Not-so-tough love

When to watch

The one-hour special,"Super-Manny,” airs 8-9 p.m. Nov. 14 on ABC. In the special, Super-Manny Mike Ruggles of Chicago helps the Marko family of Temecula, Calif., a family of five struggling with meltdowns, homework heartache and a lot of anger.

On first glance, he appears intimidating. But a second look beyond the 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame and bald head exposes a guy with a soft spot for kids and a need to help parents better understand them.

To do it, Mike Ruggles admits, he’ll do whatever it takes.

A developmental therapist with 16 years of experience working with kids, Ruggles already has a loyal following of families in the Chicago area reaping the benefits of his no-fancy-words-needed techniques.

But millions more parents will soon know him. On Nov. 14, Ruggles will be introduced to the world as the first Super-Manny in a one-hour special appearing on ABC Television Network.

From Spaz to Super-Manny

Ruggles, 40, can alternately be a sensitive Teddy bear in Dickies shorts, a big kid who just likes to have fun or the heavy who won’t sugar coat things if parents, not the child, are the problem.

That’s what he finds when he arrives at the Marko family home in Temecula, Calif., in a classic red convertible 1966 Ford Mustang.

His mission: To identify the issues threatening to tear apart the family—parents Doug and Tracey and daughters Gwen, 7, Alexa, 4, and Jacinda, 8 months. Spankings, meltdowns and screaming are common.

“People want quick and easy solutions for their lives but it’s not that easy,” Ruggles says early in his 60-minute national TV debut."Being a parent is hard. It takes a long time and it takes a lot of hard work.”

Ruggles grew up with that hard-work lesson when his father, who called him Spaz, left. Ruggles was 4. His mom, he says, was amazing, single-handedly raising him and his brother while working and attending college, yet never missing their extra-curricular activities.

He hears her advice even today reminding him that sometimes parents, like his dad, are doing the best they can and it’s up to him to find a way to work within their best.

And he works a lot, almost always on call for his families. He laughs that he subscribes to four or five magazines, but he’s so busy he’s months behind reading them.

Friends helped pave Ruggles’ path to Super-Manny when they told the special’s casting agent about him one night over dinner. Months later, ABC ultimately picked him from five finalists.

“I’m a pretty silly guy,” he admits."I’m one of those guys that if I’m quiet for a couple of hours, everybody asks me what’s wrong.”

He isn’t afraid to let that silly side out while he’s working, using costumes, games or funny voices to relate to kids and get them to open up.

Advice to all parents

But he’s all business when he helps Doug Marko figure out what’s going wrong in his home.

The Marko family struck a nerve with Ruggles, whose job it was to repair the relationship between father and daughter, Gwen. Dads, he says, sometimes get missed in the family picture.

“I think sometimes dads are great at what they do jobwise… but they feel really inferior when it comes to working with their kids,” Ruggles says. To help Doug Marko, he sent Tracey out for the night and put him in charge of the family with a to-do list that included dinner, homework and bed time, something Doug says he never had to do on his own. Doug surprised himself by night’s end.

“I love to be able to show them that they can let go of that autonomy and still be as effective as they would be at work, being goofy with their kids. You don’t have to be that‘GRRRR, you need to listen to me now, go into your room.'”

Understanding and consistency are key words in Ruggles’ vocabulary."I really want people just to get to know their kids,” Ruggles says."People are so busy now and… then they are on the computer and they are watching TV. I don’t see a lot of people always spending time with their kids anymore. And I think we sort of need to get back to that.”

Parents today, he says, also need to be a little more consistent."I think too many people are trying to be their kid’s friend and you can within the framework of being the parent first. The minute you give a kid exactly what they are looking for, especially if they are throwing a tantrum, then a bigger tantrum comes,” he says.

Too many times, he says, parents just say no and move on. Instead parents should focus on behavior they do want.

Ruggles takes a gentle approach.

“Just love your kids. It’s easy, it really sounds easy. I think sometimes a lot of people have gone away from that,” he says."There’s sometimes not enough time in the day. You can make that time, you have to make that time.”

Tamara L. O’Shaughnessy is editor of Chicago Parent and mom to Marty, Arlee and Zoe.

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