My Interview with "America's Supernanny" Deborah L. Tillman

Deborah L. Tillman is best known as THE parenting expert on Lifetime's  hit show, "America's Supernanny". Along with being America's favorite "supernanny", Tillman is also the owner of 3 childcare centers in Alexandria, Virginia, and the author of the book, Stepping Out on Faith: How to Open a Quality Childcare Center. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration and Master's Degree in Early Childhood Special Education. Last week, I received the blessing of interviewing this inspirational woman. Although Tillman is not natural, she says she will get there one day. Because she has a soft hair texture, she only gets a perm every 4-6 months. But, she doesn't like them at all. They do help her get through the summer months. Tillman says when she goes natural, she will be visiting my blog to find out what to do. I'm going to hold her to it.

1BN: So, about "America's Supernanny"... There's so many moments in it! I love that show. One thing I love is when you observe a family and the camera shows your facial expressions. It’s like “Oh my gosh!” You can tell what people do… 
DT: And you know what I’m thinking right? 

1BN: If you could describe one memorable moment from "America’s Supernanny", what would it be? 
DT: Probably first season LaToya, when I was with the Gregg family. She had boys, all boys. I think it was 4 or 5 boys and I think it was bedtime. They literally were jumping off from the television to the bed and the bed to the television. This went on for hours. You guys only see 42 minutes of tv. But I’m in there, particularly first season...I was in there 16 or 17 hours a day. So that scene took probably like an hour and a half to two hours of literally, the same thing.

At one point I was just like, “I don’t know how you do this mom. This is crazy.” And I just started crying. I was laughing so much that I was crying. I was like you’ve got to be kidding. This is like "Romper Room." And people were like, “Is that for real? I know they got to be joking!” I’m like, “No, it’s for real! This is the way these kids do this.” Then they were teasing the mom; they were going back and forth getting in her bed. She was running back and forth. Oh, it was just crazy. I just hugged her. I felt so sorry for her. I was like, “Okay. When I get in here tomorrow, these kids are going to be in for a rude awakening." The camera man was like, "I've got to tape you in tears." Because I was literally in tears cause it was crazy! It was "Romper Room" for real, for two hours. 

LH: So you have the book called “Stepping out on Faith” which I love... What was your motivation behind writing the book?
DT:What happened was you know I had the seven child care providers in 3 months and my son was being abused, and I couldn’t take it anymore. So, I quit my job and that whole period of time was just such a painful period. I was always in tears and my husband was like, “Okay, this is crazy. I don’t quite know why this is happening." But I guess… like I always tell everybody… It wasn’t until I started saying,“What do you want me to do?” as opposed to saying, “Why is this happening to me?”
Then, the light bulb came on, and I heard the still, small voice say, “I want you to do it better”. After that, I kind of just knew that once I heard it from the Lord, this is what I’m supposed to do.  Everything was going to be the way it was supposed to be in my life. That was my purpose.That was the biggest motivation...seeing my son being abused and not wanting other parents (moms and dads) to feel like I felt, going to work every day. 

I was out there. When you are out there and you’re trying to start a daycare center, who can you go to? Really. I went to the local areas, but nobody was able to help me and tell me, “Okay, this is what you do first. This is what you do second.” What I wanted to do was put out a book where people could go to and yes, find out about the seven experiences. But,also gain insight and motivation to be able to do something on their own even when nobody is (seemingly) out there to help you and guide you.

But, you’re guided by faith and you’re guided by the Lord. You just walk in his ways and walk in his steps, and he’ll order your steps to what you’re supposed to do. That's kind of how the whole thing happened. That's why I call it,"Stepping Out on Faith," because I really had no direction except for faith, which is the best direction. 

1BN: It was one part where you were trying to find a place for your daycare center and you were like, "I have to stop and let God lead." How important is that to you?
DT: Yes, that is so important. Being in Christ is a journey; it's not a destination. You really have to let him mature you and build your faith. It’s like a muscle.You have to build up your faith and you go through stuff, and you get stronger faith. And you go through more stuff...stronger faith. My favorite verse is Romans 8:28,‘All things work together…’ Really, no matter what it is...the good, the bad, the ugly… it really is all working together for your good to either build you or make you stronger. I was a middle child... I am a middle child. I have 2 sisters. I was always quite independent and "all that and a bag of chips." You know… straight A student. I never had to get in trouble. I just kind of always was going the right way. Not that I never made any mistakes, but I was just always that kind of kid. So, God had to break me down and let me understand that you are not in control of your life. You’re not running this thing. 
It was my journey where I had to start letting go. You are not the CEO over your life. You might be the CEO of "Happy Home", but you're not the CEO of your life.

As the Lord works with you, you get more and more humble and understand this is not about me. This is about the Lord using me as a vessel to help other people and empower people so that they can be better parents.  Because it’s not about Ms. Deborah going into the house. We know that when I step in 5’9 with heels on and a straight face, and African-American really? Don’t play with me. They know they’re not going to really do much. But the issue is not about Ms. Deborah. It’s about when I leave, are these parents going to have the motivation. Are they going to be inspired or are they going to be able to have that inner strength to deal with their children, no matter what it is? Let Go, let God. 

What do you do in cases where someone is trying to over parent you with your children? (i.e. "Grandma" or "Grandpa") 
DT: Really, what that is, is for the parents to do is to sit down and have a conversation with “Grandma” and “Grandpa”. Yeah, they really do. It’s the hardest thing in the world because Grandma and Grandpa just want to be Grandma and Grandpa. Some of them have taken on the role of being the nice grandparents. And you’re like, “Excuse me. You didn’t raise me like that.Why are you giving this child what they want?” Or, they’re going against whatever your discipline techniques are. What I tell the parent to do is just to sit down and communicate. There’s nothing like communication because people don’t. You think your mother understands you, and you think she gets the face or the sly comments you make. But, she really doesn’t. Sit her down and say, “Listen, I made this child. My husband and I made these children and we really are parents that have to lead, guide, and direct our children in the way that we see fit. We appreciate you; we love you. But as far as discipline is concerned, unless we ask for your help, please do not.” We have to leave it like that because they can mess up some things and you're like, "What in the world?" Communication is the number one key to success in that kind of relationship of anybody butting in.

1BN: How do you allow a child to be free thinking or acting without running the risk of them becoming unruly?  
DT: I don’t care about your age. If they are 20 or 21… If you’re in college and you’re still living at home... You’re still in my house? Okay, so you still follow my rules. House rules are #1. There are certain house rules. Now, do they get to change as you get older? Yes. You used to didn’t have because there was no curfew because you weren’t able when you were like 5 [years old]. And then now you’re 15 and I might give you a curfew of 9 o’clock. And then you might be 20, and I’m still giving you a curfew because you’re not staying out past 2 am. Nothing good happens past 2 am anyway. So, I always tell parents, put rules in place. There has to be rules in your household.
Then there has to be consequences, serious consequences that follow if the rules are broken. That is just across the board, until they get married, grown, have their own kids…That’s just what’s going to happen. Now, does that say that you don’t allow them free will? No. “Do you want to wear this shirt or this shirt?” So, you give them choices....age appropriate choices when they’re young. I’m a big proponent of children doing chores at 2 [years old]. Yes,  2 1/2 to 3 years old. You should be doing something.

It builds that sort of independence and responsibility in allowing children safe havens of free will when they’re young. If you do it that way when they’re young, by the time they get 15 they’ll understand that there’s still boundaries that need to be set. And that I can’t cross these boundaries. Yes, you have free will to do this or that or the other, but these are the parameters that I’m giving you. I’m not giving you free range to do anything because you’re still living under my roof. So, that’s not going to happen. 

1BN: How do you transition children from pre-k to kindergarten when they are used to taking naps in school?
DT: It's hard because when children are tired, they're tired right? What I always like to do is... I have 3 preschools here in Virginia...Our “Shinning Stars” is what we call them, the ones that are actually graduating around April, May, and June… And you want to check with your school to see if they do this; It’s just that we do this. But, around April, May, and June is when we start weening them into kindergarten mode. Instead of getting homework on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they'll get homework on just Fridays, because they have to what? Remember to bring it back on Mondays like kindergartners.

We visit the kindergarten schools. We take tours. We have a really wonderful transition to kindergarten program that we do with the City of Alexandria Public Schools. We take the children to schools. They find out, “Okay see, you might not get the snack.” Some schools...if they're private schools, maybe they get a morning snack. But then some’s just breakfast and their lunch. So, we train that,"Oh, you might not get the morning snack. So, you’ve got to be ready at 11:00 o’clock to eat lunch!” This is how we do. And then we do that from April, May, and June. We work on food and nutrition. We work on health and safety, how the fire drills are going to be. We work on nap time...Then they don’t get the afternoon; they don’t get the 12:00 o’clock nap. And then we transition them. 

Now, if you’re going to a school that doesn’t do that, then I would tell a parent to try it on Saturdays where you say, "In kindergarten, let’s see how you’re going to do.” First, the child really is going to be falling asleep wherever you are, but after that their body, their internal clock will get used to not taking a nap. Which is unfortunate because I really do think that all kindergartners should take a nap. They’re better in the afternoon. The parents... the biggest thing for them is to plan, prepare, and be proactive.  Those are the 3 best rules I could give you for any age or any transition. Plan, prepare, and be proactive.

1BN: You’re the owner the 3 childcare centers in Virginia. Did you ever imagine that you would be this successful with everything?
DT:It depends on how you measure success, LaToya. Really, I think that without the preschools and without “America’s Supernanny” that I was still successful. That’s because my idea of success is really in the spiritual, knowing the Lord. It doesn’t matter about all these other external things. That really is what guides me. Even if he were to take it away tomorrow, I still would be okay. I wouldn’t be somewhere slitting my wrists.  hat’s what I try to tell people too… It’s the measure of success. Look at Jesus. He was the poorest thing walking on earth. Come on. He wasn’t living in mansions. But he was more successful than someone like Solomon. It just depends on what your perspective is.
 No, I did not imagine that I would have what I have. But I did know that I was a child of God and that he was going to make me reach. I knew I would be an impact in somebody’s life. I knew that. I always had that seed in me, that I knew that I was going to have an impact in somebody’s life. That has to be afforded to the grace and mercy of the Lord, but also my parents. I had excellent parents. Even though my mother and father split up when I was 12, my father was the one who really put that seed of confidence and self-esteem. He never spoke down to us. 

And that’s what I try to compare it to…little measures  of success, little things that you want to do with your children. Don’t speak death to them; speak life to them. Don’t tell them, "I don’t know why you’re acting like that. You’re so lazy!” Excuse me! You’re speaking that into them. That is not what they are! That might be what they’re doing right now, but that’s not who they are. So, you have to speak those things that be not, as though they were. When my son was acting like a knucklehead at 13, I was like, “Hmm, (you know) you’re going to be great!” In my mind, I was like, “I don’t know how…” LOL. But, you just speak it okay? And sure enough, me not talking down to him really helped him build his confidence, so that when he got to Georgetown and saw kids that were just like him...Yeah, oh yeah. Excuse me sweetie, they make straight A’s too. Okay, they’re smart too.He wasn’t feeling insecure and having an inferiority complex. Again, you’ve got to speak life to kids. You’ve got to build them up.

 My father was great in that, building confidence in children. And then, my mother was more of the disciplinarian. She kept us in line, where he was more at building. But, when you have that balance of both, even if you have a single parent and they’re able to do that and not feel guilty and not feel like, “Oh, I wish he had a father so, I’m going to give him everything.” That then makes for a better child. I always tell parents. Give kids what they need, not what they want. I’m tired of going into these houses where people can’t really afford all this stuff, but they give their kids everything. They’ve got flat screen TV’s and the kids are 5 years old in their room. Stop it. Kids don’t want things; they want you, and you are love. Time to a child means love. If you spend time with me, you love me. If you don’t spend time with me and you just give me things, it doesn’t necessarily mean you love me. I kind of want to get that to parents too. That nugget that time with your child ... it doesn't matter if you're rich or poor. Love in a household is something that is priceless. That doesn’t stand by socioeconomic stature.


Follow Deborah on Twitter @DeborahLTillman and Facebook.
You can also visit her website


  1. Great post! Thanks. I look forward to seeing what you do next.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this! I'm looking forward to the next one.


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