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Making It
A Late-Life 'Supernanny' Proves Child-Care Workers Are Not Always Poorly Paid

By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, November 4, 2007

Barbara Regan knows kids. She raised three of her own -- "all doing well and happily married," she says -- and has nine grandchildren, ages 3 to 18. She has an associate's degree in early childhood education and worked as a nursery school teacher for 10 years, and on and off as a nanny. At a customer service job in her native New York, Barbara, 64, was the colleague people would turn to for advice about handling children. "I would tell them [what to do], and they would come back and say, 'You know, that worked,' " she says.

When Barbara, who is divorced, retired and moved to Fredericksburg a few years ago to be near two of her kids, she looked for a way to supplement her income and because "I'm really bored if I don't have a job." Her daughter in New York suggested that her mother create a business along the lines of the "Supernanny" television character. Barbara liked the idea. "That's what I've been doing for years," she recalls thinking, though she adds that she has her own firm-but-courteous approach. "It's all about having respect for the kid and treating them as a person."

Barbara posted fliers at preschools, libraries and grocery stores, dubbing her business Nanny's New Rules, and advertising that she would take on issues affecting children ranging from the terrible twos to teens. At first, she charged $250 for an initial visit, which can run for five or six hours, and $100 for a follow-up, but she has since raised her rates to $350 for the first visit and $150 for a follow-up. After doing this for a year and a half, she has about two jobs per week and said she has made about $35,000 in the past year.

Barbara is part of a growing trend of "parent coaches," some of whom, like her, have put out their shingle on their own, others of whom have completed a training program, such as the one offered by the Parent Coaching Institute in Seattle. "People are tired. People are working; they're exhausted; they don't want to deal with the kids," Barbara says.

Throw some situations at her, and this is how she responds: If a child gets out of bed, put her back firmly -- all night, if that's what it takes. If a child won't eat his dinner, simply put it away until he's hungry. If your daughter's skirt is too short, don't scream, "You're not leaving the house dressed like that!" Instead, ask her, "Is that how you want to present yourself?" and engage her in a discussion.

"You're telling them what to do, but you're not saying it meanly or putting them down," Barbara says.

Erica Kasraie of Frederickburg hired Barbara to help her with her "strong-willed" 3-year-old daughter. "I was sort of at my wit's end about how to handle her, because I have a 10-year-old son, and he was a piece of cake," Erica says. Barbara advised Erica to be firm but consistent with her daughter, to get down with her on eye level when talking to her, to set limits and to not overcompensate for the fact that Erica is now raising her as a single mother. "There's definitely been some progress," Erica says.

Barbara finds the work rewarding, especially a case where, called in to help with two younger children, she also helped to ease the father's estrangement from his older children by encouraging him to reach out.

"I felt so good," she says. "This is the best thing that ever happened to me. I just love it."

Has your affinity for children led to a meaningful (and profitable) second career? E-mail changb@washpost.com.

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