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tnlc
Nanny helps parents take charge
BY KEITH SHARON
The Orange County Register
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A new theory claims that being an unpopular child is a learning difficulty, just like dyslexia...
and the good news is that it can be treated.

Noël Janis-NortonTUSTIN - It starts so calmly, as a tornado must start. Barely a ripple of wind as she enters the house.

"Hello, Zachary," she says to the curly-haired 6-year-old. Zachary clutches his father.

"Hello, Zachary," she says again. "It would be very nice if you could look at me and say, "Hello, Noël."

Zachary's father, Steve, begins to intervene, but Noël signals for him to stop. A few feet away, Zachary's mother, Susan, stays silent. Across the room, Zachary's twin, Jason, gleefully watches his brother under pressure.

"Hello, Noël," Zachary says.

"You did it just right," Noël says. "You looked at me and said my name."

Zachary, however, isn't smiling. He knows that something catastrophic is about to happen in his previously wild life.

Noël Janis-Norton, 61, doesn't look like a tornado. She is so quiet, so unthreatening. She has the kindest eyes. But her mere presence can summon the tornado. She has made a career of diving headfirst into them. As she arrives at the Shubes' house in Tustin - she is paid $100 per hour for her visits - it is homework time for the twins and learning time for the parents. Tension at homework time, and other times where they have to exert their will over their willful boys, has driven the Shubes to attend two of Noël's "Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting," seminars. The Shubes, both attorneys, can't wait to get to the calmer, easier, happier part.

"During homework, where do you sit?" Noël asks Steve, who works from home and supervises homework time.

"I hover," Steve says.

"You're not a servant," Noël says.

She suggests the boys sit in different seats from their normal ones. Steve takes a seat between them.

"Flexibility is important," she says. "They have to know that even though they change chairs, their lives are still great."

Zachary isn't liking these changes. His lip is quivering.

Both boys say they need help with their homework. Steve immediately helps Jason, which upsets Zachary, who begins to cry.

"I'll help anyone who asks me to help," Noël says.

But Zachary wants his father. The crying intensifies.

The crying then turns to screaming. Steve scrambles to Zachary's side. Noël signals for him to go back to Jason.

"Zachary will be ready when he's ready," Noël says.

Zachary is wailing, sobbing, grunting, making faces.

"Meanie," he screams at Noël.

"When is she going to leave?" he screams.

"LEAVE NOW!" he screams.

Steve is gritting his teeth. Susan's eyes are wide. Jason, the brother who usually causes the homework problems, is giggling.This is the point that most parents would blow. There would be loud reprimands, threats, privileges taken away, timeout. But Noël is relaxed. Her goals are simple. She wants parents to assume command and children to listen. She uses what she calls "reflective listening" and "descriptive praise." She acknowledges Zachary's feelings and compliments him for anything and everything he does correctly.

A former teacher in New York City, she said she developed her theories by watching the best teachers and how they could calmly control a crowd of students. Soon she was giving advice to teachers. Then parents began coming to her for advice. She's written several books for teachers and parents. Noël has three grown children of her own.

The youngest is a 28-year-old former foster child named Chloe, who came to her as an 18-year-old drug addict. "She's still got issues, but she's alive," Noël said. Chloe teaches at-risk students in England's school system. Noël says she practiced her patient, praising methods on her own children. She moved to London and established The Learning Center, where parents and children learn how to get along. She comes to California three times a year for seminars and home visits.

Her credentials, however, aren't important to Zachary, who is going bonkers. Noël peppers him with empathy and praise.

"You must be very angry."

"It takes a brave boy to look at someone who is new."

"You're sitting in your chair, which is exactly the right place."

"You've got a pencil, which is exactly the right thing to have."

"You're not screaming as loudly as you were a minute ago."

Now Zachary runs and leaps into his mother's arms.

"Let him go," Noël says. "You're not a jungle gym. He knows he has to sit down in his chair, and he knows how to do it."

"DON'T LISTEN TO HER!" Zachary screams.

"Reflectively listen," Noël says to Susan.

"I know you're upset," Susan says.

"He's allowed to be upset," Noël reminds her.

Steve stands. "I'm going to get a drink, a real stiff drink," he says, joking.

Then, suddenly, Zachary sits at the table. He looks at Noël and says, "Are you going to help me?"

"I am just waiting for you to be in the right place," Noël says.

"But I now see that you're in your chair, and you're looking at me, and you're very brave. I'm ready to help you."

Steve and Susan take a deep breath. Zachary has screamed for 25 minutes. But now it's over. Zachary's homework goes quickly.
His outbursts are, for the most part, under control. In the few minutes together, Noël has persuaded Zachary to stop talking in a whiny voice by praising him when he uses his normal voice. She's convinced Steve and Susan that they should not react to Zachary's demands.

"Grown-ups don't do what children say," she tells the family.

"Children do what grown-ups say."

At the completion of the homework assignment, Steve notices that the papers are not put away in their backpacks.

"We're not completely finished," Steve says.

"Is it your homework?" Noël asks.

"Zachary, you're not completely finished," Steve corrects himself.

Zachary, who has gone to the living room, calls for his mother.

"Don't answer him across the room," Noël says. "Make him come to you."

When the session is over, Susan asks Noël about punishment and timeouts for throwing a fit.

"If punishment worked, our prisons would be empty," Noël says.

She stands and walks toward the door.

"Thank you for coming, and thank you for helping me," Zachary says, without a prompt from his parents.

Both parents are stunned as Noël says goodbye. The storm, for now, is over.

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