“Help us, SuperNanny!” This line, uttered by desperate parents, soon ushers in the aid of professional nanny Jo Frost in the hit parenting show SuperNanny . The show debuted in Great Britain in the summer of 2004 and in the United States in January 2005. Evidence of the popularity of SuperNanny includes the recent celebration of its hundredth episode and the emergence of similar shows: Nanny 911 and SuperManny .

I recently had an hour-long, in-depth conversation about SuperNanny with a perfect stranger on a flight. The active-duty soldier shared with me his successes with and adaptations of Jo’s reward systems and consistent boundaries with his three boisterous sons. What a great resource SuperNanny proved to be for this unsung hero! Parents just like him are gleaning from the parenting wisdom of Miss Frost and other television nannies from the comfort of their living rooms and without the embarrassment of being on the show.

Don’t get me wrong, if it wasn’t for those distressed parents willing to subject their parenting and relationship struggles to Jo’s and the public’s scrutiny, many parents would be lost on the parenting sea. How many parents with multiple children have the chance to see a family counselor or read parenting books? Sadly, many parents in America come from broken homes themselves and do not have readily available models for effective and happy parenting. These nanny television shows pack a serious dose of effective family management into a single hour. Once you get sucked in, you can’t help but hang on for the entire ride, cringing at the mirror of your own failings and the horrendous behavior of parents and children alike, all the while cheering for this all-too-real family to succeed in achieving a happy, healthy home. We want them to succeed because we want to succeed.

Not only do parents gain valuable insights from these shows, they offer huge benefits to children. Often, parents believe their children and/or their spouse are to blame for their day-to-day chaos and misery. The children beat each other up, curse at their parents, spit, kick, dart into the road, and are addicted to any electronic device with a screen. Parents are embarrassed or afraid to take their tots, adolescents, and teens on public outings. Oftentimes marriages are tottering on the edge of divorce when the nanny arrives. After Jo and the rest of us observe the family for a few days, however, it becomes quite clear where the problem lies. While we can all appreciate the good intentions and frazzled psyches of the parents, they are always at the root of their domestic dramas.

There is the angry parent, the passive parent, the workaholic parent who lets the television babysit the children, the parent who wants to be hip and fun, the exhausted, broken down parent, and so forth. Many resort to cursing, screaming, threatening, hitting, whining, begging, ignoring and giving in, as efforts to control their children. We see these parents all the time. They are our neighbors, they are at the mall and the grocery store, they are our relatives. Perhaps they are us!

In the rare cases where a child has a disability such as autism that causes significant behavioral challenges, Jo puts the parents through exercises that help them to feel the same sort of internal distraction their children feel every day. This helps parents to have more understanding of what their children are experiencing and to be more patient and aware of their special needs. A great many of us have not been given the proper tools to tackle the joy and challenges of marriage and family life. As unblinkingly honest as Jo is with parents about their failures, she is equally encouraging and engaging in coming alongside parents to coach them through each daily battle from getting the children out of the house on time to potty training to chore time to bedtime routines.

The typical solutions Jo and the other television nannies implement are the implementation of a daily family routine. Mom and Dad must be on the same page. If one says no , the other should stand behind the decision; if they disagree, they should discuss it when they are not in front of the children. Jo works with the parents”or single parent”to create a routine that works with their lifestyles. For instance, when one is a stay-at-home/work-at-home parent, Jo helps them decide on times when they will put the phone or computer on hold and spend quality time with the children. Most often, parents are too frazzled making ends meet or trying to achieve their personal goals to stop and really connect with or play with their children. It is easier in the midst of the fray to let the television or the candy entertain the child or to yell “stop that” every five seconds.

SuperNanny ’s classic method of discipline is a time out in what she calls the “naughty spot””be it a chair, a step, a corner, or a rug. Frost is greatly opposed to spanking as a method of discipline because it teaches children that physical force is a legitimate way to assert their will, its effectiveness decreases in time, and it often becomes overused and substitutes for engaging one’s child. Consistency is key! The first several practice rounds of putting a young child in time out for one minute per year of age sorely try the parents. Like a boot-camp instructor, Jo pushes the parents to be strong in persevering. Once the time is served, the children are reminded of their misbehavior and required to apologize. Then hugs and kisses follow and the parents forgive and continue with loving, normal interaction.

When it comes to discipline, it is also hugely important that the child also know what the rules and expectations are in their home. Then a child can be warned of the consequence to follow if they continue with a certain behavior. This teaches them that they can master their passions and choose their behaviors. They learn that actions have consequences. They also learn that their parents really do love them by being consistent and firm instead of reactionary and explosive. As Jo so accurately says, “Children need boundaries and ground rules. When children don’t have structure, they make up their own rules and negative behavior is what they use to get your attention.”

And perhaps it’s that structure that’s the best thing about shows like these”the inherent lessons about order and natural law. It is proper for parents to rule their home and for children to have the safety of loving and firm boundaries. Parents are to be respected and husbands and wives are to serve and support one another. When a child is rewarded with junk food for having a tantrum, it naturally reinforces the behavior and the non-nutritious food further feeds the erratic behavior. Proper sleep and nutrition and routines help children just like they help us adults.

We are creatures after all, and grace perfects nature”it does not replace it. As the television nannies prove, cooperating with nature and the reality of human design is time well spent because it leads to peace in the home”the foundation of society.

Natalie Stilwell, who recently earned a masters in Moral Theology, lives in Arlington, Virginia.

See also: “ God Spare Us SuperNanny ” by Meghan Duke.

Articles by Natalie Stilwell

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