NEW YORK - The parenting "commandments" that Deborah Carroll and Stella Reid preach on TV's "Nanny 911" are really commonsense tips that anyone should be able to follow.
Good behavior should be rewarded and bad behavior is penalized. That's easy to do, right?
Intellectually, yes, it's the way things should work in the world, say Nanny Deb and Nanny Stella, but parents often leave logic at the door when they walk inside to deal with their children.
A new book, published by Regan Books, chronicles the experiences the two British women have had in American households as part of their Fox television show in which they swoop in and try to establish order in chaotic families.
The family featured in the first chapter - "Can this family be saved?" - is the McCrays, who Stella says lives without any discipline.
Stella's initial observations of the New York City cop dad, stay-at-home mom and their five sons: "The boys hit one another, screamed and yelled all day. Tracy (the mother) yelled back. They didn't listen. Eventually, she simply tuned them out, then collapsed, even as her boys were climbing the walls - literally."
The father, Craig, was no better. He'd let the boys break the few rules their mother had, allowing them to play with their bicycles in the house and giving the 7-year-old caffeinated coffee.
Stella introduced the parents to the idea of the "time out" and insisted that actions - all actions - had to have consequences.
The McCrays aren't unique in that they react to things on a case-by-case basis, often injecting how they feel on a particular day, Stella says in a telephone interview.
"I don't know if parents have gotten stupid or kids have gotten really smart, but they know you'll give in because you give in because you're tired and frustrated. They know you'll give them chocolate at the grocery store just so you can get through," she says. "We've all made the mistakes."
But Deb says consistency is a must for all members of the family, especially since children often model their behavior on their parents.
"Children have to learn that actions have consequences. Every action has a natural consequence. If you don't take your umbrella and it's raining out, you will get wet. If it's cold out and you don't wear a coat, you'll get cold. Remind them that grown-ups have rules, too," she advises. "Tell them that a driver's license comes after a test. If we abuse the privilege of driving a car, and we don't stop at stop signs and go through lots of red lights, we lose that privilege."
Deb adds: "Use yourself as an example. This way you won't hear, 'You don't have rules. I want to be a grown-up!'"
Manners is another thing that the nannies are sticklers for - and they don't see enough of them from both parents and kids. "Parents are expecting things from kids that they don't do themselves.... If everyone around children is saying 'please' and 'thank you,' so will the children," Stella says.
Parents also aren't always prepared for the answers to questions posed to the kids.
"Don't ask a question if you don't want to hear 'no' as an answer," Deb says. "And say what you mean. You want your kids to trust your word." Plus, kids will get wise to empty threats and empty promises very quickly, leaving parents with even fewer options in effective communication.
Communication between adults and children is very important, and that doesn't mean parents simply allowing their youngsters to chatter away in the background, or scream or mutter unpleasantries from behind closed doors.
"Don't ask yes or no questions. Ask about ideas and give them choices. We're firm believers in giving 2-year-olds two choices, 4-year-olds three choices, and as they get older and they want to express themselves anymore, they can have more. They can say "I don't want to wear that blue shirt anymore,'" Deb says.
Parents need to listen to what the kids are saying, think about what their kids are saying and take their opinions under advisement, says Stella, but that's not the same thing as letting children rule the roost. Parents should always have the final word, she says.
The 11 commandments of "Nanny 911" are:
-Actions have consequences.
-Say what you mean and mean it.
-Parents work together as a team.
-Don't make promises you can't keep.
-Listen to your children.
-Establish a routine.
-Respect is a two-way street.
-Positive reinforcement works much better than negative reinforcement.
-Manners are universal.
-Define your role as parents.
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