The newest Supernanny, Deborah Tillman, will be helping empower parents to focus on the positives in Lifetime’s latest series, starting November 29. “It looks more like America,” the experienced childcare provider tells Celebrity Baby Scoop about the new series titled America’s Supernanny.
Diving straight into the chaos, Deborah will be giving viewers an all-access look into troubled households with the hopes to promote “positive parenting, clear communication, and a no-excuses attitude.” The Supernanny also opens up about her own “devastating and crazy” experiences with childcare that led her to help families. Read on about the new series and some of the challenging families Deborah has worked with.
CBS: Tell us all about your new show, America’s Supernanny. What can we expect to see on the series?
DT: “The series America’s Supernanny is new in that it will showcase American parents who need guidance and assistance on how to best raise their children and create a more harmonious household. America’s Supernanny is going to take more risks than the ABC show. I am so excited!
We’ve gone through six families so far, and one family had a child with Down syndrome, which means we are really looking at families with special needs. It’s awesome! I have a Master’s degree in early childhood special education, and I really wanted to have a family with a child with special needs.
We also want to encourage and inspire families that are hesitant about coming on the show to reach out to us. That’s a great thing. We actually just finished with the special needs family, and we put a lot of visual supports in place for the little boy. I really felt when I left there that we made a real huge difference not only in the little boy’s life, but also in the lives of the entire family. That was a great show!
We also had a ‘mom and mommy’ episode – a gay couple – and they had quads for the little girl and two older children. I really like the fact that the Lifetime show is able to take more risks than the ABC show, and that it really is more diverse. It looks more like America.”
CBS: Tell us a little bit about your background in childcare.
DT: “I graduated with a degree in business administration and accounting, but my whole life from when I was thirteen years old with my first babysitting job has been in childcare. I was always the neighborhood babysitter. Everybody wanted to be at our house or wanted me to come to their house to babysit their children. I was very responsible! I was the middle child and I don’t know if it had anything to do with it, but I was just very responsible at a young age. I loved babysitting, and I also got my first job working as a teacher assistant when I was in high school. My mother has also been a special ed teacher for thirty years for first graders, and I never really thought that that would be my life goal or dream. I majored in accounting and I thought that I was going to be an accountant. It wasn’t until my husband and I had our son Zeplyn and went through seven childcare providers in three months that I changed my career focus.
Seven childcare providers! Wow!
Yes…it was devastating and crazy. The providers were doing all kinds of things to Zeplyn! I would leave them with four or five bottles, and I would come to pick Zeplyn up and there would only be two bottles that he drank, or a bottle that had grains in it. You could tell that the people were putting cereal in the bottles. Yes, they were crazy, but that wasn’t even it! The last straw was the seventh childcare provider. I came home to see Zeplyn, and the childcare provider was in the hallway talking; she wasn’t paying attention to my child. He was in a bassinet in some dark backroom, sucking air out of a bottle that was propped up against a wall. It was terrible! I also had one where I left Zeplyn in the car seat at 9:00 a.m. and came back to pick him up around 11:30 or twelve, because by that time I didn’t trust anybody. When I got there, Zeplyn was still in the car seat with his coat on. It was absolutely ridiculous. He was sweating profusely while the girl was somewhere cooking.
I definitely had the worst case scenario that any parent could have ever have. Oh, it was horrible. I even wrote a book about about all the seven experiences so that no one would have to go through what I went through. I quit my job and became an in-home provider. Zeplyn and his best friend Jordan were my first clients. I watched them in my home for about ten months, along with several other children that found out about me. After the ten months, the building’s management found out about me and said, ‘A childcare center just went out of business, and do you want dislocation? We’ve been hearing such great things about what you do in your house.’ That is how I opened the first school in 1994. Now we have three locations, three schools for children aged 3 months to 5 years old.
My whole life has been working with families and children and presenting at workshops, trying to educate parents on positive parenting. You know, they need to stop being negative and yelling at their children. It’s not about that; it’s about the lessons the children learn. If you don’t have a discipline in place where the kids are learning something, then don’t do it. Of course, spanking and none of that other stuff really works. After opening the second location, I went back to school and got a Master’s degree in early childhood special education. That’s where we are now!”
CBS: How were you chosen as the Supernanny? Did you have to audition? Tell us a little bit about how you became America’s Supernanny.
DT: “I was coming off of vacation with my husband and son, and I got an email with the caption, ‘Looking for America’s Supernanny.’ I clicked on the email, which discussed how the old Supernanny Jo Frost retired, and it also said, ‘We are looking to make a new American version that’s totally different in terms of being more diverse, and we’re interested in you!’ So I called the casting director by the next day and left her a message. She finally got back to me and asked questions over the phone, and then I did a Skype interview with them. Once the Skype interview happened, they flew me out to California for a week of interviewing and auditioning, and they actually threw me into a house during that time. Just five minutes before this happened I was given a dossier about the mother’s name, the children’s names, and the instruction to go into the house to see how I could affect change. So I actually went into the household and did what I have done for the past twenty years. They told me I got the part after I had my Lifetime interview, which occurred a couple of days after my interview with the family.
It was a 1 ½ week process and they said, ‘You have a week to go home, get your businesses together, and be back here the following week.’ I embraced the whole thing because I always say things happen for a reason, and I’ve always known when it’s time to do something. I also always felt that it was time for me to not just be local.
What I’m doing with Supernanny isn’t any different from what I’ve been doing for the past twenty years, it’s just that more people will be affected and more lives will be changed because I’m not local. Everybody’s going to see Supernanny. I just felt that it was time, that I was at the right place at the right time, and also that I was prepared to do what God wanted me to do.”
CBS: What are some of the common complaints or challenges you will be helping families with on America’s Supernanny?
DT: “Oh my goodness! One of the biggest challenges that I see across the board is that parents need to be a lot more consistent. You know, they say they want a certain behavior but they are so inconsistent in terms of follow through. A lot of times the parents are doing the best that they can and they don’t even realize that they are doing something inappropriate. For example, they say, ‘I want the child to speak kind words and use gentle hands and not hit anybody,’ yet they spank. Or, they say, ‘I want the child to use nice words,’ yet they curse. So it’s just like, ‘Okay parents, I really need you to be consistent, I need you to follow through, I need you to set guidelines and boundaries so that the children are not confused and there are no mixed messages there.’
What I’m finding is that a lot of times I need to go through parent rules and parent behavior changes so then I can get the children on board. Because when the parents are inconsistent, unstructured, and disorganized, the children follow what the parents do.”
CBS: What is your approach with children who use inappropriate behavior? What is your discipline policy?
DT: “What I believe in is positive parenting, which means that you are praising and encouraging good behavior in order to reinforce those good behaviors. Most families I work with like to focus on the negative behaviors. They say things like, ‘He’s always hitting, he’s always screaming,’ but they’re not focusing on when the child is good, when the child is sitting down, listening, and doing what you ask them to do. They just seem to focus on everything that the child does wrong.
You know children, they just want attention no matter if it is positive or negative. When the parents are focusing on the negative, they get more of the negative. Basically, when I go in, it’s all about positive parenting.
In terms of discipline I use the ‘Calm-Down Corner’ and not the ‘Naughty Chair,’ because we’re not calling children names or talking about negative things. Their behavior might be negative, but the child is never negative. You won’t hear me saying, ‘Naughty this,’ or, ‘You’re a bad kid.’ I hear that all the time in these households, you know, ‘He’s acting so stupid! He’s acting so dumb!’ You really want to speak light to the children – you don’t want to be saying words that are negative, because then what you wind up getting is a self-fulfilling prophecy. They act like what you put out there.
So when I go into a family’s household, I tell them, ‘Look, it’s all about the positive, even when I put rules in place.’ My rules won’t say, ‘No hitting,’ or, ‘No spitting.’ My rules will say, ‘Use your gentle hands,’ or, ‘Use nice words,’ or, ‘Walking feet inside.’ Everything is positive, so that you can get the positive behavior from children.”
CBS: Do you find that a lot of the time it’s not the kids that need to make changes, it’s the parents? Please elaborate.
DT: “Yes, often times I do feel that way, because parents are overwhelmed and there is a whole balancing act with them. They just sort of lose the sense of follow-through and consistency. They don’t realize they are doing this; they are still trying to handle negative behavior.
Oftentimes, 9 times out of 10 you find parents that are trying their best, but it is better for me to come in from the outside and really point out what they are doing so they actually see it. They are like, ‘Oh my gosh! I didn’t know that that affected their behavior!’ I go into the households and I’m able to look at them with an open eye, with a fresh eye, and be able to see things that aren’t easy to be seen when you are in it. So when the problems are pointed out, you know how to alleviate them.
I think that with my expertise and education, and due to the fact that I’ve done this for so many years, I’m able to go in and really say, ‘Okay parents, you’re part of the problem and we need to change your negative attitudes. We need to empower you, we need to make you positive, such that we can get the behavior you need from your children.’ ”
CBS: What kind of skills do you teach families in order to live in peace and harmony as opposed to constant arguments and yelling?
DT: “Oh yes, the arguments and yelling [laugh]. Again, I come with positive parenting and I teach the parents about positive parenting. Getting rid of all the negative attitudes and negativity. Not just the way they speak, but also the way they act.
I am also very much into clear communication – speak simple. You don’t have to say, ‘Time-out.’ What is time-out? A lot of times I go into the houses and I hear, ‘Time-out.’ I say, ‘Listen, kids don’t know what time-out is – what does it mean? That’s like a baseball game, time-out.’ My language and techniques are kid friendly. When I say time out, my technique is to use the ‘Calm Down Corner.’ So everything I do is clear and consistent communication. You know how you hear parents say, ‘Stop! No! Be quiet!’ I don’t teach them that. I teach them to have clear communication. When you say ‘No, the kids don’t know what you’re saying ‘No’ to. You have to explain to them that using heavy hands or kicking your sister is not okay.
So it is positive parenting, clear communication, and also a ‘no excuses’ attitude. I do not take parents’ excuses very well. For example, if they go, ‘Miss Deborah, I do this because of how I was raised. My mother spanked me, and I turned out okay.’ I say, ‘You getting spanked and turning out okay is not a direct correlation with doing anything positive. One thing does not make the other thing better, so the fact that you got spanked is not a direct correlation to you turning out okay. The bottom line is that it doesn’t work. What are you trying to teach your child, what is the lesson learned?’
What spanking really does is teach your child to fear the belt or the hand, and also teach the child to be violent. That is why the child hits his or her siblings! Because you hit the kid and you aren’t teaching anything. Therefore, I go in and try to take a positive approach and say, ‘This is what you do and this is what you’re getting. I need you to do this technique so this is the result.’
Therefore, to sum it all up, my most effective skills are positive parenting, clear communication, and a no-excuses attitude. I don’t take any excuses from parents. Instead I say, ‘Look, you had these babies and so therefore this is the hard work you have to do to get it right. Have high levels of simplicity and consistency. Be simple with your directions and be consistent with your follow-through.’
CBS: What are the top complaints you hear from parents? How about from kids?
DT: “The most common complaints I hear from parents are that they don’t have enough time, they are overwhelmed, and they can’t get their children to listen. But when you go into the household, you see why all those things are happening. You see that they don’t have enough time because they are focusing on all the wrong stuff. They have no structure in place, no household rules in place, nobody knows what to do and what not to do. There are no parenting rules in place where they know what to say and what not to say.
Being unorganized and not being able to follow through is due to the way they set it up. They don’t have any time and are overwhelmed because of themselves. They don’t have any structures or rules in place because they are not consistent. Once you go in and switch around everything – give them rules, give them organization, give them structure, put the household in place, and get the parents to follow through – then you truly see the results. They think they don’t have any time, but in actuality they would if they had things in order.”
CBS: What about the top complaints from the kids?
DT: “Usually teenagers are the ones who complain the most. Their biggest complaint is, ‘My parents don’t listen to me. They hear but they don’t listen.’ You know, I can really see that. A lot of times I go into these houses and teenagers, even tweens, have attitudes and are going through puberty, and their parents just lay down the law and say, ‘This is what I want you to do,’ but they don’t listen to them. They don’t take the time to. I always tell parents, ‘God gave you two ears and one mouth so you would listen more than you speak. At this day and age, you should have already put the foundation down for these children. They are teenagers and I need you to listen to what they are saying. You want to be able to have an open ear with them so they know they can come to you as a role model for advice. So they are not seeking the world or society for advice that we as parents might not want them to have.’ That’s why I always say that you need to have more of a listening ear when children become tweens and teenagers.”
CBS: What’s your best advice for parents who are struggling?
DT: “I am the always an optimist. I always say, ‘Don’t lose hope.’ I can work with any family. I just came off working with a family of ten and the mom was 8.5 months pregnant with twins. If you don’t lose hope, and you’re willing to stay positive, patient, and persevere, the next day will always be better.”