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Moms, I can’t tell you how much I love Supernanny. For those of you who have never heard of her and/or live in a cave,  Supernanny is an adorable British woman named Jo who visits homes with problem children (actually, problem parents) and gets them all in line. The thing that’s great about Supernanny is the families on the show are such unbelievable train wrecks, they make you feel like Parent of the Year. Whenever I think I’ve had a lousy parenting day, I just turn on Supernanny and think, “Well at least I don’t have a 6-year-old calling me a fat bitch!” (yet). It’s the ultimate in “At least I’m doing a better job than THEY are.” And let’s face it–don’t we all need some mediocrity to compare ourselves to?

Supernanny isn’t about being a hardcore disciplinarian to the children. She’s all about the parents, which is what makes you feel so good watching it. First Supernanny comes over and there’s the Observation day. Just like it sounds, Supernanny watches the family interact while the camera follows them. Interspersed with horrifically behaved children you have Supernanny looking into the camera and raising her eyebrows or doing a talking head bit like, “Mum has no control over these children!” and “He’s being totally disrespectful!” and “No wonder they throw temper tantrums–Mum gives in and they get what they want!” (remember, it’s Mum because she’s got that adorable British accent). They carefully edit the clips so that it’s 100% chaos 100% of the time, which again makes you feel far superior than these frazzled parents. By the first commercial break, you’re already feeling awesome about yourself.

After Observation (which almost always include a bedtime routine, or lack thereof, and children who invariably won’t sleep in their own beds, at which Supernanny Talking Heads, “I know exactly where this is going–I’ve seen enough.” And you know exactly where it’s going too–because you watch Supernanny! Yay for you!). Then Supernanny leaves the family to come back for the next day for the Family Meeting, which despite the name is actually only a Parent Meeting.

So there’s the commercial break and then Supernanny sits down with the parents and has a “come to Jesus” moment where she totally calls them on all of the things going wrong in the house. But she’s so nice about it that you can’t even get mad when she says, “Your 4-year-old is still drinking 6 bottles a day! And your 6-year-old is telling you to go to hell! And your 10-year-old is making meth in the basement!” And the parents sometimes try lamely to defend themselves, like, “Meth? We just thought he liked to take long baths!” but Supernanny is having none of that, so she says, “Let’s get to work.” And the parents are like, “yeah, let’s get to work.” And you are like, “Yeah baby, let’s get to WORK!”

Then there’s another commercial but before that, the announcer says, “And now it’s time to Ask Supernanny.” So there’s Supernanny and she says something like:

What should you do if your child suddenly stops eating a food he used to like? Do you:
A. Beat him with a stick and send him to bed with no supper
B. Don’t make it a big deal, just re-introduce the food in a couple of days
C. Sell him to the Gypsies
We’ll answer after the break.

And you spend the rest of the commercial break bouncing up and down on the couch with your hand in the air saying, “Oh! I know! Pick me! Pick me!” And then Supernanny returns with that comforting smile and tells you that the answer is B, just like you thought, and you get all warm and fuzzy inside for having gotten it right. What a great parent you are!

Then we get back to the sacrificial lambs family and we get to watch Supernanny as she supervises the parents attempting to use the techniques, which basically involve a great deal of boundary setting, follow-through, and common sense. We invariably get to see the Naughty Chair in action–the Naughty Chair being a time-out location (not everyone gets a Naughty Chair. Some people have a Naughty Step or a Time Out Corner or Maximum Security Prison). Supernanny’s Naughty Chair procedure is very basic:

1. Sit child onto Naughy Chair, get on their level, and tell them clearly why you put them there.
2. Set a timer for the child’s time out (1 minute per year of age)
3. When the timer is up, return and tell them again why you put them there
4. Ask for an apology
5. Give hugs and kisses

It seems pretty straightforward to you because you’re an avid Supernanny watcher, but one of the parents usually screws up. Luckily Supernanny is there to offer some gentle correction, like when Mum messes up Step 1 by sitting the child down and saying, “Do you know why I put you here?” Supernanny jumps in with, “Don’t ask–just tell him. It’s not a guessing game.” but she says it so nicely that you don’t wonder how Mum could possibly get the other 4 steps right if she didn’t get number 1.

And it goes on for a while like that, until Supernanny leaves the family and then returns. Now in our living rooms, she disappears for the length of one commercial break, but in the show she actually leaves for several days. The camera crews stay behind, however, so when Supernanny returns she pops open the portable DVD player and says, “Let’s see how we did, shall we?” The first clip is the parents doing something right, and Supernanny, who is all about positive reinforcement, says, “Good job! You followed the technique and it worked!” And then the next clip is where one or both parents totally lose it, and Supernanny says, “Look at that! You totally didn’t follow the technique even though you saw that it worked, and now your kid’s an obnoxious little brat again. Way to go, moron!” (not a direct quote).

So there’s some more reinforcement and more gentle guidance from Supernanny, and then there’s the wrap-up. Everyone is crying because Supernanny is so awesome and sweet you totally want her to be your BFF, and the Mum is totally crying and saying, “I hope we can remember everything Supernanny taught us” and you’re sitting there thinking, “I hope so too, lady, because she wrote it on a giant piece of posterboard in your dining room–but after watching you for the last hour, I somehow doubt it.” And then Supernanny leaves and the announcer says, “Next week–more horrible children!” and you sit back and almost wish your own child would misbehave so you can demonstrate how well you have mastered all 5 steps of the Naughty Chair, except that would involve your child misbehaving and who wants that? So instead you just feel smug and superior to the train wrecks on television and realize that as bad a day you may have had, it wasn’t as bad as THAT.

The Scrivener