House of Tiny Tearaways (BBC 3)

Feat Dr Tanya Bryon; presented by Claudia Winkleman

Now this is TV I can relate to; the doctor is not only IN; she’s hot! At last a good-looking babe to dish quality advice; we’ve had to put up with Marge Proops, Anna Raeburn, Claire Raynor and their like for worthwhile words but, let’s face it, dodgy fizzogs. Now there’s a girl with a winning smile and pretty eyes on our screens peddling sensible comment about child discipline issues.

She’s a clinical psychologist which means she’s able to deal with deeper problems and psychoses, such as the child who has selective mutism (has well-developed language when he chooses, but is silent when he chooses) or intricate eating disorders. But she’s also got that James Dobson wisdom when it comes to uncovering the parental anxiety that is the root cause of the poor behaviour.

I was pleased to discover that she advocates the ‘catch them doing something right’ policy, ignoring tantrums and bad behaviour, habitually pouring love and attention on the child, playing with and enjoying the company of the child, avoiding the classic ‘rebuke and correct then ignore until next infringement’ approach taken by so many untrained parents with high-spirited or strong-willed children.

This is in stark contrast to the execrable techniques used in Boiler by 40 (or, as they call it in the TV listings Honey, We’re Killing the Kids), where the professional – Kris Murrin, who has a masters degree in child psychology - dispenses three rules each week for the untrained, unhelped, ungifted parents to enforce. I get the distinct impression that this well-meaning expert knows why the bad behaviour happens and has accurately analysed it, but she seems to be lacking in much bedside manner, or ability to communicate with children. Indeed, she comes across as Judge Dredd, providing sudden, nasty rules which cut across the comfortable unhealthiness which is at the heart of every child on the show. ‘How?’ is a question that seems never to be answered, even if it is asked. ‘Just do it’ is all very well as a slogan for sneakers, but it doesn’t provide much assistance.

It was so sad to see the mother who has thus far allowed her child to consume crisps and sweets and coke unrestrained then try to impose a ‘healthy eating’ rule on the poor kid, without discussion or agreement or letting the child understand what this would mean in terms of hunger, dissatisfaction, argument and conflict. No, it was just the ‘doctor’ saying it would be good for her. So the mum is next seen discovering the kid’s secret stash of sweeties (good for the kid, I say, to have thus deceived her mother for so long!), and trying to remove it, and then actually going so far as to force the poor child to pour the sweets into the bin… This was little short of abusive. The girl didn’t understand what was happening, except that normally permissive mum was suddenly throwing her considerable weight about.

Then we saw dad trying to make a dinner by feeding small bits of raw fish into a juicer machine, which was not coping with the request. The resultant rissoles were of course inedible, and guaranteed to put the child off so-called ‘healthy options’ for life! It is just crazy to take people who have not been doing well as parents and put them under extreme pressure – rules they have never followed for themselves, plus tv cameras on them in their homes – without training them or providing more help than just the weekly showdown with the doc.

Okay, I concede there may be more going on than is shown on the programme, but surely they are selecting the most tv-friendly bits for broadcast; I don’t think they are doing these families any favours. Sure, after three weeks of exercise, salad, tidying and general niceness the kid is less aggressive with her parents and not stuffing chocolate into her mouth at breakfast time, but I doubt the results will last long since the minds have not been changed. It’s just a shocking vision of the future which stimulates the effort that’s made, but it’s probably not enough to sustain a family through the trauma of following someone else’s rules without the cognitive behavioural training and commitment of the will and emotions required. Believe me, enough doctors have threatened me with early death, heart disease, amputation, blindness, universal hatred etc, but it never cut it.

Only when I saw that there was hope for me to be part of the solution to what I now saw as my problem (not just other people’s dislike of what was effectively their problem with me) could any progress be made.

Anyway, to return to my comments on the lovely Dr Tanya, featured in House of Tiny Tearaways. Each week a selection of families (usually two nuclear and one single mum) take up residence and Dr T checks them out for a day, makes the mother cry at least twice, and makes use of hidden camera and Big Brother-style snooping.

She watches them leave at the end of their stay with the child having learned a little and the parents having learned a very great deal; usually about themselves, their lack of commitment to each other, their weakness, anxiety, unrealistic expectations of child/parent relations etc. One couple with three children agreed finally to marry; another wept bitter tears over deceased abusive parents - unresolved issues which, in my view, shouldn’t have been caught on camera, but which provided some explanation for the way they were treating their children. As mother wept over her lost relationship with her father, she recognised that she was allowing her child to demand attention and failing to provide adult leadership and discipline in the home.

The most remarkable footage so far was of a 4-year-old who was used to her mother sharing her bed. This meant that mother never got to sleep with father, so what hope of a relationship, let alone of more children? So the Rapid Return technique was employed; leave the child alone to go to sleep, and return them rapidly without much comment if they get out of bed. This little girl had to be returned to bed more than 300 times before she finally went to sleep; it was the most extreme case Dr Tanya had ever seen with her baby blues, but in the end the child learned that she was still loved, that parents were still paying attention to her. She needed to go to sleep on her own, and not be concerned if she woke and mum wasn’t there – mum was close by. Traumatic, yes, but not abusive.

But I still say hoorah for Dr Tanya; her philosophy of Dealing with Disruptive Children is almost perfectly in line with a well-known book of the same name by someone close to my heart. If the toothsome MedicBabe would bring the power and love of God into the equation she would have so much more than good advice to offer; she’d have the means to achieve her goals as well as the potent advice.

Good for the Beeb for finding this attractive, sensible woman.