THE BACK PAGES

They’ll come to your house and fix your kids

These education pros will solve tantrums, bad eating habits—even homework issues

KATE FILLION March 13 2006
THE BACK PAGES

They’ll come to your house and fix your kids

These education pros will solve tantrums, bad eating habits—even homework issues

KATE FILLION March 13 2006

They’ll come to your house and fix your kids

help

These education pros will solve tantrums, bad eating habits—even homework issues

KATE FILLION

Last Saturday in a suburb outside Toronto, “Sara” was sitting at the kitchen table in a white tutu and pink ballet slippers, swinging her legs and balefully eyeing a grilled cheese sandwich. “It’s burnt,” the five-year-old announced. “No, it’s just brown” her mother corrected. “Eat it, please.” The parenting experts watching from the family room leaned forward expectantly. But Sara merely picked up her sandwich, took a rather large bite, then gave her mother a beatific smile and sweetly declared, “You’re right!” Then she took another bite. And another.

“This is amazing,” said her father, beaming. “And atypical,” said her mother, a little grimly. They’d contacted Toronto-based Parental Guidance, hoping for help with a few of their daughter’s bad habits: eating slowly and refusing to stay in her seat at mealtime, seeking refuge in their bed at night, and occasionally defying her father. Why, now that the professionals were on hand, couldn’t she just misbehave? “Oh, she will,” Erin Hemsworth, a teacher and mother of two, murmured confidently. “By the second visit, you’re just the lady on the couch, and it all comes out.”

PG offers something unique: parenting coaches who don’t preach from the safety of an office. They come right into the trenches, at bedtime and homework time and we’vegot-to-leave-the-park-ng/tf-nojv-young-man time, and offer on-the-spot advice to parents. It’s kind of like the TV shows Supernanny or Nanny 911, except the guides aren’t doughy, finger-wagging British ladies with weird capes and vague credentials; they’re three teachers and early childhood educators who, between them, have 44 years of experience—and children of their own. Plus, they don’t mess up the guest room. Each visit lasts only a few hours.

Some clients, like Sara’s parents, are looking for troubleshooting only in specific areas. Others, like “Nancy,” a 33-year-old consul-

tant who didn’t want her real name used, turn to PG because they are “just so desperate. My three-year-old used to tantrum so severely I was afraid to take him out of the house. I’d read all the books, and nothing helped. In the supermarket, it took both me and my husband to deal with him, and even then he’d be pulling things off the shelves, kicking, screaming, crying, and I’d be thinking, ‘People are going to think we’re hitting him or something.’ ”

One of her family’s coaches was Maureen Bailey, a preternaturally calm headteacher and supervisor of a Toronto child care centre. “In a very gentle way she helped me and my

'My son used to tantrum so severely I was afraid to take him out. Now I can take him anywhere/

husband see we had real parenting differences and we needed to be a lot more consistent with our son and have a much more structured routine,” says Nancy.

Packages, which include an initial assessment, follow-up sessions and even “emergency” phone calls, range from $300 to $500 and are tailored to individual needs (services are also available à la carte). Nancy knew exactly what she wanted: a family outing to the grocery store, with Maureen in tow. “She came up with a bunch of strategies, mostly around preparing our son and setting expectations, then giving him ways to help, like putting

twist-ties on the bags ofvegetables. We’d been bribing him in those situations, and she taught us how to give him choices we could live with. She had a huge impact—I can take my son anywhere now.”

The PG approach is decidedly ecumenical: instead of Supernanny’s despotic insistence on time outs and minute-by-minute schedules, “we listen to what the family’s own philosophy is, and try to come up with strategies that will be a good fit,” says Hemsworth. “We also do the research and present them with a couple of options: Ferber says this about bedtime, Sears says that.”

Despite, or perhaps because of, the existence of thousands of parenting books, parents seem to struggle more than ever with consistency. “Which is why,” says Hemsworth, “the presence of an objective third party can be really useful.” Or, to put it another way, an in-house expert can give parents the backbone they need to follow through on good intentions rather than pouring a stiff drink and letting the kids watch whatever the hell they want on TV.

As for Sara, there’s something new in her kitchen: a list of five family rules she helped Maureen Bailey write, starting with “Stay in your chair until you’re finished eating.” Her mother prompted her gently: “Is there really any reason to get up?” Sara nodded vigorously: “To burp.” Her parents, Bailey and Hemsworth concluded, are doing a pretty good job on their own. M