Nanny 911 is a reality television show in the United States which originally aired from 2004 to 2007. The show features families who need help with their unruly children. Nanny 911 is called and a nanny is assigned to visit the home for one week to assist the parents in implementing better parenting techniques. In many cases the nanny teaches the parents how to discipline their children such as establishing rules, consistency in enforcing those rules, execution of consequences such as time outs, and so on. She also establishes a routine (if there isn’t one already in place) and sets up a system for the children to earn privileges, and for privileges to be removed for misbehavior. She is aware of the stages of child development and encourages appropriate independence such as promoting self-care skills and giving the children responsibilities. The nanny pays close attention to respect and emphasizes the importance of listening to other members of the family, and teaches parents how to communicate effectively with their children. I don’t agree with everything they do, but overall I think it is a great show and has good ideas for solving behavior problems.
There is one episode that I found particularly interesting. It involved a family of three young children, two boys and one girl, ranging in age from 4 to 10 (approximately). The oldest boy was violent, insolent and brazenly disrespectful, and his younger brother was following in his footsteps. The parents lacked consistency when disciplining the boys, and spent most of their time fighting with them while yelling and screaming. The mother spent the majority of her time trying to handle their misbehavior, and the girl was largely ignored because she didn’t cause any trouble.
Shortly after the nanny arrived, she instituted a system for the children to earn privileges. It didn’t take long before the oldest boy had one of his earned privileges taken away for disobeying a rule, and as a result he had a major temper tantrum. As he was screaming and violently thrashing and physically attacking his parent, his sister, who sat nearby quietly observing, very calmly told him he could earn it back later if he obeyed the rules. At some point, the nanny encouraged the mother to talk to him and he said he didn’t feel loved by the parent, that his younger brother got all the attention. The mother hugged him and told him that she was sorry he had that impression, and that she did love him. This conversation opened up communication and things began to improve.
The focus was on the boys, but the person that caught my attention was their sister. Like the oldest brother, she did not get much attention because her mother’s time was taken up with her brothers’ misbehaviors, yet she was the best behaved. Why wouldn’t she also have poor behavior? She was ignored too. Did she also feel unloved? And if she did, why wasn’t she misbehaving?
Notice what she did when her brother had his temper tantrum over his lost privilege. She had figured out cause and effect, and attempted to get him to understand that he could get it back if he obeyed the rules. She tried to communicate this instead of yelling or fighting with him. She had figured out that certain things were wrong to do.
The boys’ sister was able to do something they couldn’t do and needed to learn—she could reason.
Children can lash out if they don’t have the words or use words to express why they are upset. (Children who are late talkers are often hitters.) Children can also misbehave in order to get attention, or act out if they feel stupid in school. They may be bored and think it is funny to do wrong things. They may feel out of control so try to gain control by controlling or manipulating the adult. They can misbehave when they conclude an injustice has occurred, become angry and then retaliate. They may conclude from that injustice that they are unloved, but feeling unloved is not the primary reason why they misbehave. The deeper explanation for misbehavior is the inability to reason.
The deterrent to acquiring reasoning ability is confusion. When adults are inconsistent, especially in the area of discipline, it creates turmoil in the minds of children. The child attempts to figure out reality, but reality is unpredictable so he is filled with bewilderment and uncertainty. This ambiguity undermines his ability to reason which can make him feel insecure.
The boys in this episode had not figured out how to reason like their sister. The confusion that had been festering in the oldest boy’s mind inhibited his ability to understand that when his mother tried to change the behavior of his younger brother, that didn’t mean that he, himself, was unloved. Misunderstandings are common when logical thinking has not been attained. Consequently, he felt angry and lashed out at her and the rest of the family. Fortunately, the nanny helped the mother begin the healing process through effective communication with her son.
However, teaching a child how to reason is an integrated process. It takes more than just words. It takes action too. If the mother continues to be inconsistent when she disciplines him, he will continue to feel angry and unloved no matter what she says, and his behavior will not improve. But if she implements all the parenting principles of Nanny 911 (consistency, independence, stability with routines, communication, respect, discipline, and consequences), he will have a much better chance of learning how to think for himself, to figure out the difference between right and wrong, and develop into a happy person.