- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 15, 2006

NEW YORK

During a dull day minding some children back in London a few years ago, Jo Frost spied an advertisement from a television producer searching for a nanny with at least five years of experience.

She made the life-changing call and became television’s “supernanny.” Now Miss Frost is stopped by strangers in airports seeking child-rearing advice.

“Supernanny,” seen Mondays on ABC at 9 p.m., is a breezy example of the “kids behaving badly” TV subgenre that owes its success primarily to Miss Frost. She offers a firm yet warm voice of authority, and the knowing looks she shoots over her glasses at the camera says she knows what you’re thinking: “These children really are acting like little horrors.”

After “Supernanny” became a success in England, it moved to the United States. Miss Frost makes episodes with families from both countries, and the show also is seen in 45 other countries.

Her signature may be the “naughty spot,” where children are banished to contemplate bad behavior. She’s seen her share of it, too, and it’s a wonder it doesn’t tarnish her view of child-rearing. With television’s need for dramatic transformations — and perhaps to give viewers the sense that no matter how chaotic their home, it can’t be this bad — there’s plenty of kicking, screaming, throwing and hitting.

“Respect. Where is the respect?” Miss Frost says. “Where are the manners? Common courtesy and etiquette — where is that? I don’t think standards are the same. I think parents fear, to some degree, being able to implement discipline. They worry about what the impact is going to be, for the fear of losing their child.”

Miss Frost also sees the other extreme, with parents so intimidating the home has an atmosphere of fear. And she recoils a bit when asked what she considers the greatest failure of parents these days.

“That’s a negative word, failure,” Miss Frost says. “I don’t think any parent strives to fail. I think parents try and if they don’t succeed they recognize that and make changes and use better judgment. I think it’s a learning curve, parenting.”

One of the best examples of Miss Frost’s approach was seen earlier recently with the Carsley family, a divorced mom with a 7-year-old girl and two sets of male twins, ages 4 and 5. The household was a disaster area, with youngsters screaming out for attention and lashing out violently; the mom too overwhelmed to deal.

Miss Frost made clear what behavior was unacceptable, mapped out a way for the mom to give special attention to her needy daughter and got the children working together toward goals instead of competing.

Has she ever come across a family so dysfunctional that even the “Supernanny” can’t do anything?

“I don’t look at it like the WWE, to be honest,” she said. “I get asked, ‘Is there some family you haven’t cured?’ as if it were a terminal illness. ‘Have you ever met your match?’ ‘Do you ever give up?’ It’s the sensationalism of the program because it’s under the reality TV banner. To me, I see a family, a very unique family, that has a situation that needs to be resolved.”

To parents who feel overwhelmed, Miss Frost suggests they look after themselves and not feel the need to be martyrs.

“I think it’s important for parents to recognize that it’s OK to have a weekend with my wife (or husband) and have my kids looked after,” she says. “It’s all right for us to go out and have ‘me’ time at a restaurant once a week for dinner. Then we can give continuously to the kids, as well.”

Miss Frost, 36, is single and childless. Her father is enjoying her special fame; her mother died when she was only 43 of breast cancer 12 years ago. She says she and her brother felt “very special, very loved” while growing up in a home where they were taught compassion for all.

“I had parents who were very loving and very much involved,” Miss Frost says. “My father, if he promised he would be there, he was there. Wild horses didn’t stop him at a school play. Trust was set up and never broken in our family, which gave us a very strong foundation.”

Miss Frost hasn’t yet reached the point — if she ever does — where she resents people stopping her in airports and on the street to ask parenting advice. She even had one encounter with two young Australian men who said they watched “Supernanny” with their fiancees and took notes, anticipating when they would become parents.

“I expect people to come up when they see me,” Miss Frost says. “Why wouldn’t they? And it’s cool. People come up and shake my hand. Some people come up and give me a big hug and say, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve used you on my 7-year-old.’”

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