6 Questions With 'America’s Supernanny' Deborah Tillman
Giving a new spin to child rearing in America
Chances are you’ve seen at least one episode of ABC’s popular show, Supernanny, where British nanny Jo Frost entered the homes of exasperated parents and gave them no-nonsense advice on how to get their out-of-control kids, well, back in control.
Now Deborah Tillman, founder and owner of the successful Virginia-based Happy Home childcare centers, steps into the title role on the American version, which premiered this past week on Lifetime. In the premiere episode, “Miss Deborah,” as she calls herself on the show, pulls no punches about the improvements she thinks parents can make and she challenges them to get there—quickly.
Loop 21 sat down with the new Supernanny to hear her approach to making families whole again and to get her opinion on everything from spanking to tantrums in public.
Loop 21: For readers who might not have watched the previous version of the show religiously, can you explain how the show works?
Deborah Tillman: The series showcases America parents who need guidance in how to raise their children. The main difference between Lifetime’s version and ABC’s is that we tackle several different types of households: we’ve got same-sex parents, parents of multiples, parents with special needs children, which I love. I come in to create a positive atmosphere. For example, instead of saying, “No hitting,” try saying “Use your gentle hands.”
Loop 21: What made you interested in becoming “Supernanny”? Were there any reservations? I know you said you didn’t watch many episodes of the other version. So there’s no pressure?
Tillman: Not at all. About two years ago, I would have not been able to do it because my son had just graduated high school and I wanted to devote my time to getting him through his first year. But in July of this year, he gave me a thumbs-up. He said, “Mom, you devoted your whole life to me. Now I want you to do what you want to do.” I couldn’t even believe he would say something like that. So when I got the call at the end of August I was ready. I’ve been working with children and families for 20 years. I’ve been doing a lot of home visits and parenting workshops so this is an extension of what I’ve already been doing. I feel truly blessed to help families come together and stay together by using positive parenting techniques.
Loop 21: When you go into “nontraditional” households, do you change any of your techniques? Or, by using the same techniques, is it another way to show the universal benefits of positive parenting?
Tillman: When I arrive to help families, I’m in the house for an entire day, just observing. I tell them to just do what they normally do. And at first families are a little shy because they’re not used to having the cameras around. But in about an hour, you see the dynamics of a household emerge. I go in with a very objective eye. I look for signs of things I want to implement. It gives me an idea of when the parents aren’t being consistent. How is everyone communicating? How do the kids get along? I’m looking at everything.
The next day I have the family meeting and I tell them what I see. Then I go into teaching mode. The techniques may change a bit, depending on the household and that just means I have a lot of tools in my belt. For example, when I was working with the family who had a special needs child, I had to use a lot of visuals to help the family implement the changes. And it worked.
Loop 21: In recent months there have been some high-profile YouTube videos of parents physically disciplining their kids. What do you make of this?
Tillman: Often society is so negative. Even when dealing with our children. When I go into these households, I can feel the negativity. I hear the parents telling their kids that they are dumb. Why are we using these words? Words are powerful. We’ve got to start at a young age because they understand it. They feel it. When you call them dumb and stupid, that’s the child you’re going to get.
When my son would act up, I would say to him, “You are too smart to act like that.” You’re letting the child know that you have high expectations. It’s building their self-esteem. You know what happens to kids who have low self-esteem? They grow up to be adults with low self-esteem and nothing good comes from that.
Often, I have to change the parents first and then work on the children. You have to model the behavior you want and you have to lead by example.
Loop 21: In the black community, spanking is more than just a notion. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, “Time outs are for white kids,” or the ever-popular “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” What’s your response?
Tillman: One thing I hear is, “Well, I was spanked and I turned out alright,” as if there’s a direct correlation between the two. It’s a generational curse and you have got to break the cycle. Your grandmother did it because she may not have had any other tools. And really, all it did was make us fear the belt. But we can’t just do what our grandparents did, not when we have so many other options and techniques available to us. Proverbs 13:24 (the verse where “spare the rod” originates) does not mean to beat our kids. The rod was used to direct the sheep, to steer the sheep in the right direction. They weren’t beating the sheep!
Loop 21: Parents today have a lot on their plate, especially with the economy still limping along. What advice do you give to parents who might be overworked and quality time with their kids suffers?
Tillman: Children are the first priority. I completely understand what it’s like to be incredibly busy. I had three businesses, had a husband, etc. But I made up my mind to make time for my child. It’s up to us as parents to create the time to spend with our children. Set your goals high.
And in households where there are two parents, you have to share the role. There’s no such thing as “This is Mom’s domain” and “This is Dad’s domain.” Parents have to come together. Life is too hard.