How super is Supernanny?

Evaluating Supernanny's top 10 rules for caring for children: Part 1

By Hank Schlinger, Ph.D.


elevision shows in which nannies go into chaotic homes with out-of-control children and restore order have become very popular. In particular, ABC's Supernanny has captured the public's imagination. But how good is the advice she offers?

It's difficult to tell how effective her methods are by watching the show because it is slickly produced and edited. Also, we don't know how the children and parents behave in the absence of the TV cameras.

But we can evaluate Supernanny Jo Frost's approach to parenting based on her top 10 rules for caring for children. I'll discuss some of them in a multi-part series.

First of all, as Frost admits, her approach is based on personal observations rather than theory. While personal experience is not bad per se, it is subjective, biased and prone to error, while scientific knowledge is objective, unbiased and based on repeatable experimental results. Would you prefer that someone treating you for an illness only have experience with sick people or years of medical training and knowledge of medical science?

So it is with parenting: Behavior science is better than the trial and error of experience. Let us look at Supernanny's first rule and evaluate it against what behavior science has discovered.

Frost's first rule is that parents should use "attention, praise and love" as rewards rather than "sweets, treats and toys." This izs a good suggestion, but it's important to use rewards appropriately. Attention and praise can be considered rewards only if they are given immediately after the desired behavior and result in an increase in the behavior.

Attention is the best reward because it is free, can be given immediately after the behavior and children crave it. As most parents discover, children will do almost anything for attention, including throwing tantrums, cussing and fighting with siblings. Unfortunately, parents frequently ignore their children's good behavior. Then, when bad behavior occurs, the parents pay attention to it (because they want it to stop), which often ensures that it will happen again.

Attention can consist of simply interacting with your child or using specific praise. For instance, instead of saying, "You're such a good girl," it's better to say, "I really like the way you picked up your clothes and put them in the drawer."

The most important thing to remember is: Make sure you attend immediately and positively to your child's good behavior, and not to her bad behavior, and then make sure the behavior actually occurs again.


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