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Ask Supernanny What Every Parent Wants to Know
By Jo Frost
Hyperion Copyright © 2006 Jo Frost
All right reserved.
Chapter One Family Dynamics
The first thing I do when I visit a family is take a backseat and observe what's going on. I watch the family dynamics, right from first thing in the morning to the last thing at night. I watch how the parents relate to each other and how they engage with their kids, and make a mental note of the problem areas and which parts of family life are running more smoothly. Although I might ask a few questions at this stage, I don't really comment and I rarely intervene unless it's absolutely necessary. I'm just there as an observer of the family dynamic - a fly on the wall.
Many of the families we feature on Supernanny are aware of their difficulties. What they may not have been able to see is what triggers certain kinds of behavior in their kids. Sometimes they are just too locked into a particular pattern that is not serving them or their children very well, to be able to see a way out of it. Or there may be several issues going on outside the home that distort the picture. My role as an outside observer is first to spot the behavior patterns and then to show parents the many different ways of tackling their problems so they can resolve them together.
When you're stretched every day as a parent, juggling different demands on your time, it can be difficult to step back and see the big picture. Things aren'talways black and white. It's often hard to identify the real root of a problem, as opposed to its secondary or added-on effects. I sometimes find that parents single out one child's behavior as the source of their problems, or identify one part of their lives - mealtimes, for example, or getting to school on time - as the main area of difficulty. This may well be a true reflection of what's going on - the toddler may be ruling the roost, or mealtimes might be complete and utter chaos. But it's often more complicated than that.
Kids who find it difficult to get going in the morning, for example, may be overtired. You can encourage them to be better organized and more self-sufficient, but if they're not getting enough sleep because they're going to bed too late and getting out of bed too often, the problem really starts the night before. And sometimes it's just too easy to lay all the blame for a family's problems on the child who's constantly getting into trouble day after day. Instead of focusing on that child and what he's doing, to the exclusion of everything else, looking at the family dynamic as a whole often suggests reasons why that child is so desperate for attention that he is trying everything in the book, and then some, just to get noticed. Once you see and understand what's behind the behavior, you're halfway there.
It takes a lot of courage to invite a television crew into your lives and open your family life up to millions of viewers. It takes even more courage to change, to admit mistakes, and move on - which isn't as easy as some people might think! I've got nothing but respect and admiration for all the families who have agreed to take part in Supernanny and go through that learning curve in public. These families have truly been an inspiration for viewers around the world. From the feedback I receive, I know that many of those viewers now feel empowered to try to achieve the same goals themselves.
You do not need to share your life with a TV crew to benefit from the techniques I use on the series. But the techniques will work much better if you first spend a little time looking at the patterns in your own family dynamic. That way you will begin to get an idea of the overall picture and see how change in one area might lead to improvements in other parts of your life - improvements that you might not even have expected.
Topics and techniques covered in this chapter:
ASSESSING YOUR FAMILY DYNAMIC to identify strengths and weaknesses
CREATING A ROUTINE and routines for families where both parents work
SAME-PAGE TECHNIQUE for positive communication between parents
ONE-IN-THREE TECHNIQUE to help parents resolve their differences
TRADING-TASKS TECHNIQUE to help parents share the workload
STEP-UP/STEP-BACK TECHNIQUE to help parents share the workload
HOW TO TALK TO YOUR CHILD - the three essential voices
MOVING ON and leaving traumatic events behind
SINGLE PARENTING and how to cope
GRANDPARENTS and the "special relationship"
TWINS AND MULTIPLE BIRTHS - how to juggle the demands
Assessing your family dynamic
All families have their strengths and weaknesses. What are yours? Take a step back. Imagine going to the theater and sitting in the front row. Your family - right now, right here - is the play. What do you see? How does it make you feel? What makes you cringe with embarrassment? What makes you burst with pride? What makes you laugh? What makes you cry?
Keep a diary over a period of a week or two. Note the good things that happen as well as the problems: "Monday. 8.30 a.m. Rosie got dressed without making a fuss. Friday. 5.30 p.m. Ben pushed Rosie over when I was making supper, and wouldn't say sorry." Then run through the Assessment Checklist to help you identify which are your family's strengths and which are the areas where things could be better.
Think about an average day. Do you have a routine, or set times for doing things, or is it more of a free-for-all? Do you find it difficult to get everything done that needs to be done?
When do you regularly feel pressed for time? Is it hard to give the kids breakfast and get them dressed, washed, and out of the house in time for school? In that case, have you allowed enough time between waking and leaving the house? Or is something else causing the problem - a "faddy" dresser, for instance, who can't decide what to wear, or a fussy eater who's working his way through every brand of cereal in the supermarket?
Think about an average week. You might take your toddler to playgroup on Tuesday afternoons, for example, or go to the supermarket every Saturday morning. Your older children may have regular activities or playdates after school. Are some days a whirlwind of activity, when you can barely catch your breath? Could you shop on another day or move a playdate to take the pressure off?
Are you bored with your routine? Are your kids? Could you utilize your time and management skills to bring more balance and variety into your family life?
Some parents fill every minute of the day with activities for their children - outings, music lessons, football practice, choir - with the result that their kids become overloaded and never get the chance to unwind and learn how to entertain themselves. Others allow so much unstructured free time that their kids get bored and start to squabble or get into mischief. Somewhere between these two extremes is the balance you should aim for.
2 Trouble spots
When you're right in the thick of things, separating fighting siblings every two minutes, or dealing with your toddler's round-the-clock tantrums, it's easy to lose your perspective. This is where a diary comes in handy. Refer back to it to see when and where problems tend to occur. Can you see a pattern emerging? Are there underlying issues that never get resolved?
If your kids squabble, bicker, or fight, what sets them off? Is sharing an issue? Are certain toys regularly fought over? Do your kids always act up when you're otherwise occupied - on the phone, when friends come around for a chat, when you're trying to talk to your partner? How do your kids behave outside the home?
The timing of outbursts can also be very revealing. When are your kids more likely to quarrel? When is your toddler most likely to have a meltdown? Small children who lose it just before lunch or just before the evening meal may well be hungry. Low blood sugar can make otherwise easygoing kids irritable. Bringing your mealtimes forward a little can help to ease the situation. In the same way, kids who are fractious in the evening may be overtired. An earlier bedtime could be the answer.
3 You and your partner
Do you and your partner share the same style of parenting? Do you agree about what your children are allowed to do and what they are not allowed to do? Do you share the same attitude toward discipline, or is one of you stricter than the other? On which points do you differ? On what points do you agree?
Do you ever air your differences in front of your children? If you tell your son he can't watch any more TV, does he then go and see if Dad will let him? And does he?
Which one of you is more likely to be listened to? Which one of you finds it more difficult to set boundaries and tends to let things slide? Be honest. Who's the pushover? Who's the disciplinarian?
When it comes to looking after the children, who does what? Do you both take turns whenever you can, or does most of the responsibility fall on one parent? What happens on weekends? Is it any different?
How much free time do you have as a couple? How do you spend it - seeing friends or family, going out, watching TV? What do you miss most about your lives before you had children? What do you enjoy most about being parents?
4 Chores and housework
Make a list of household chores. Then note which ones you do, which ones your partner does, which you do together, and which, if any, the children help with.
Your list might include:
* Food shopping
* Preparing meals
* Setting the table
* Washing up
* General cleaning
* Tidying up
* Washing and ironing clothes
* Repairs and general maintenance
* Errands (taking the library books back, picking up the dry cleaning)
* Looking after pets (walking the dog, cleaning out the hamsters' cage)
* Washing the car
* Paying the bills and keeping track of household administration
* Organizing the kids' activities
Think about whether there are ways in which you could share the chores more equally between you and your partner. Think about ways you could teach your children to be more self-sufficient at their age. A five-year-old is not too young to set the table and may even be thrilled to help you, especially if you give him lots of praise. Prioritize the chores so you can keep on top of the important things.
Then think about the standards you set yourself. Are they too high - or not high enough? Would you rather tackle a backlog of ironing than sit down and play with your kids - or would it take a week's worth of cleaning up before you could face someone coming to your home?
5 Rewards and discipline
How often do you notice when your children are behaving well? Do you tell them? Do you reward them? Do you show them love and affection? Do you cuddle up with your kids and have special times with them?
If you reward them, what type of rewards do you give: praise, a star on a star chart (or some other visual aid), a treat, a toy, an outing? Do you find yourself bribing your children to do things? Do you buy your child presents when you feel guilty for not spending more time with her, or to make up for a disappointment of some kind?
Which methods of discipline do you use? How often do you find yourself shouting at your children? How often do you lose your cool? Do you set a good example for your kids? If you are using a technique like the Naughty Step or Time Out, do you always follow through? When you tell your kids not to do something, do you explain why? Or do you just say: "Because I say so"?
Would you say your methods are working? Or do you find yourself telling your children off over and over again about the same things?
6 Outside the home
How often do you do things as a family outside the home? What type of outings do you enjoy? What type of outings do your children enjoy?
Has your children's behavior ever stopped you from taking them shopping, to a family restaurant, to a friend's house? Are there places where other families go that you just wouldn't take your children in case they might embarrass you and act up? What about special occasions like weddings, christenings, and birthday parties?
Are journeys difficult? How do your children behave on the way to school? Or in the car? Or on the train to your mother's house?
7 Individual attention
How much time in the day does each child have for individual attention, one-to-one, from Mom or Dad or both? Does one child tend to get more attention than the others? Is that a result of bad behavior, or is it the result of age or need? Do you find it difficult to balance the time you spend looking after a baby or toddler with enough time for your older children?
8 Support systems
How much support can you rely on to lighten the load? Do you belong to a babysitting circle? Do you go to playgroups? Is there a relative or friend you could call on for extra assistance - or simply to give you time to get out on your own or with your partner? Do you find it difficult to ask for help even when you're struggling? Do you think you should be responsible for everything and shouldn't need to ask for help?
9 Room for improvement
Write down the things you would most like to change about the way your family works. You might want to eat together as a family more often, or get through a meal without the children bickering or leaving the table leaving half their food untouched. You might want to share responsibilities more equally, or agree upon a shared approach to key issues with your partner. You might want to get on top of a bad behavior - lying, spitting, whining, hitting, whatever form it takes - for once and for all. Make a list of ten things you would change if you could.
It is important to be realistic. How do you measure what that is? Most goals are achievable; some are not. If the goals you set are possible and achievable, that's OK. If you make goals that are unattainable, you set yourself up for failure. Pressure on the family that comes from illness, disability, bereavement, financial difficulties, and other serious issues may be beyond your control. You will need to learn to accept and stop wasting time worrying about things you cannot change immediately. You can't change a negative situation, but you can prevent it from having a negative impact. Every negative experience comes with a positive learning curve. But it's also important not to take things out of context. Are things really that bad?
10 Look to your strengths
Assessing your family dynamic isn't simply about pinpointing those problem areas you would like to work on and change. It's also about acknowledging what you do well so you learn to play to your true strengths. I'm not talking about making a superhuman effort or sacrificing one area of family life for another. I mean recognizing what you as a family do well.
Think about those times when everything seemed to run smoothly. What was going right? Were you and your partner more relaxed, less tired, or just in the mood to let down your hair and have fun with your kids? Write down ten things about your family that make you smile.
Have a family meeting and use the results of the Assessment Checklist to discuss things with your partner or with anyone else who is routinely involved in the care of your children. You may wish to review the checklist together. If there are points of disagreement, or if one parent is carrying too much of the load, you can use some of the techniques detailed later in this chapter, such as the Step-Up/Step-Back Technique (page 35) and the One-In-Three Technique (page 31), to help iron out your differences.
CREATING A ROUTINE
Q I really want to set up a routine like the ones I've seen on Supernanny. Could you suggest a good framework for day?
A As you say, one of the first things I do on Supernanny is to put a workable routine in place for each family. This is written on a large sheet of paper and stuck in a place where everyone in the family see it and refer to it. It can also be written down in a diary, but having it on wall means everyone can see what's supposed to be happening at any given time. You may also have noticed that every routine different. That's because every family is different and has different needs. It's not one size fits all.
Excerpted from Ask Supernanny by Jo Frost Copyright © 2006 by Jo Frost. Excerpted by permission.
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