Jo Frost

Q & A WITH

December 14, 2006|By NEWSDAY

She has made catchphrases of "the naughty spot" and "you've been very naughty," but fear naught -- Jo Frost, despite that burlesque-show name, isn't on Playboy TV.

Quite the opposite: As the star of Supernanny -- both the original reality program on the U.K.'s Channel Four and the ABC American version, which recently started its third season -- she's helped to re-establish the parenting notion of a middle ground between out-of-control permissiveness and heavy-handed smacks and yelling. Dennis the Menace sitting in the corner suddenly seems modern; one company even sells "Naughty Spot Time-Out Mats."

Frost got into the baby-sitting business about 20 years ago as a teenager in West London. She showed a knack for the job and left Kingsway College after three years of double-majoring in English literature and drama.

Despite having no degree in child psychology, she really does teach effective techniques of consistency, communication, boundaries and loving discipline. The sad part is that she has to teach these things at all.

We caught up with Frost backstage at Good Morning America, where she'd just finished a live segment -- complete with clip of a harried mother casually slapping her toddlers and dragging one to make him eat soap for some minor infraction.

That clip of the lady smacking her kids around over nothing was horrifying.

Well, you can see in this particular episode how this lady got herself into a cycle that she didn't know how to break. She had been brought up a certain way by her family, and she'd had children very young, and that cycle had followed. It's what I call auto-parenting -- she just really hadn't adopted any particular parenting style herself. For me the important thing was to be able to sit down with and really talk to her about that process, and recognize what she wanted to change and what she didn't like.

"Breaking the cycle" is what therapists always talk about in working with child abusers. Do you find that what you're observing some of the time is basically low-level child abuse?

I think I'm experiencing parents who have lost control and have resorted to venting physically with their children as a result of not knowing how to change the situation. Observation days are very hard for me. Observation is about me going in and observing a family and how they interact, and that day it was very hard for me to stand back. ... Chris [Cuomo, the GMA segment host] said it was an extreme case, but it's not an extreme case.

Ever have to call a social worker on a parent?

No, but I wouldn't hesitate to do so.

My Aunt Rhoda always used to say about being a parent, "You can't give yourself too much credit, and you can't give yourself too much blame." What do you think of that philosophy?

Sensible. Parents do need to give themselves credit for what they are doing well ... but also to be accountable and to be responsible. And not to blame.

The producers say you won the role over hundreds of applicants. How does one audition to be Supernanny?

I rang the production company and left my name and number, and they asked me to come down and asked me a few Q&As about certain scenarios, so I suppose, hey, that was the audition, really. And I got asked to help a young lady who had four children, and within an afternoon was able to help that lady, which was absolutely fantastic, and the production company filmed the time that I spent with the lady. Now I know that was the pilot!

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