Jo Frost gets her hands dirty penning a new book about babies. By Sarah Wassner Flynn
Five years ago, Jo Frost was just a busy British nanny tending her charges throughout London. Today, nearly seven million viewers tune in each week to watch the modern-day Mary Poppins swoop in to save out-of-control households from self-destruction on ABC’s Supernanny. Dishing out more sauciness than spoonfuls of sugar, the single 37-year-old Frost makes frequent use of the naughty chair but usesplenty of positive praise, as well, to wrangle wild kids. Also a best-selling author, Frost has written three books, including the just-released Jo Frost’s Confident Baby Care. Here, she explains why she’ll never face a household she can’t handle.
How does a nanny from Southwest London end up with an American reality-TV show? A production company was looking for a nanny with more than five years’experience to help turn around chaotic households. So I went in and had an interview and just offered my own practical advice. Next thing you know, I get a call from the company, and they tell me that they want to film me working with families. At the time, I was in the middle of a very busy street, and I just screamed. I was that excited. We started the show in the UK in 2004, and a year later, there was a bidding war between networks for the U.S. version.
Your current season just ended, but ABC has renewed Supernanny through 2009, and the show is clearly a hit. Why do you think people like it so much? Whether I’m working with toddlers or teenagers, there will always be people out there who can relate to what the family is going through. And hopefully, they’re taking the tools and techniques I’m offering and are relating them to their own families. Of course, some people may watch just to see the naughty children misbehaving, but there’s so much more to my work than that.
Misbehaving? That’s putting it mildly. We’ve seen kids curse, spit, and even punch their parents. Have you ever dealt with a family that’s just too far gone for your help? I come from a strong British work ethic. The phrase too much work is a foreign term to me. Sure, I’ve seen some desperate and bizarre situations, but I won’t turn my back on any household. I’ll get in there as quickly as I can and really get my hands dirty to understand why things are happening and how we can change it. We spend 200 hours with each family over the course of two weeks, so there’s plenty of time dedicated to making solid, positive changes. And being so passionate about what I do, I’ll never give up.
That approach has certainly worked for the many families featured each week. Do you keep tabs on them to make sure your changes are sticking? Yes, I do. We e-mail back and forth, and so far, everything is working out for them. What’s really lovely is that some of the families are connected as well. I just heard from one of the ladies I worked with, and she corresponds with five other families. They e-mail, trade notes, and offer support. I call them my Supernanny mums. I also make myself available for any questions or advice on my website; [I can] either address them directly via e-mail or include them in my monthly newsletter.
Speaking of advice, you offer a ton of it in your new book. Why the focus on babies? I started my career looking after infants, and I learned so much about them during that experience that I’ve always wanted to share. Plus, there seems to be so much worry and anxiety among expecting parents.They hear horror stories like, “Oh, you won’t sleep for months.” So I wanted to somehow alleviate that unnecessary stress and remind them that having a baby is a wonderful, emotional journey.
What’s the one nugget of knowledge all expecting parents should possess? That you can’t expect your baby to be on a consistent sleep schedule until he’s eating solids, which is usually at about six to eight months. So many parents focus on getting their baby to sleep through the night much too early. But I firmly believe there’s no way you can expect to have a sound sleeper until he’s got food and milk in his belly.
So, now that you’re a reality superstar, are there always people coming to you for tips? Not so much for advice as for autographs and pictures. It seems to happen in airports the most, probably because I’m always traveling to different states. I’ve been to 39 for the show.
You don’t have any kids. Has all this baby talk made you the least bit lustful for a little one of your own? Not yet. I’ll be 38 this year, and at this age, people tend to place the biological clock upon you. But I’m quite happy with what I’m doing for the moment. If I’m going to have kids, I will, but I don’t hear the clock ticking.