When my kids were little, I used to watch the television show called “Super Nanny” in France. Do you have a Super Nanny in your country? The star of the French show was Cathy Sarrai, who had a gift to understand children and to use her years of experience as a nanny to help the parents and children on her show and those of us watching. I had deep admiration of her skills. And I wasn’t the only one.
And then in 2010, after a sudden illness, Cathy Super Nanny died at the age of 47.
For three years there was no French Super Nanny. I know that French television channels were looking for a replacement to fill the role of another super nanny. But it was presque impossible (nearly impossible) for a television company to find another model that would be as popular as Cathy. But it happened, and in November 2013, a French television channel programmed several new television shows with the new French Super Nanny, Sylvie.
And on the first episode I watched, the French Super Nanny was not like Cathy, she was sometimes mean, this I state as my opinion.
How The Concept Of Super Nanny Can Offer Learning Opportunities to Parents
The concept of Super Nanny is to bring television cameras into a family’s home and with the help of Super Nanny, guide the children and parents to have a more harmonious household. The goal is to teach the parents some parenting skills and coping mechanisms to help raise their children better and for the kids to learn how to behave with more respect and control.
In the particular episode I watched, Super Nanny was helping a family where one of the boys was a difficult child, especially around meal time. He was a picky eater and there were often many battles at the table to get the boy to eat the food on his plate. The parents didn’t cook enough fresh foods and vegetables either, so not only did the food not get eaten on the plate, the meals that were offered lacked good nutrition.
These type of situations are good opportunities for offering constructive ‘Super Nanny’ advice to frustrated parents, who also find themselves with children who are picky eaters and/or disrupt meals.
But the advice to the parents and the discipline Super Nanny did to this boy was not only shocking to me, but to others watching the show.
Super Nanny turned into a mean food boss.
How Not To Handle A Difficult Eater
Not always easy to keep your cool when your child doesn’t want to eat or when a child uses the meal time to bring out bad behavior, but here is what Super Nanny did to ‘tame’ this boy in front of his dinner plate:
Super Nanny sits the boy down at the table in front of a plate of zucchini and other food.
She asks him to pick up his fork and eat the zucchini. He refuses. She then picks up his fork and shoves it in his hand and warns him,
You will eat or you will be punished.
He refuses. She takes his hand with the fork in it, puts a portion of zucchini on his fork and tells him to eat it. He refuses. She pushes the fork into his mouth with the zucchini on the end to taste it. He gags.
She yells at him, “C’est la comédie!” (which means he is not really gagging, he is just acting).
At that point, Super Nanny has had enough of this (and me too).
She forcefully picks him up from his chair with his arm and he is pulled away from the table. He is punished.
All this while his parents sit there watching it happen (and us at home watching too). I am thinking, is this is right way to show how you are supposed to treat children who do not eat what food is put in front of them?
What do you think?
Is This How To Treat A Child Who Refuses To Eat?
In my professional and personal opinion, when a child regularly refuses to eat, physically forcing a child to eat is not the right short-term or long-term solution to the problem. A child who continually misbehaves at the table and often refuses to eat has other behavioral problems and is using food as a control factor with his parents or caregiver.
I do not think any child deserve to have a fork shoved into their hand, be yelled at to eat, physically pushed into putting food on their fork and then forced to leave the table for gagging.
So what is the solution to support a softer yet firm approach?
I believe that it helps to find out what the root of the problem is. If a child has other behavior issues that transcends his daily behavior, food is just another battle ground.
In this episode, I think Super Nanny went too far. And so did others, because I went on the television station’s Facebook Page to make a comment about it, and there were others who felt the same as me. I wasn’t the only one shocked by her treatment of this boy. Here is a part of another comment from the Facebook page about the general way the French Super Nanny disciplines,
“…je ne cautionne pas trop votre façon d’apprendre l’éducation dans cette émission, je trouve que ce mode d’éducation est surannée!! aujourd’hui nous jeune maman et on est beaucoup, voulons apprendre des méthodes plus douce que les châtiments corporelles et mental et je trouve que vous en parlez pas ce qui est bien dommage! car on vois très bien que ça peut marcher sans fessée, sans punition ou autres! ”
“…I don’t take too much to heart the way you discipline in this show, I find that the way you do it is old-fashioned!! Today we are young mothers and we are many who want to learn softer ways to discipline and not the violent mental and physical treatment and I find that you don’t talk about this and this is a real shame! Because you know that you can (raise your children) well without spanking, punishments or other things!”
How can we bring up and discipline our children using softer methods?
And I also agree with this mom who left that comment on SuperNanny’s Facebook page. For the bien-être of a child and the home, I believe softer and firmer discipline methods work better in the long-term. The French are known to be quite strict with their kids at the table, while some other cultures are less strict. It is often hard to find a balance in this parental area.
To help a child who is a picky eater or uses meal time as a point of control and battle, here are some suggestions that I use with my kids that have been successful.
Other ways to make food less of a battle at the table:
1. It is never too late, but start when your children are young to disconnect the link of food as a point of contention or battle. Food is a meal to be eaten, not to be a used in an emotional way.
2. Make rules for the table and explain the rules before the meal. You will only have to do this a few times, once the kids understand the rules, they will follow them. A basic rule could be: you must taste the food on your plate, but you don’t have to eat it if you don’t like it (you will be surprised on how many kids will eat new foods if they are hungry and don’t feel forced to eat, but must taste). Or another rule could be that you cannot have a dessert if you haven’t eaten the food on your plate.
3. Get your children involved in planning and preparation of the meal. Include foods that are not always popular such as green vegetables and add new foods they may not know or think they don’t like: mushrooms, asparagus, fish, etc.
4. Give rewards for good behavior, but no rewards for eating or punishment for not eating.
5. Be a good role model for your kids. As parents, grandparents and caregivers, you have to be the first ones to eat those vegetables, to encourage your children to do the same.
6. Ensure that everyone is hungry when sitting down to eat at the table. Hunger is a big incentive to try new foods and to eat food on the plate.
7. And lastly, if a child is gagging on food because they don’t like the taste, don’t assume that they are acting. They physically may not like the taste of a food. (Personally, of my 4 kids, only 1 loves zucchini, 1 gags on it, 1 will eat it, 1 will just have a bite (because he hates it)).
Needless to say, I don’t make a lot of zucchini!
What counts in your instincts
Parenting is the hardest and most rewarding job in the world. Do you agree? Years ago I learned to trust my instincts and raise my kids on how I feel is right, not always on how it is ‘supposed’ to be done. Is there a right way? Yes, your way, guided by love!
This article is my opinion on what I think the French Super Nanny does wrong in forcing this child to eat. My instinct tells me there are other ways to guide kids to eat what is on their plate and to keep them calm at the table. My ways work with my four kids and I wish you success in raising your healthy eaters.
I will add that Super Nanny publishes a short video in French, “How to Get Your Child To Finish Their Plate” which really has some good points on how to help your kids eat their food.I don’t understand why she didn’t bring some of these tips she puts in her video during the show I watched.
C’est la vie.
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