The five Supernanny principles that have saved my freaking life


Hello hello, from toddler city!

[Population: 1.

Average height: short.

Average noise level: loud.

Preferred transport method: steam train.]

There’s always something going on here, eh? At the moment, for us, bedtime has gone completely haywire. And, just between us, Tim and I are a bit clueless at bedtime. We’ve never had to be good, you see: Henry has always slept. Until now. Suddenly he won’t stay in bed when we put him down, and we’ve been a bit wishy-washy in putting him back, letting him up for a drink, letting him up ‘for five minutes but no longer’, going back in to sleep beside him, etc. We’ve been away, he’s been sick, and before that, there was Edward, so for six months there’s been one disruption after another. Once the jetlag had faded this month, we decided to get him into better habits. I do not want a five year old wibbling about at 11pm in my bed. Or even a two-year-old. Sleep is too precious, and toddlers are full of sharp edges that end up all in my face.

My dear friend gave me Jo Frost’s first Supernanny book this week. I know Supernanny is a bit 2004, and not all of her methods are for everyone. But it was one of those glorious moments where I read something again after a long while, and suddenly it made so much sense. I recognised more about the inner workings of my toddler in the opening chapter than I have while reading twelve other parenting books. I had to face up to the fact that, while he was loved extravagantly and doing well in all sorts of areas, he was also playing me like a fiddle in others. I’ve been trying out various things all week. Reader, THEY WORK. THEY FLIPPING WORK.

Here are five Supernanny principles I intend to write her a tear-stained letter about:

one: The Voice

‘Henry, please don’t do that. Henry. HENRY, NOOOOOO.’

This is the soundtrack to many of my days. I feel like I spend all day harping on at him from somewhere above his head, while he blithely ignores me. I hate the squawking tone I end up with, almost more than the shouting when I’ve really lost my rag.

Supernanny has two things to say about this: first, some toddler chaos is inevitable. They don’t understand the value of things, they have no sense of danger, and they love to explore. And second, when he does something you don’t want him to do, use The Voice. Go over to him, bend down to his level and make him look at you in the eye. Then say something like ‘[biting your brother’s fingers] is unacceptable behaviour. It’s very wrong. Please don’t do it again’. But the trick is your tone: not shouting at all, but lower, and more stern than your usual.

It turns out that Henry was pretending he couldn’t hear me a lot – making him look me in the eye makes a huge difference even before I say anything. But The Voice is a miracle worker: he really seems to feel reprimanded, without needing a raised voice. It also seems to calm him down when he’s heading for a meltdown.

two:  The Advance Notice

Ms Frost compares parenting a toddler to behaving like a Speaking Clock: they have no sense of time, future or past, so when a new activity is coming up, they need verbal countdowns. I wouldn’t like it if I were in the middle of something and abruptly made to switch to something else, so why would they?

I realised that half of Henry’s resistance comes at points in the day when I’ve asked him to do something different, and he doesn’t want to. He used to regularly throw fits about getting in the bath: he loves it once he’s in there, but hates stopping what he’s doing. I’ve been giving out five- and two-minute warnings all week (‘Henry, in five minutes it’ll be time to get in the car. We’re going to get in the car in two minutes, ok?’). Ta-da: most of the time, he’s mentally prepared for the new activity and goes along without fuss.

three: The Helper

I’d been trying this anyway, but after finding this chore chart for three-year-olds, decided to be a little more ambitious in what I let him do. He had a go at drying the dishes while standing on top of the recycling bin, last night. It made him feel about ten feet tall, and I didn’t get the usual ‘Mummy, I cuddle Edward very hard’, while trying to cook.

(Please look at the rest of those organisational downloads if you get time, because they’re amazing.)

four: The Routine

Another lightbulb moment: in the chaos of getting back from our holiday, getting over jetlag, catching up with work and now getting the house ready to sell, I’ve been hideously lazy about going outside. But the problem with indoor days is that it’s much harder to sustain a routine. Supernanny says that without routine, toddlers feel all at sea. If they don’t know when to expect things, then they feel like any behaviour is acceptable.

We’ve tried a new routine this week: housework over breakfast, outings in the mornings, then lunch, then a nap (while I work), then toys, then screen time, then dinner. He seems to love the predictability, and it has the handy side effect of limiting his access to the iPad to a single, one-hour window.

five: The Follow-Through

Reading this book made me realise how often I ask him to do something, then let it go when he refuses. I thought I was choosing my battles, and not sweating the small stuff. But to him it looks like backing down, and it tells him that I’m not really in charge. Feeling like they’re in charge for toddlers is like Facebook for adults: they think they love it, and can’t stop themselves from using it, but actually it makes them feel weird, sad, and a bit sick.

I’ve tried really hard, this week, to follow through on absolutely everything I ask him to do. If I say he needs to wear a hat in the park because it’s cold, well, then we can’t get out of the car unless he’s put his hat on (and he has to put it on himself, not wait for me to force it on so he can rip it off). And if he doesn’t put it on, we go home. This asks for a lot of commitment – putting the pushchair up and down twice was particularly outrageous, since I hate it – but it’s worth it. Because here’s something I knew, and had forgotten: if I insist, all the way to the bitter end if necessary, he will do it. And no one gets cold ears.

You are probably shaking your head and thinking ‘um, yes. Obviously’. It was all obvious, and I was sort-of doing it already. But I wasn’t doing it all, every time, and every time is crucial to this little breed. Every time means this is the way things are, and my decisions are final. I dare say we’ll need to adapt again as they both get older, but for now, our days run smoother. We are all happier. And I get to enjoy him for what he is.

If you see me with a Supernanny tattoo at any point, try not to look like it’s weird.


The wonderful Museum of English Rural Life this morning, where he was well-behaved and delightful. IN YOUR FACE, WHAT TO EXPECT READERS.


What do you think about Supernanny? Any of her tricks worked for you and yours? Have you ever put a child to bed 67 times in one evening? We have, now. 

15 thoughts on “The five Supernanny principles that have saved my freaking life

  1. I agree with a lot of what super nanny does though I do think she is a bit unrealistic what it takes to be a parent 24/7 as we all get a bit shouty and so on sometimes but yes, she has a good point on most things. with the bed thing I solved it by keeping mine in a cot far beyond the normal time, till I could communicate properly with them ( I didn’t have any climbers thankfully) another option is a stair gate on his door.

    • Alas, we had to switch him to a toddler bed last May, to fit Sarah’s bed in his room. He actually did really well with it, and didn’t have any problems until Edward arrived in July. Since then he’s had good spells and not-so-good – but it’s time to get him properly settled again!

  2. Great article! When I worked at a childcare center, I learned consistency was PARAMOUNT. Those little ones need to know who you are, and that you and your expectations will be the same, day in and day out. My wife and I are expecting our first child in 5 months, and this is a crucial reminder for me. Thanks for the post! I hope you’ll check my blog out as well. 🙂

    • Yes, so true – consistency is everything! Congratulations on your wife’s pregnancy! Hope everything continues to go well. It really is the best adventure. And I would love to check out your blog – thanks so much for looking at mine!

    • I think it’s different for every child, and for every age group. I’m already learning that what worked six months ago is useless now – though at the same time, expecting him to have developed more than his age allows is dangerous too. You just have to experiment and go with what works!

  3. I love supernanny! But have no babies yet so might change my mind later. I used a technique of hers on someone else’s kid when I was babysitting. The little one was a chronic get-up-and-come-downstairser. Supernanny did this with a family on one episode; the first time they come down you explain calmly that you know they want to come downstairs but it’s time for them to go to bed, let’s go up together. The second time you just say “time for bed” and take them upstairs, and then the third time you just take them back to bed without saying anything and do it as many times as you have to. I did it about 10 times but it worked! And I imagine if I’d been there for a few nights it wouldn’t have taken long for them to understand what was going to happen if they came down. I just hope I can stay calm when it’s really my turn!

    • That’s exactly what we’re doing! It kind of got worse before it got better – because we were making an issue out of it by putting him back to bed immediately every time, he made a HUGE issue out of it and got hysterical. So yes, we put him back 67 times the first night. 35 the second, 4 the third, and tonight just once. If you can stick the gross bit at the beginning it is definitely worth doing!

  4. I like Supernanny a lot! She has the discipline part down, but also the respect for the child’s age-appropriate needs. Boy, you are so not alone on number 5. I was a first grade/preschool teacher before I had kids, and I saw soooo many examples of moms who did what you’re describing. I think it’s an easy habit to fall into, but definitely a dangerous one! I had one parent who when their child was sick, the mom would call ahead, drive him to school, have me come out to the car to tell him he was too sick to come in, then turn around and drive home again. Do we want to be that parent? No, we do not! 😉 I do understand it better now that I’m a mom…the kiddos can devote all their energy to defying you, and you still have to do things like cook and clean! But once they get used to you meaning what you say (and of course, you are picking carefully those hills you want to die on) it is incredibly easier. For you and them. Anyway, I guess I’m really just trying to say, ‘atta girl! Fight the good fight to produce decent human beings who don’t end up like those What to Expect commenters!

    • Haha, I bet you saw all sorts! That’s crazy.
      It is so easily done. The funny thing is, I’m very strict with him in all sorts of other areas. But in the chaos of Edward arriving, just started to let his refusals weigh more than my requests, without really noticing, because it was less hassle. No more, though! It is much easier once he knows I mean what I say. We’ve had a good week, even in his less-good moments.

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