Nanny knows best
When parents can't put their feet down, they call for a pro
By MARLON MANUEL
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/19/2005
When parents call in a nanny, it's like the Godfather summoning Luca Brasi. The nanny's the enforcer, the disciplining muscle.
Watch it, sass mouth, or you'll be doing time — in the corner.
Nanny Jennifer Ratliff of Lawrenceville says parents too often fall prey to trying to be their kids' 'buddies.'
THE SUPERNANNY'S TOP 10 RULES
1. Praise and rewards: Notice good behavior. Don't use toys and treats on a regular basis.
2. Consistency: Follow through. Make sure your partner backs you up. Reinforce important rules.
3. Routine: Build time into your schedule for play — indoors and out. Get outdoors as much as possible to let children blow off steam.
4. Boundaries: Be clear about what you expect in terms of behavior. Set limits on TV watching. Don't give in to whining.
5. Discipline: Use the "naughty step" or time-out technique for unacceptable behavior
6. Warnings: Warn before disciplining so child can correct behavior.
7. Explanations: Show and tell your child how you expect him to behave when it comes to "gray areas."
8. Restraint: Don't buy your child the entire contents of the toy shop.
9. Responsibility: Teach them to share and take turns. Don't hover when they play.
10. Relaxation: Enjoy your children. Let them direct play. Cuddle and read a story.
Source: "Supernanny: How to Get the Best From Your Children"
Giving bratty kids their comeuppance is part of what's made ABC's "Supernanny" (10 p.m. Mondays) a TV hit since its January debut. Fox's nanny series — "Nanny 911" — is on hiatus till spring.
On "Supernanny," British nanny Jo Frost arrives in a London-style taxi each episode at the home of overwhelmed parents.
The conflict and resolution are so eminently watchable that about 10 million people tune in Frost every week.
With the accent of Mary Poppins and the no-nonsense approach of parenting author John Rosemond, Frost analyzes what's going wrong in the house and shows frazzled parents how to fix it. She brings order to chaos by posting schedules, outlining consequences for rule-breaking and limiting kids to 10 toys.
The advice, metro Atlanta nannies say, is right on target.
Jennifer Ratliff, a 32-year-old nanny from Lawrenceville, said the biggest problem she's seen in 20-plus years of child care: lack of consistency in discipline.
Sometimes parents discipline a behavior — talking back, for example — sometimes not.
Kids in households devoid of consistency can roll the dice with their antics; maybe they get away with something, maybe not. It's like Las Vegas — and the children are playing with house money.
"Parents more want to be their child's friend. They want to be their buddies," said Ratliff, who has degrees in developmental psychology and conflict management. "They spend so much time working that they don't do so much parenting."
Frost offers the "naughty stool" or "naughty mat" as Alcatraz for toddlers: One minute in the chair or on the mat for every year of age.
In the debut episode, Andra, the 4 1/2-year-old daughter of David and Barbara Jeans of Denver, kicked her parents, threw tantrums and demanded her sippy cup.
Nanny Jo rebuked the Jeanses for asserting zero authority, which perpetuates the behavior. "When she throws a bone, you guys go and fetch," Frost told them. "This has got to stop."
Like Ratliff, real-life nanny Sandra Hight of Decatur said parents — like the Jeanses — are too indulgent and yield way too much territory to their children.
It galls her to see kids with $200 jackets and private telephone hookups in their rooms — all the while contentedly bringing home D's and F's from school.
But instead of closeting the jacket or disconnecting the phone, parents turn the other way — and wonder why their kids might be destined to appear on another reality show: "Cops."
"They feel guilty about taking some things away from their children," said Hight, 41.
There's a problem with too much materialism at an early age, said Pat Cascio, president of the Houston-based International Nanny Association. "If you have no goals and all your needs are met, you have very little to work toward," she added.
Yet, such blind adulation and permissiveness make parents susceptible to being duped, nannies say.
In one case, Hight helped a single mom care for her only child, a 13-year-old boy diagnosed with attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder.
After school, he delayed homework to play with friends outside. He conned his mom into extra snacks and was a basic wild child when he came back in.
"He was literally bouncing off the walls. He'd be on top of the piano — literally — and flipping from on top of the furniture," Hight said. The mom "couldn't control him. She thought it was due to his ADHD."
After a few days in the home, Hight asked the child what was going on.
"Do you act like this in school?" she wanted to know.
"No, school's not the place for that. I can control it when I want to," he told her.
Like Supernanny, Hight pointed out to the mother what was happening and what could be done to change it: more firmness, more direct consequences.
The plan was simple. No homework, no privileges. Disobey, Hight suggested, and he'd lose video games and TV privileges.
The mom complied.
"He became much better behaved after that point," Hight said.
Degrees of training
British nannies, in particular, have a reputation for rigid training at places like the Norland College in Bath, England. Founded in 1892, the institute trains nannies in a wide scope of disciplines, including childhood development, nutrition and personal hygiene.
"I've never heard of an American not wanting to hire a British nanny," Frost told TV critics during their winter press tour in January in Los Angeles in January.
But British child care isn't without its flaws. In 1997, British au pair Louise Woodward was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of a baby in Boston she was caring for. A judge later reduced the conviction to involuntary manslaughter and sentenced her to time served.
In the United States, the nanny concept — private professional in-home child care as opposed to the teenage baby sitter down the street — has grown since 1985, Cascio said.
When the INA was formed 20 years ago — with about 40 agencies that screened, trained and placed potential caregivers — professional nannies made about $10,000 a year. Now, a nanny can make $60,000.
"They're seen as experts, because of their training," said Cascio, whose group now represents more than 200 agencies in eight countries. "They know a whole lot more about child care than most parents."
But not everyone is enamored of the Fran Dreschers of the world.
Cathryn Tobin, a Canadian pediatrician and author of "The Parent's Problem Solver," isn't one to give nannies more weight than parents where child care is concerned.
The mother of four, Tobin employed nannies to help her while she was in medical school and residency.
"I've known lovely women who work as nannies and were great caretakers," Tobin said. "But did they have more insight or skills in the discipline department? Absolutely not. While I have the greatest respect for some of these women, I would never have turned to them for advice."