spent with them
  • provide opportunities to explore and learn – reading, story-telling, walking, exploring, pre-school and school
  • provide opportunities for play and being with others, and sport as they grow older
  • listen to children and show that they hear and understand
  • set safe limits
  • expect that children will contribute to the family and consider others according to their age
  • help children to take more responsibility for themselves as they grow older
  • know where their children and young people are
  • encourage children
  • spend some time with each child every day
  • use positive methods to respond to children's behaviour – teaching and guiding rather than control and punishment
  • remember that children's behaviour is a way of communicating how they feel to you – look for the message as well as the behaviour
  • where there are behaviour problems, look for the cause.

To grow up with strength and resilience, children need to know three things.

"I am loved and lovable" – these are not the same. If you say you love your children in spite of all their faults, they will feel loved, but not lovable.

"I am capable". There are things that I can do well. I can have a go at solving my problems and trying new things.

"I have people around who care about me" – not only parents, but extended family, or friends, teachers, other family and local groups.

Finally – this all seems hard, but parents don't have to be perfect. Trust your own knowledge and wisdom. If you and your children feel good about what you are doing, it is probably OK. A wise psychiatrist once said that parents need to be 'good enough'. Parents need to hang in there and do their best. If you run into real trouble, ask for help. We all need help sometimes.

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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