Fixing family behavior is at the center of the nanny's efforts.
By MARK WASHBURN
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
Hard to believe it's only been a month since Jo Frost barged across the Atlantic with that "naughty mat" tucked under her arm.
When 2005's most-influential list is assembled, Frost will undoubtedly be Miss January. Her Monday night "Supernanny" show on ABC is growing in audience and her parenting advice book hit The New York Times best-seller list on Sunday.
Frost is more Dr. Pavlov than Dr. Spock. To her, it's not about the complicated forces that shape human development. To her, it's all about conditioning kids to behave, and she uses techniques so simple that you just want to bonk yourself in the head with a sippy cup and go 'duhhh."'
"Children need house rules. They need a constructive schedule," she says.
"They need to know what's coming next. Monkey see, monkey do. Do not scream at your child and lose control, then wonder why your 10-year-old communicates back at you by screaming."
Frost is single, 34 years old, teacup stout and a charming blend of starch and softener.
She got interested in child care while babysitting as a teenager. She had a way of connecting with kids and chose nannying as a vocation.
No fancy degrees, no formal training inform her methods, only what she calls her own wonderful childhood in London and 15 years of bossing other people's kids.
Last year, England's Channel 4 went looking for candidates to star in a reality show based on nannying. "There was an ad in a magazine for the job and I rang it up," she says.
After "Supernanny" debuted last summer, Britain had a new national catchphrase: "Your behavior is very naughty!" In the House of Commons, Frost's philosophy was cited in a discussion about preventing anti-social behavior.
Fox and ABC approached Frost about bringing her show to the U.S. and ABC won out. Fox launched a copycat, "Nanny 911," with an ensemble cast of nannies. ABC signed up for eight episodes with "Supernanny," which will air through this month.
Against strong dramas on competing networks -- "CSI: Miami" on CBS and "Medium" on NBC -- "Supernanny" immediately attracted respectable ratings. It is being viewed in about 8 percent of the nation's households and is particularly strong in family-rich cities like Charlotte, N.C., where 10 percent of households tuned in last week, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Frost enters homes infested with feral children. They whine, attack, won't go to bed, fling food, "backchat" at their parents.
She takes it all in for a day or two, then swoops into action. Up goes a house schedule on the refrigerator. Out comes the "naughty mat," which has replaced "time out" in parenting strategies. Boundaries are drawn and parents are told how to enforce them.
"Parents need to change their behavior pattern and see what they are doing wrong, and once they change that, they see the change in their children," Frost says.
"You place a warning, have a consequence and see the change. Parents tolerate a lot instead of implementing a routine, boundaries, warnings."
At first, the kids rebel. But after learning the boundaries and that misbehavior will bring punishment, they come around, sometimes instantly.
"'Supernanny' is a process over two weeks," says Frost. "Some of the techniques we implement are effective that day."
Frost coaches the parents on how to handle potty training, bedtime issues, tantrums, sibling quarrels and dinner manners. She exits, the parents have a go, and she returns to critique their work.
Frost says she's found no difference between children in the U.K. and the U.S.
"Children live in their own bubble. When they're having a wonderful tantrum, they're in their own world. Children are children, parents are parents."
Frost keeps in touch with families she's worked with over the years and finds she's brought enduring change.
"To this day, the families are still happy with the turnaround. At the end of the day, the parents are so pleased at how it's changed their family life for the better, they're like, 'Whew! There's no way we're going back to the way we were."'