How super is Supernanny?

Evaluating Supernanny's top 10 rules for caring for children: Part 2

By Hank Schlinger, Ph.D.


ast month, in my first installment of a multi-part series evaluating Jo Frost’s (Supernanny) top 10 rules for caring for children, I explained how parents could most effectively apply her first rule: Use “attention, praise and love” as rewards rather than “sweets, treats and toys.”

Now, I discuss two of Frost’s other rules: Rule No. 4: “Children need to know there are limits to their behavior — which means what is acceptable and what is not. You need to set rules and tell them what you expect.”

Rule No. 5: “You can only keep the boundaries in place by discipline.” Children do need to know what is acceptable and what is not. And sometimes these limits — or boundaries — can be communicated through stated rules and explanations. But whether or not you actually state the rule, limits are “communicated” simply by acting consistently (Rule No. 2). For example, you can tell your child that she must finish her homework before going outside to play, but if you allow her to play even once without finishing her homework, then you’re being inconsistent and your rule becomes irrelevant. If you want her to finish her homework before she plays, then you must tell her to do her homework and reward her for doing it. As I noted in a previous column, if you say, “You may go outside and play only after you complete your homework,” then you must follow through (Grandma’s Rule). Your consistency communicates boundaries or limits.

That brings me to the topic of discipline, which, as Frost states, “means firm and fair control. It may just take an authoritative voice and a warning to get the message across.”

Though it is sometimes used synonymously with punishment, the word discipline comes from the root word disciple, which means “one who receives instruction from another.”

In this regard, parents are instructors or teachers. And one teaches not by using punishment, but by rewarding desired behavior. So, to get your child to do what you want you must reward the desired behavior immediately when you notice it, either with general attention, specific praise or Grandma's Rule. That can also minimize the necessity for punishment. Frost is correct in saying that “there are other techniques…, none of which involves punishment.”

In summary, your child will know what you want her to do not as much by what you say as by the way you act: rewarding acceptable behaviors and, when possible, ignoring unacceptable ones — and doing so consistently.


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