The Game Plan

America’s Supernanny Tells How To Survive 12 Hours in The Car & Other Holiday Tips

Posted by Carten Cordell / Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Deborah Tillman

Acting out? Let's check the house rules. / Photo courtesy of: Cheryl J. Kagan Public Relations

What do you get when you add long hours in the car + extended family dinners + kids + traffic + crazy relatives?

A pretty typical American Thanksgiving/Christmas/holiday weekend. For many families it’s a struggle to keep the warm and fuzzy “We’re so blessed to each other & this meal together” feelings. Most often any sentiment is ripped away with a “I WILL pull this car over/You are SO grounded/Just EAT the carrots already!” or two.

I chatted with “America’s Supernanny: Family Lockdown” star – and NoVA’s very own – Deborah Tillman earlier this week to pick her brain for ways to not just make it through, but actually enjoy this jubilant, full-of-turkey-and-rolls holiday season. Here’s what she had to say.

Situation #1: “Help! We have to drive 12 hours in the car to Grandma’s/fly 6 hours to visit in-laws. How do we keep the kiddos from driving each other –and us–crazy?”

Repeat after me: Preparation is key. These are three of Tillman’s most-repeated words during our conversation, and rightly so.  Parents can live, or die, by this simple phrase. If you fail to plan…well, you know the rest. Here’s your fool-proof plan:

- Download a few ebooks to your iPod, or pick up some books on tape from the library. “Stories on audiotapes are a terrific way to pass the time and educate at the same time,” says Tillman. Multitasking: it’s a beeeeeautiful thing.

- Games, games and more games. I Spy, the License Plate Game and similar activities are easy ways to engage the whole fam into fun ways to pass the time. Check out even more options here.  

- Keep tummies full. And the family happy. Tillman recommends stashing healthy snacks (applesauce, raisins, granola bars, trail mix, celery) to munch on along the way. Less “Can we stop? I’m huuuuungry,” more “Thanks, Mom!”

- Carefully consider seat arrangements. To minimize conflict, Tillman suggests that you sit the brothers apart if they tend to get into tussles. What’s our mantra? Prep. is. key. (Repeat as necessary, and often).

Situation #2: “Aaack! Now we’re at my sister/brother-in-law/aunt’s house & the children are acting crazy. How do I discipline them in the midst of family?”

Don’t let relatives get you down. Here are Supernanny’s super fantastic tips for correcting behavior in someone else’s house. 

- Talk about it with your children beforehand. Why, pray tell, would any parent considering doing this? “So that they know what your expectations are in terms of behavior,” advises Tillman. “Let them know that you are expecting them to do their best to behave and that you believe they can.” They are less likely to challenge you, or your methods, when they have a verbal explanation of the discipline to come.

- Don’t go changing things now. During a holiday trip or vacation to Uncle Sal’s is not the time to try implementing a new method of discipline. Tillman puts it like this: “Children need to understand that the same ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ that would discipline them in the comfort of their own home is the same ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ that will discipline in front of relatives.”

- Reward the kiddos for good behavior. “Children should always be praised and encouraged for exhibiting great behavior,” says Tillman. “The more children realize that they are doing something correctly; the better they feel about themselves and want to continue that behavior.”

Situation #3: “SOS: Our children will. not. stop. fighting!!”

Not to be uber-repetitive but those three magic words apply here, too. “Negative behavior does not just begin during the holidays,” explains Tillman. How to handle sibling arguments & outbursts, Supernanny-style:

- Set limits and guidelines. Stealing toys, hitting/slapping and name-calling are not acceptable. So how can we minimize this during the holidays? Let your children know what those bad choices/wrong behaviors are. “Talking through conflicts often lessens conflicts,” says Tillman.

- Tell ‘em the rules. “But Daaaaad, I didn’t know I couldn’t do/say/eat that” is the last thing a father wants to hear. Especially when he’s up to his elbows in turkey grease/tree trimming/grocery bags. “Give them rules in advance so that they know what is expected,” explains Tillman.

- Consider age-appropriate consequences. When a child acts out disobediently, here are Tillman’s suggestions for discipline throughout the ages.

Ages 2-8: Calm Down Corner. This time out-like consequence gives the child a chance to, well, calm down before returning to the group/meal/activity.

Ages 9-13: Lose what you like. iPod, cell phone, fave video game – these are all examples of things to ‘lose’ for bad behavior. 

Ages: 16-18 Lose what you like + positive punishment. For older children, this consequence takes away something like like but a, say, 300-word essay on why they acted out and how they could behave differently challenges them to consider their future actions.

Situation #4: “We’re all so frazzled/busy/stressed out. How can we keep the peace in our home?”

Although much of our so-called days off/vacay time is filled to the brim with open house parties, neighborhood potlucks and piano recitals, it is possible to enjoy the season, without losing your hair/mind/sanity. Tillman gives us 4 ways:

- Talk together. “Turn off the technology and tune into the children,” says Tillman. That means buh-bye, cellphone, for parents, too. Tell stories, share memories. Heck, play a game and wager chores as the prize. “‘How Well Do I Know My Family’ is a game the entire family can play where each person guesses favorite colors, favorite foods, sport, television show, movie, artist, etc., and the winner gets to skip chores like washing dishes,” suggests Tillman.

- Work together. Instead of shooing them out of the kitchen, encourage your children to help out around the holidays. “When children take part in the decision-making, decorations and food prep, they gain a sense of empowerment and a sense of confidence that helps them stay accountable even toward their behavior,” says Tillman. 

- Play together. It’s time to have fun. For real. Whether that means making a blanket fort in the living room or star gazing in the backyard, don’t get so caught up in the busyness of it all that your family doesn’t have the chance to simply enjoy it. Tillman suggests board games are a great way to involve the whole clan together. 

- Give together. “Remember the reason for the season,” says Tillman. “This is a great time to start the family food drive and donate items to a local shelter.  We did this with my son Zeplyn and it really has made him a more loving, compassionate young man.” 

Catch Tillman on the second season of “America’s Supernanny: Family Lockdown” on Lifetime in January 2013. 

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