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April 18, 2012

Meet the Supergranny

By Spear's

No Problem Child Too Small She’s the woman HNWs turn to when their little angels insist on behaving like little devils. Caroline Phillips meets ‘Supergranny’, aka Noël Janis-Norton

No Problem Child Too Small

She’s the woman HNWs turn to when their little angels insist on behaving like little devils. Caroline Phillips meets ‘Supergranny’, aka Noël Janis-Norton 
be a master (or mistress) of the universe at work and yet as powerless as a mannequin in a Sloane Street window at home? Even the most successful businesspeople can be overrun by their unruly children, which is why they are turning to a woman whose skills with parents — and their children — are so impressive that she has a six-month waiting list. Her clients call her Supergranny.

She’s Noël Janis-Norton, 67, an American with a quiet voice, silver bob and reassuring manner — and Supergranny is her live-in service. It was to Noël that two-time Academy Award nominee Helena Bonham Carter went for help; she attended parenting classes and had private consultations. Who else has Noël seen? ‘Many clients who are often in the news,’ she reveals. ‘But hardly any will admit publicly that they need help controlling their children.’ It’s also a confidential service.

Noël is a learning and behaviour specialist and former schoolteacher with over 40 years’ experience. Her latest book, Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting — her fifth — is out in May. Most of her authorial, Supergranny and private consultation earnings go to the not-for-profit organisation that she founded, also called Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting (CEHP). The CEHP team (she has two colleagues) offer free introductory talks and affordable parenting seminars. The aim is to make family life more loving and calm. ‘It’s satisfying,’ says Noël, ‘helping to make the world a better place one family at a time.’

She’s talking for the first time about the Supergranny service, which has operated under the radar for 30 years: ‘It’s grown exclusively by word of mouth.’ She charges £1,800 for ten working hours and £250 per additional hour. When she’s working as Supergranny, she’s on call 24/7 — often working nocturnally with children who ‘like getting out of bed at 3am’. Noël lives in for anything from three days to two weeks. Her work takes her all over the world, though most of it is in the US and UK.

Conditions for hiring Supergranny are stringent. She refuses to move in with families who haven’t started using her methods. Implementing CEHP skills is done in advance with the CEHP parenting CDs, private sessions, telephone consultations and web seminars. ‘I won’t help people who don’t want to give up spoiling their children,’ she says, ‘or if the father refuses to be at home every night during my stay.’

Her clients generally have ‘major jobs’ but ‘are terrorised’ by their children at home. ‘The parents are often walking on eggshells to avoid tantrums, ranting and raving… Mostly the father is travelling and working all hours and mum’s at home. Working mothers tend not to notice how awful things are, or if they do, they blame the nanny.’ Usually the families have armies of staff.

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Noël does everything from teaching the parents to become more positive, firm and consistent; helping the children learn new, ‘more considerate and mature’ ways to behave; training the servants because ‘mostly they’re heading up the wrong tree by doing everything they can to keep the kids from crying or complaining to the parents’; observing the child at school ‘to suggest strategies to the teachers’; and guiding home tutors and music teachers. She coaches through hotspots like meal and bedtimes and offers family and parent sessions. Usually, she says, at least one of the family or its retinue is resistant to change.

‘Living in is the trickiest part of my work,’ she explains. ‘You need the skills of a parenting and family coach plus those of a father confessor — you wouldn’t believe some of the stories I’ve been told. Additionally you have to be a marriage guidance counsellor, tutor to the tutors and educational consultant.’

Most of the families harbour tyrants: toddlers who refuse to go to bed and fight with their siblings and watch endless TV; older kids who smoke, slam doors, are addicted to Facebook and prove that teenagers are God’s punishment to parents for having sex. ‘Inadvertently people are raising brats who are demanding, thoughtless and self-absorbed,’ explains Noël. ‘We’re not just talking about the children of celebrities or the stratospherically wealthy. Many children haven’t been trained in sensible life skills and values.’

One thirteen-year-old ‘kept taking his father’s £80,000 Range Rover to joy-ride around the family estate’. There was a pampered princess whose nanny was instructed to give her a sugary treat in the bath, one on retiring to her canopied bed and yet more if she awoke.

Illustration by Anna-Louise Felstead

AFTER ARRIVAL, NOEL is introduced to the children. Once the children have gone to bed, there’s a Kitchen Cabinet. ‘I debrief the parents. I tell them they have to prioritise seeing their kids: time with their parents is what children need. We talk about improving homework practices, resolving bedtime battles or getting better table manners or eating habits.’ Many of the hotspots that occur in any family are, she says, magnified in a wealthy setting. ‘I went to one family where the children wouldn’t even shut a drawer — they expected everything to be done for them. I always explain the importance of getting kids to do chores. Why deprive your children of the opportunity to take responsibility and learn the value of hard work?’ Self-reliance, she adds, leads to greater confidence.

‘Dads who work away a lot often shower gifts and treats on their kids,’ she continues. ‘When I talk about the children having to earn the goodies in life, fathers are shocked. It’s odd, given that many of them are self-made. But when things come too easily, kids become tyrannical.’

UHNWs don’t faze Noël. ‘You need to be very confident not to feel overawed by the wealth, servants and attitude of command that wealthy people have — they just expect things to be done for them,’ she says. ‘They aren’t used to having employees like me instructing them firmly as to what to do. But I have to go into their homes and do exactly that.’ A lot of excellent parenting coaches, she says, stumble at this hurdle.

One grateful client is an erstwhile hedgie. ‘There’s nothing revolutionary about her methods,’ he says. ‘But the level of detail is unique, as is the support she gives in helping you implement the skills. She doesn’t just say, “You’ve got to get united or be consistent,” she shows you how to do that. And it really works.’ Another client says: ‘Noël taught us to stop arguing back, threatening, nagging and shouting. She turned our tricky toddler and my sister’s defiant teenagers into cooperative, self-assured kids.’

It may be tough trying to change deep-seated habits, but everyone I know who has seen Noël is evangelical about her, her approach and its results, and she’s delighted when she doesn’t get repeat business: it mostly means her methods are working. And she gets very little repeat business.
Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting is published by Hodder and Stoughton, out on 10 May (£14.99)
Caroline Phillips has written for The Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph, The Times and The Financial Times among others

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