MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're switching gears now. Have you ever felt enslaved to your kids, that they were running things and you didn't know where to turn? Well, that is the situation that causes some desperate parents to turn to Deborah Tillman.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "AMERICA'S SUPERNANNY")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: This is a madhouse.
DEBORAH TILLMAN: Some people call me a miracle worker.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I'm so glad you're here.
TILLMAN: But you can call me America's supernanny.
MARTIN: Deborah Tillman is the star of "America's Supernanny." That's a reality show on the Lifetime network. Now, you might have seen the ABC network show "Supernanny." Every episode, Tillman parachutes in to help a family in crisis. The season finale airs tomorrow night, but Deborah Tillman is with us now.
Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
TILLMAN: Thanks so much for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: You know, these shows are wildly popular. As we mentioned, the ABC network show "Supernanny" was here and aired in the U.S. It was a British nanny, Jo Frost.
MARTIN: But there are a dozen spinoffs. A German "Supernanny," a Brazilian version, one in Indonesia and now you're "America's Supernanny." How did they find you?
TILLMAN: "America's Supernanny" - I'm so blessed and privileged to even be in this role, but they found me by sending me an email. I had been written up in an Essence article and they found me and so they called me and asked me - did I want to be considered and that they were doing a Lifetime version called "America's Supernanny."
And so I went out to California. They flew me out there, where I was in a series of interviews. They threw me into a family that had some issues and said, solve them overnight. An, – yeah, told me that Friday after meeting with Lifetime that I got the part.
MARTIN: Well, you know, you're well prepared. You're the founder and CEO of the Happy Home Child Learning Center, a child care facility, and you also have a master's in early childhood education, so you're well prepared and sort of well educated. And you've really dealt with some really diverse situations. For example, you know, children with special needs.
MARTIN: Attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder. And with the latter - I just want to talk about that case for a minute. It was hard for parents to know the difference between the child's disorder and just bad behavior. I'll just play a short clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "AMERICA'S SUPERNANNY")
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Die.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: That's not funny.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILD SCREAMING)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Listen. Stop it. You're choking him. Stop.
MARTIN: Now, during this clip, the child smacks his mother, chokes his brother, spits in his mom's face. Now, it's hard, I think, for people to imagine that some people would actually invite people in to watch all this going on. You'd think a lot of people would be embarrassed, but people actually ask you to come. Right?
TILLMAN: They do. They actually - yes.
MARTIN: That's how the families appear on the show?
TILLMAN: That's how they do. They actually ask for our help, which means that these parents are feeling desperate. They have come to their wits' ends and they don't know what else to do and so I really applaud them for being that transparent, for opening up their selves to say that, you know, we have these many issues and, please, somebody come and help us.
MARTIN: How do you go about trying to help these families? These can be some complex issues.
TILLMAN: And they are.
MARTIN: And you only have seven days with them.
TILLMAN: That's true. I go in with God, bottom line. It's not just Deborah Tillman because if it was Deborah Tillman, it would be all kinds of things happening in there. But I really do go in with the Lord and I say to them, you know what? I'm here to help you, but you've got to be real. You have to show me what's going on.
So I go in that one day, observe for anywhere between 12 to 16 hours and then, after I have my family meeting to let them know that this is what I have noticed and this is what we're going to do and make sure they're onboard, then I get to teaching and I teach for a good four or five days. And we'll end there. I mean, sometimes, we do 16, 17 techniques. Because the show is only 42 minutes, you may only see three or four techniques, but we've been in there working.
MARTIN: Well, you call your approach positive parenting.
MARTIN: And you do spend a lot of time on appropriate - and I'm emphasizing appropriate - discipline. And I'm talking to this because the whole question of corporal punishment, hitting kids as a method of discipline is something that is prevalent. A lot of people believe in it.
TILLMAN: Yeah, it is.
MARTIN: Some people more than others. And I'll just go there. I'll just go there.
MARTIN: That it seems to me that, among African-Americans, this is something that is a mainstay of discipline among many families and you actually had a family where this was an issue. The Carzell family. A large family, lots of kids. There was a lot of yelling, hitting and belt whipping by the parents. Now, as we said, the parents call you, but what did - did they think the hitting was a problem?
TILLMAN: They didn't think the hitting was a problem. They thought the children were a problem. So they just thought they had bad kids. I mean, those are the words they used. Our kids are horrible. They're miserable. You know, they're just the worst kids ever and so no, when we got in there to do the techniques, we found out that it wasn't the children. It started at the top with the parents.
MARTIN: Which is generally the case.
MARTIN: Well, what did you say to help persuade them that this was just not an appropriate approach?
TILLMAN: Right. I talked to them real and I talked to them about generational curses. I talked to them about perpetuating the cycle of pain in our African-American communities and just because your grandmother did it doesn't mean that you should be doing it. And when we know better, when there's other resources out there, then we do better.
MARTIN: Well, tell us, if you would, about - just, again, for somebody who might be listening to our conversation and saying, who are you? You know, who are you to tell me? This is - like I say, this is how I was raised. This is how my momma was raised. I turned out fine.
TILLMAN: Yeah. And going with a lot of boldness. I know.
MARTIN: I turned out fine. What...
TILLMAN: Yeah. A lot of parents do say that, but it's not about you turning out fine. It's about really breaking that cycle. And if we want children that are going to be compassionate and loving and caring, then we have to show them by example that this is how you get those kind of children. You model the behavior you want.
MARTIN: So how has your life changed since you took on being America's supernanny? You know, are people - do they run up to you like they do the doctor who lives down the street and ask you questions at the supermarket?
TILLMAN: They do.
MARTIN: Or do they run in the other direction, fearful that you're going to correct them?
TILLMAN: No. They actually don't. They run toward me, which is a wonderful thing.
MARTIN: Yeah. How do you interpret that, the fact that people run toward you and want your advice?
TILLMAN: It makes me feel good. It makes me feel that I'm truly blessed and privileged and that I'm doing something that God wants me to do because people are drawn to be connected to me as opposed to thinking that I'm being judgmental and they don't want to come near me.
MARTIN: Do you think that it suggests that people are hungry for guidance on how to be parents...
TILLMAN: Oh, God, yes.
MARTIN: ...even though you often hear people...
MARTIN: ...being very resentful when other people try to intervene or correct them or have opinions, you know...
MARTIN: ...about their parenting style. How do you interpret it?
TILLMAN: Totally agree with that. Yes, they are. They're hungry, thirsty for someone to come and help them and to really just not tell them a textbook way of handling things, but get into the nitty gritty and be in their homes and guide them through it. I think that's the whole big thing about the show is that I'm there with them to help them and then I give them the tools and empower them so that when I leave, they can carry on.
MARTIN: How come regular people don't have this? I mean, how come you have to be on a - if there's that much of a thirst for that kind of hands-on coaching - we have coaches for everything in this country. Why do you think that that doesn't exist, that - for people to come in and help you improve your parenting approach?
TILLMAN: I know. And that's what we need. That is really what we need. I think it's just a fear of stepping on, you know, the bounds of, you know - well, that's your child and that's the way you raise - I mean, even sometimes I go into the grocery store and somebody's acting out and I'll go up to the child and say, OK, look, Mom. And, oftentimes, you know, it's necessary to do that.
But we just have to be giving and caring and give people what they need.
MARTIN: You have a badge saying, I'm America's supernanny. Let me - I'm here to help. I know what you should do. Maybe you don't need a badge, right?
TILLMAN: No. I don't need a badge.
MARTIN: Deborah Tillman stars as America's supernanny on the Lifetime network and she was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Deborah, thanks so much for joining us.
TILLMAN: Thanks so much for having me, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.