It’s not easy being a working parent. First there’s the guilt at leaving the kids while you go out to earn a crust. Then there are the multiple caps you have to wear: bread winner; chief story teller (after 7pm); home-in-time-for-bath-and-bed speeding driver; weekend fun parent (to make up for the amount of time you’re not there); caring spouse and chef; and, finally, employer to your trusted live-in helper. It’s exhausting. And to top it all, the little toe-rags repay you by behaving like complete brats.
The problem, you realise, is down to the indulgent hand of your nanny. She doesn’t like reprimanding the kids – no matter how much they need it. Instead of practising ‘time out’ for naughtiness, she rewards them with sugary snacks to stop them howling. You’ve tried talking to her, but because you’re not there, you can’t force her to implement discipline. And she’s so good at taking care of your children’s physical wellbeing, you let it slide – and slide.
‘I see this in Dubai all the time,’ says Andalene Salvesen, mum of four and parenting coach extraordinaire. ‘But, while it’s easy to blame your hired help, the issues facing nannies here are several layers deep. Culturally, a lot of them are from backgrounds where they are expected to be servile, rather than an authority figure. And most of the time, they have absolutely no professional training at all.’
The former nursery school founder and principal who runs parenting seminars and ‘Supernanny’-style home consultations, is a firm believer in traditional pecking orders. ‘When you hire someone to look after your children, they become paid parents,’ she says. ‘And yet, the only experience they may have had is caring for a younger sibling. They often have no idea how to enforce discipline and they try to be friends with your children, rather than authority figures. ’
Andalene, whose been doling out advice for 16 years, explains, ‘I teach nannies – and parents – that a happy child is an obedient child, and “happy” doesn’t mean giving them everything.’
She believes parents also need to learn how to be authority figures. ‘It’s not only the paid carers who let the kids get away with stuff. Parents who work also tend to over indulge their children to make up for not spending time with them. We teach them how to generate authority, how to handle children with different temperaments, how nutrition effects behaviour and the different parenting styles children require at certain ages.’
But how do you begin to command authority when your charges have been spoilt rotten? ‘You develop an attitude,’ she laughs. ‘It’s the difference between a teacher striding confidently into a classroom and pathetically shuffling in. If you don’t have the attitude, the kids will smell your fear a mile away. Realise that your authority lies in your position, not in your threats, punishments or rewards. Once you have authority, you can lay down house rules and expectations and teach them respect.’
It’s that simple? ‘You have to stick to the plan,’ Andalene says, adding that rewards and punishments can be used as incentives. She uses a chart with a rocket that jumps from planet to planet, offering bigger rewards as the rocket progresses. But rewards don’t come in the form of sweets. They come in the form of quality time spent with the kids: stories to be read; a finger painting session; a picnic in the garden, an outing or an extra swim. And the rocket can also move backwards down the chart if the kids are badly behaved.
And what about actual punishments? ‘I believe in “time out” – but it has to be done correctly,’ she says. ‘A lot of parents tell me it doesn’t work but, in reality, it isn’t being applied properly. That’s why I do home
consultations – so that I can see what’s going wrong.’
Andalene explains, ‘The severest form of “time out” is when the child is shut in a safe downstairs bathroom for a set period of time – a minute for each year of their age. Parents should check on the child after the time is up, and ask them if they are sorry. If the child is still resistant, leave them again for another period of “time out”. This process should be repeated until the child learns they have to be calm and apologetic. It can take a long time and be extremely wearing,’ she adds.
We can’t help but admire Andal-ene’s no nonsense, straight-talking philosophy, especially when she likens obedience training to breaking in a horse. ‘I said that in one of my seminars and a mother actually stood up and said, “I’ve broken in a horse and it is exactly like that!,” she laughs. ‘But it’s not about breaking a child’s spirit. It’s about breaking a selfish will and establishing authority. Once a child respects you, they will truly learn to love you – and they’ll be obedient too.’
Andalene’s top training tips
Do get an attitude. Act like you’re in charge – because you are.
Do set house rules; knocking before entering, saying please and thank you, asking permission etc.
Don’t give up at the first hurdle. ‘Time out’ takes perseverance. Stick at it.
Do realise that children need different approaches to discipline at different ages.
Do use an incentive system to encourage good behaviour.
Don’t offer sweets and chocolates as incentives. Rewards should be given in quality time instead.
To book a home visit or find out nanny and parenting course information, email firstname.lastname@example.org; www.monsters-tomunchkins.co.za. Or, look out for her new book, Raising Happy, Healthy Children, by Struik Publishers.