“Supernanny” Jo Frost is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to parenting. Her television show is full of techniques for child rearing, including the “naughty step” (rug, chair, or room), the family schedule, and bedtime strategies. While these prove incredibly helpful for encouraging children to practice good behavior, one set of techniques that seems equally important is meant for parents to improve their relationship. Episode after episode, Jo reveals that at the core of children’s misbehavior is often a problem with the parents’ relationship. Here are four lessons I have learned from “Supernanny” that may help your children to behave better by strengthening your marriage.
Without communication between spouses about their parenting strategies and their personal relationship, nothing can get resolved. Jo has introduced several techniques that help parents communicate. For example, parents might spend 30 minutes each night during which each parent places a small number of issues on the table for discussion. While isolated occasions of communication are effective to get the ball rolling, ongoing open discussions about parenting strategies and the state of the spousal relationship is the only way to nourish a healthy family dynamic. These sorts of conversations are not necessarily indicative of a problem; even the happiest of couples has issues that need to be constructively discussed. Ongoing discussion builds the crucial element of trust in a relationship, which allows each partner to feel confident sharing feelings and working through issues as a team.
Tip: Set aside time each day to review individual or team interactions with your children, outstanding family issues, the spousal dynamic, and personal concerns, and create a plan for moving forward with any issues that are currently on the table. Then, follow up with one another about those issues. Eventually, you may not even need to set aside special time as open communication becomes second-nature.
Parenting is a team effort for couples. While it’s nice to have two sets of hands helping around the house, if those hands are not in sync with one another, this can create enormous problems with discipline. Sometimes children learn that they can “get away with” something with one parent and not with the other. Other times, a parent will introduce a punishment that is not reinforced by the other parent. Communication also comes into play here. Spouses must be sure that they are on the same page when it comes to rules, discipline strategies, and disciplinary measures that are currently being enforced so that they can back one another up, follow through as a team, and continually adjust their parenting strategy so that it is most effective for their family.
Tip: Write down a “parenting plan” that you both agree on and that you each agree to enforce. As new types of issues arise, update the plan. Revisit the plan from time to time to assess its effectiveness and relevance to your family. If one spouse notices the other deviating from the plan, note such an incident and bring it to the table for discussion behind closed doors.
Along the same lines as consistency, parents must be unified with one another. As the word unity suggests, children should see their parents as one unit. Threatening a child with a punishment from the other parent (e.g., “You wait until your father gets home!”), deferring decisions to another parent (e.g., “Go ask your mother”), and arguing in front of children undermine that unity. Children should know that if they behave in a certain way or ask for permission to do something, the result is going to be the same from either parent. This develops much-needed consistency, discipline, and boundaries in the child’s life. Additionally, it maintains the appropriate power dynamic between the parents and the child, because the child is not able to manipulate one parent or pit one parent against the other.
Tip: Make all decisions together. You should already know what to do in many situations if you have developed a comprehensive parenting plan. If you are ever unsure about what to do in a situation, you should do one of two things. If the situation warrants immediate action, allow one parent to take control while the other supports the action, and discuss the situation later to evaluate the decision that was made. On the other hand, if time is not of the essence, discuss the situation together and present a unified decision to the children after you’ve come to an agreement. Whatever you do, save all arguments or disagreements for behind closed doors and out of ears’ reach of your children.
The key to a happy family is a strong family relationship. If parents are always in running in different directions, kids are always glued to the TV, and meals are eaten at different times, how can a family build a relationship? Building relationships necessitates quality time. Families should spend quality time together as a unit whenever possible. At an even more fundamental level, it is important for parents to spend quality time together. A strong parental bond will translate into a strong family bond. So often, families become focused so hard on the children that parents lose sight of one another. Remember, the family exists because the spouses loved one another first. That love must be nurtured.
Tip: Whenever possible, build quality time with one another into your daily (or at least weekly) schedule. This could be after the children go to bed, or perhaps on a weekend when you are able to get a babysitter. Use the time to rekindle your romance, discuss your personal lives, share your thoughts, and have fun with one another. While you might discuss family issues if you can find no other time during the week, try to focus on your relationship as a couple. You will come back to your family stronger, rejuvenated, and more connected as a unit.
“Supernanny” is truly a sage when it comes to helping families become stronger and happier. From episode to episode, I see the fruit of her labor as she succeeds in empowering the transformation of families. She has helped me build up an arsenal of parenting techniques for my future children, but more importantly, she has reminded me of the necessity of nourishing and developing my relationship with my husband so that we are always a strong, consistent, unified rock on which our family can stand.