America’s Supernanny Tired and Confused

I really wanted to like the new America’s Supernanny program on Lifetime. I had high hopes that the Supernanny would share valuable information with families about positive discipline and child development issues. Afterall, they advertise her as “saving families” and providing families “guidance and assistance on how to best raise their children.” I’ve tuned in for two of the first four shows and been greatly disappointed.

In both episodes, the big discipline reveal is her technique, the Calm Down Corner. The Supernanny touts it as an opportunity for the child to think about their behavior, to learn to calm themselves, to self-regulate. She then instructs the parent to repeatedly state the child’s misbehavior while taking them back to the Corner up to 105 times in the second episode. The child is laughing and dodging mom, then kicking and crying while she carries him back. This is not a child reflecting on his behavior, he is playing a frustrating game of chase. Eventually, at least, mom wins. The child wears out and sits quietly for three minutes. Mom restates for the 106th time, “You were in the Calm Down Corner for not listening.” Directions stated in the negative tend to backfire as the child is learning not listening gets a whole lot of attention. In action this is nothing but a renamed and poorly executed time-out.

A child’s sense of self esteem is an outcome measure based largely on their growing sense of skills and abilities and their social connectedness. While the discipline taught isn’t much, the Supernanny’s parent coaching on a child’s self-esteem was against the research at best. I watched as she moved through a conversation with a nine-year-old girl surrounding issues of self esteem. Supernanny asked the child to look in the mirror and rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how pretty she feels. The girl rated herself a 5, and then went on to add with make-up she’s a 7. Supernanny then talked to mom about how pretty her daughter feels and mom followed up with a conversation about feeling pretty. There is so much wrong with this it is hard to know where to start. Not only is it off about the foundations of self esteem, focusing on positive labels in all the conversations in the long run can diminsh the child’s sense of self. It is so discouraging to think of how many parents walked away from that show to have similar conversations with their own children. Presenting content which is clearly misinformed at the national level is irresponsible.

To me, the upsides of the shows, including getting parents to communicate with and support each other and getting the family to spend time together, aren’t worth the downsides.

Author: Dr. Rene Hackney

With a MA in school psychology and a PhD in developmental psychology, I founded and work as a parent educator at Parenting Playgroups. Somewhere in there I trained in the Developmental Clinic at Children's NMC and in the public schools. I have two beautiful, funny children who make me practice what I preach most everyday.

3 thoughts on “America’s Supernanny Tired and Confused”

  1. Thanks, as always for great parenting advice. I haven’t seen the show, but I definitely will not watch it now. Self esteem is so important and it seems to be one of the harder things to give a child as I think a lot of it is pre-programmed. However, it doesn’t take a parenting genius to know that focusing on looks is a great way to diminish self esteem. Aie yai yai.

  2. Hi Babette, Thank you for this. Self esteem is a tricky concept. I think often parents and teachers are trying to give this to children when it is something that needs to be built.

    There are three great books on self esteem. Your Child’s Self Esteem by Briggs provides a great place to start. The Optomistic Child by Seligman has a good chapter on the research today and Mindset by Dweck well explains the downside of labels and defining talent.

  3. Oh, dear. When we have to use time out, it’s often because our son didn’t listen to us when we asked him to do something. We tell him it’s because he wasn’t listening when we asked him to brush his teeth, or put on his pajamas, or whatever it was. We’re descriptive so he knows what it was he didn’t listen about, but I see that’s stating the discipline in the negative, thus showing him not listening gets attention. Please help us figure out a more positive way to explain it to him!

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