Remember when the networks ran several “Supernanny” type reality TV shows? We all watched in horror as children raced through their house, kicking the dog and spitting on the baby. Their parents rolled their eyes in frustration, moaning, “I can’t handle my kids.” Then a professional British nanny marched through the front door, ready to do a complete parenting make-over.

By the end of the hour-long television show, the nanny had miraculously brought the family under control. Children ate at the table, used inside voices, and shared their toys. The biggest revelation was for the parents: “Nanny suggested we spend more time doing things with our family. She set up specific schedules for us to do an activity together. Just spending time having fun has helped our family tremendously.”

Sometimes we overlook obvious solutions to our problems. There’s no guarantee unruly children transform into angels after a game of UNO. Yet many discipline problems diminish in relation to the amount of time parents and children spend together in “relaxed mode.”

Maggie Scarf, in her book “Intimate Worlds: Life Inside The Family”, writes, “A common trait of dysfunctional families is a tremendous lack of humor – a deadly seriousness.” Watch the families on “Supernanny” or “Nanny 911” and you’ll see this lack of humor and complete seriousness about day-to-day events.

If Supernanny can’t come to your house, try these techniques to help improve your family atmosphere through the use of humor and fun activities:

Undirected play with pre-schoolers

That is simply a fancy title for letting children direct how they play. Plop yourself on the floor and roll a few toy cars back and forth. It won’t be long until your child comes over and begins to interact.

Avoid the tendency to say, “Why don’t you use these boxes and build a garage for the cars?” Let your child direct you in the activity, even if it means he simply wants you to lay on your back while he rolls the car back and forth over your stomach. Consider it a mini-nap.

Undivided attention

Yes, that means turning off the cell phone. When reading a book, taking a walk, or working on a craft project, it’s horribly annoying and impolite to constantly answer the phone, ignoring your child.

One mom set the timer for 10 minutes every night for each of her children. They knew those 10 minutes meant they had her complete attention, even if it was to simply to listen to them complain about homework. (Of course she acknowledged her children on a regular basis as well, not just for 10 minutes a day!)

Model appropriate behavior

If parents scream at children, it’s obvious that children will yell back. Think about Supernanny: The more tense the situation, the lower her voice becomes.

Instead of yelling across the room, walk up to your child, make eye contact, and explain what you want in a calm, low voice (even though you may be screaming inside). Sometimes the simple act of giving a direct command to your child with a Darth Vader voice shocks them into complying.

Schedule daily time for fun

This works even if it’s just a few minutes. One Dad occasionally scheduled Sparks Parties with his children. He’d bring his three children into a crowded, dark closet, where they’d simultaneously crunch a Wintergreen Lifesaver with their front teeth. Try it. You’ll see “sparks” flying from everyone’s mouth!

Each Spark Party lasted less than 60 seconds, yet the children had a positive image of doing something fun with their dad.

Chores, with a twist

No one likes to do chores on a Saturday morning, but the work becomes less distasteful if job duties are written on a piece of paper and inserted into a balloon. On small slips of paper write “vacuum living room” or “empty all the wastebaskets” or, best of all, “supervise a parent emptying the dishwasher.”

Blow up the balloon and tie the end. On the count of three, everyone grabs a balloon and tries to pop it…without using their hands. As the balloon bursts, read the paper and begin your assigned job. (Compare that to “If you don’t pick up the toys in the rec room, you won’t watch TV for a month!”)

If all else fails, pretend you are being filmed for a “Supernanny” segment with a camera and sound crew documenting your every move. That will motivate you to be as practically perfect as Mary Poppins!