Was Supernanny wrong? How should we discipline our tots?

You’ve seen the reality show Supernanny, and the “naughty step” is used by many parents. But new perspectives suggest this popular mode of discipline might do more harm than good.


In the UK, a slew of “mum-bashing” headlines have been making their appearance. In his new book, How Not To F*** Them Up (£8.99/$18.29, www.amazon.co.uk), Oliver James — the renowned clinical psychologist, author and broadcaster — insists: “When used on young children, the naughty step often results in repetition of the undesirable behaviour rather than successful management,” he says.

            “If you’re not careful, you are just creating a guaranteed way for your toddler to wind you up.” He goes on to compare the naughty step to training a child “like a dog in a laboratory” and makes the point that “if your children are bad, it’s actually always your fault”.

            Supernanny Jo Frost popularised the naughty step. The process works this way: When a child displays any kind of unacceptable behaviour — say, biting — she is given a warning.

            If the behaviour continues, she is removed from the situation, told the reason why this is happening and placed on the naughty step or corner — a place designated in the house. She remains there, and is ignored, for a recommended one minute for each year of her age.

            Before being allowed to leave, she has to apologise for her behaviour. Finally, she’s given a kiss and cuddle by her mummy or daddy.

            “The naughty step is far preferable to the old-fashioned approach of a smacked bottom,” says nurse Alison Scott-Wright, author of The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan (£12.99, www.amazon.co.uk). “It’s a continuation of the idea of ‘time-out’ devised by childcare guru Penelope Leach as an acceptable alternative to physical punishment.”

            Time-out involves taking a tantrum-ing toddler out of a stressful situation to a quiet place such as her room, giving both herself and her parents a chance to calm down.

            “The naughty step is a place of reflection where the child realises she’s done something wrong,” Frost says. “It also helps the parent calm down and remain in control. What does a clip round the ear solve? Nothing.”

Photo: INGimage