This is a guest post by Jane Evans, a parenting specialist and trainer. You can find more information on Jane at the end of the post.
Super Nanny first appeared on our screens in 2004 and since then has gone on to have a major influence on how children are raised in the UK and the USA and indeed has a global audience. It revolves around the use of the ‘naughty step’ or ‘one strike and you are out!’ for ‘unacceptable’ behaviour and reward charts for all the acceptable, ‘good jobs’. Sounds reasonable given that the basis for centuries of child-rearing has stemmed from, ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ but where is the research and science which shows us that this is the most beneficial thing to do for our children?
In contrast to this traditional behaviour based approach, which relies heavily on the idea of controlling and training a child to do as they are told too, there is plenty of brain science and research to make it clear that children do far better when we can engage their thinking brain and work with them to explore emotional states. A great book for this is ‘The Whole Brain Child’ by Siegel and Payne Bryson. It explains how children can respond and learn better if we keep them in the thinking, neocortex brain as opposed to the more primitive survival and emotional parts of the brain.
Why? Well, have you ever tried listening, absorbing and learning when you are scared and ashamed, your heart is racing, you feel emotional, your breathing is rapid and you have the immediate urge to either strike out or run away! When we punish, or give a consequence, for behaviour we do not want, or like, a child feels shame and a whole range of other emotions. They flip into their survival part of the brain which disables their ability to attend to new information and act upon it, so basically all they hear is “blah, blah, blah”. However, they sense our anger and frustration and deeply feel the rejection and disconnection from us.
Super Nanny, and others, including the new 3 Day Nanny, finds this to be an effective way to teach a child ‘right from wrong’; especially if once they do their time out and utter a credible “sorry” they are forgiven and allowed back in to the household. The message therefore is, do as I say, when and how I say it or you will upset me and then you will suffer emotional, if not physical, discomfort and distress until I decide you have suffered enough. Then you have to apologise in a meaningful way, and I will decide what that looks and sounds like and then I will hug you and off we go again until you don’t conform to my wishes.
It suits many to feel that consequences are ‘natural’, understood and agreed therefore there is a logic to them which somehow reduces the sadness and distress they cause. If an adult leaves their keys in their car door because they have so much on their mind and get distracted and then go to do their shopping returning later to find their car gone that would be a ‘natural’ consequence. Subsequently, they may never do that again but at the end of the day they made a mistake and if we had seen the keys in the car we would have tried to help them not suffer the consequence!
So what about if we punish and then are kind to a child, does this teach them but also keep them close to us? What do you think? Many abusive adult relationships operate on a system whereby the victim is given a consequence for not following ‘orders’ or falling below the abusers ‘standards’. The abuser is not at fault as they were clear that not doing as they were told would result in the victim losing their dinner, being smacked, having their phone taken or a tirade of humiliating and never ending verbal put downs. Once this ‘consequence’ has been delivered the abuser is then affectionate, loving and concerned, so that’s all right then.
Post punishment ‘kindnesses or affection does not make a child feel better, in fact it is very confusing. They may respond to it as after all they need to be on the right side of the person they depend on for their physical and emotional needs but it does not offer a child a long term relationship whereby they will feel able to turn for advice and support when they have made a mistake or are in trouble. Parenting is all about the long haul, building a relationship based on mutual respect and 100% acceptance.
This does not come from a Super Nanny type approach:
“When your child misbehaves or breaks one of the House Rules explain what she’s done wrong, tell her that her behaviour is unacceptable, and warn her that if she behaves in the same way again, she’ll be put on the Naughty Step”
“Don’t give a warning. Remove your child from the room and tell her in an authoritative voice that her behaviour is unacceptable and that she can only come back into the room once she has apologised.”
My parenting work is based upon building and maintaining close relationships as a family, respect is key and so is kindness. It is entirely possible to raise children who are empathetic, motivated to be helpful and considerate and who aim to do what feels right for them and others without a reward chart or naughty step in sight!! I use understanding of how the brain is shaped by early childhood experiences and relationships as the basis for encouraging parenting which uses children’s inbuilt desire to connect and work with us.
Raising children is often an emotional roller coaster and rarely easy but by learning ways to see children and their behaviour differently it is possible to have a calmer more harmonious family life and happy, healthy children who are free to play, learn and build great relationships. Visit either of my websites for more information:
Follow me on Twitter – @janeparenting
Jane Evans – Freelance & Associate Trainer, Parenting Specialist, Author, Blogger, Speaker and Consultant
Jane Evans has built up a wealth of parenting and early-years knowledge throughout her career as a parenting worker for a domestic violence organisation, a respite foster carer, a child-minder, a children’s practitioner in a family centre and a support worker in a child-protection team, whilst also working in and with schools and pre-schools.
She now uses this as the basis for the training she delivers on attachment in early years, on parenting and children affected by trauma ‘Tuning In To Children and Parenting Beyond Trauma’, and for her bespoke parenting course for those affected by trauma either post-domestic violence or as adoptive parents, foster or kinship carers.
Jane has also written an early-years story book to enable children to explore feelings relating to domestic violence, How are you feeling today Baby Bear? To be published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers February 2014