This Tuesday (January 3) don’t miss Lifetime’s newest series, America’s Supernanny, starring childcare expert Deborah Tillman. This episode features the Fitzgerald family-of-six. The Supernanny pulls out all the stops to return an absent dad (Andy) to his struggling flock, and to give hope to a mother (Jenny) who feels like a failure. While Andy tends to his church congregation, Jenny is left alone with four kids ranging in age from 3-10. Their 8-year-old son Garrett has Down syndrome and his own set of special needs that requires most of mom’s attention, leaving the three other children feeling neglected and abandoned.
The Virginia-based wife, mother and author, who boasts more than 19 years experience in early childhood education opens up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about working with the Fitzgerald family.
CBS: Tell us about working with the Fitzgerald family. While dad is occupied with his church congregation, mom is left alone with their four children. One of their kids has special needs and requires most of mom’s attention. How did you help the Fitzgerald’s prioritize, set boundaries and bring a sense of family back into their home?
DT: “When I arrived at the Fitzgerald’s home they were at their wits end. Dad was preoccupied with his church congregation and barely spent quality time with his sons. Garrett had Down syndrome and had a difficult time communicating. He often ran out of the house unannounced whenever he got the chance. Mom was so overwhelmed that she began to think that she was not the woman for the job of raising a child with special needs.
After putting in house rules and discipline, I began helping Garrett to communicate by using visual aids. Children with Down syndrome are strong visual learners. This means that they understand what they see better than what they hear. Visual aids were used to Garrett in processing language, organizing his thinking and remembering information through pictures, objects, gestures and written language.
Garrett was also given an effective visual support to help him remember a routine such as to stop and ask first before attempting to go outside by himself. It is a great way to aid expressive communication because Garrett was then able to use the picture and words to tell others what he wanted.
In order to organize Garrett’s day a visual daily schedule made a huge difference in the quality of his daily routine. It provided a guide, in picture form of what was expected to happen for the day. That way, he was less likely to become anxious about the unknown and could regulate himself better with a feeling of control and consistency.
With Garrett on the right track, it was necessary for me to help dad take some of the pressure off of mom by communicating and becoming actively involved in the lives of his children. To start, I introduced the ‘How am I feeling’ (Part I) technique for Jake and Dawson which provided the child with the opportunity to put pen to paper and write how they were feeling in an open and honest manner without judgment or criticism. When children are allowed to express themselves openly, the lines of communication are broadened and children begin to trust.
‘How am I Feeling?’ (Part II) was then used to allow the child to express to the parent’s what was written down without criticism or judgment. The parents then explained to the child how they will improve or do better in the future.
Since mom felt so defeated, I put in place a technique for her to take some time in the morning to decide what her expectations would be for the day. That way, she would not get so overwhelmed and give up but rather go into the task with expectations already set and make it a point to reach that goal thereby feeling a sense of accomplishment each day. I also helped mom work with Garrett on his homework in an effective manner by providing him with short breaks, praising and rewarding him when a task was completed.
It took a while for dad to come around and realize that he needed to listen to his children but he eventually understood and took the steps to change. Mom changed her mindset and her attitude toward being more positive and therefore changing the whole spirit of the household. She finally realized that she was exactly the woman for the job.”