Former Supernanny Jo Frost Takes On Toddler Years
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms and dads in your corner. Every week, we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy advice. Today, we want to focus on the toddler years. They are so cute, and they can be so frustrating. They finally learn words, but that word is often no.
They are adorable one minute, screaming me-me's the next. To talk about how to have a better time with your little darling, we decided to call in an expert. You might even call her a super expert. And if you don't remember the name Jo Frost, you surely remember the voice - calm but firm, stepping in to help troubled families as the supernanny from the show of that name that aired on ABC until 2011. Here's a clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUPERNANNY")
JO FROST: Toby, I saw behavior from you yesterday that was very upsetting. Behavior like aggression, which is punching and kicking and any kind of behavior that hurts somebody else, is wrong.
MARTIN: Now she's back with a new book called "Jo Frost's Toddler Rules: Your 5-Step Guide to Shaping Proper Behavior." And Jo Frost is with us now. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
FROST: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Why the toddler years? Why did you want to focus on that age group for this book?
FROST: The inspiration from the book came from having families stop me in the street, you know, tweet and to send questions on the email. And I sat in front of the television once and actually saw that an airline had turned around an airplane because a family had a child that was having a temper tantrum. And it just seem this repetitive question about how to manage and control your children's behavior and what to do when your children are misbehaving at the dining table and how to be able to have great play dates with other children misbehaving.
It all became about behavior and how to shape proper behavior. And so I just felt that it was imperative to be able to teach parents the importance of being more disciplined with respects to understanding what toddlers need in those first five years because if you get that right, then the whole family benefits from it.
MARTIN: It's kind of like the foundation.
FROST: Absolutely. It is.
MARTIN: But what is it that you think parents find so challenging about the toddler years? I mean, you can understand why teenagers are frustrating for parents because, you know, the kids are big. Sometimes they're bigger than the parent at that stage. You know, their brains are going every - you know, hormones, this and this. They can drive. They have more independence. But people, I think, who don't have children often wonder what is it - so challenging for parents about those toddler years? Can you help describe that?
FROST: I think it's the first time that you have to really look at yourself and start to ask questions as a parent. What are the morals and that values and the foundation that I'm going to lay down for my children? And what am I going to put in place that will then leave a very positive impact for them into their tween's and teenager's life? You know, when you have a baby, you're adjusting that transition period of nurturing and getting used to a baby, a new addition in the family. It's all about the parents journey as well as the baby's. And then, all of a sudden, after the baby period, you have a little individual, this cherub, darling but frustrating as they can be, wants independence and needs to learn.
And, you know, you have to work out the understanding of being able to communicate with your toddler and give them what they need but at the same time, look at yourself and recognize what is it that I need to change about myself or implement to make those years really count and put family life on the map? And that's the first time that most parents will do that after the first year.
MARTIN: One of the things that you were known for is kind of breaking a method down into simple steps that you can remember even when you're upset.
MARTIN: And one of the methods you talk about here is your SOS method. Will you talk about that?
FROST: Yes, I spent years in homes, as everybody will know, really using the SOS technique. Mentally, being able to take a step back and to detach myself, even though emotionally, I was feeling from watching a family, gave me that advantage to then be able to observe and to look at the bigger picture and to hear and to see all sides from every angle, to then be able to step back in with resolution, with an action plan, to be assertive and actually make a decision of what was going to happen next. And I feel that if we can do that as parents, we won't react to so much that goes on and get caught up in that sort of tornado of drama that happens every 15 to 20 minutes in a toddler's life.
MARTIN: So step back, observe, step in and make a decision to respond. But the underpinnings of that - I think for people who are aware of your method, it's like your method sounds simple, but the underpinnings of that is realizing that there are certain things that people need to function well. And often what I observe from the show is when you'd step into a situation, you'd really see that some fundamental things were not going well like enough sleep...
MARTIN: ...Like, just enough sleep. And I just want to read a little bit from the book. You say, sleep for little ones is not so much the ending of one day as the beginning of the next. Talk about why that's so important.
FROST: Yes, because it actually creates the need for the child to then explore and to be able to learn and to be able to soak up. And everything is possible, you know, not just for that toddler, but also for the adult as well. I mean, sleep deprivation is nobody's friend for any family because then we don't have the tools that we need and the framework to support the consistency that leads to their success.
MARTIN: So sleep is important. You talk about healthy eating. That's something that's gotten a lot of attention in this country in recent years. Table manners - talk about that. You know, there are some people who, you know, there's always interesting discussion around table members.
MARTIN: You know, some people feel that that's kind of an elitist preoccupation. You clearly don't.
FROST: No, I don't.
MARTIN: Why do you think that's important?
FROST: I don't, and it costs nothing to have manners and to have respect and etiquette. You know, that's just really the ability to be kind to another human being and to be respectful. And to have that respect and to teach that respect to you children from when they're little so that you actually grow up to become that as a well-adjusted adult, I think the world would be a much kinder place and less of a hostile place if we had manners. You know, one's only got to look at how adults are, you know, in life and know that it gets slipped, you know. It goes underneath the table as such, and we lose the ability to understand the importance of that.
MARTIN: Well, some, though, argue that part of the reason that has occurred is that people have given up on what has become unfashionable or effective - or methods of discipline that many of us grew up with - you know, spanking, stern words, things of that sort. You have a very bright line on that, and talk a little bit about that.
FROST: Yeah, well, I think it's very separate. I think being able to teach your children manners and to be respectful is one thing that you can do regardless to what class you come from or what religious belief you have. And it's very different in being able to shape your child's behavior with respects to the temper tantrums that they have and the acceptable and unacceptable behavior that you teach your child.
MARTIN: But tell me why you draw a very bright line on, you know, yelling, certain language directed at children and spanking. You are...
FROST: Because it's not honoring children or teaching them by example how to be respectful. As I say, we've only got to look at the increase in really antisocial behavior and the age of that antisocial behavior. I mean, you know, I believe it's absolutely vital in order for us to be able to function well and to decrease the amount of real hostile activity that we've been seeing. I mean, you've got to question the violence in this country.
You've got to question the tragedies that have happened over the last year and know that some of those incidents have come from, you know, young teenagers who have needed that help mentally, you know, that have been depressed. You know, we've got to be able to understand that in order to curb their behavior, we've got to be accountable as parents in how we raise our children.
MARTIN: If you are just joining us, we are speaking with child care expert Jo Frost. You might know her as the supernanny. She appeared on that ABC program by the same name until 2011. We are talking about her new book "Jo Frost's Toddler Rules." As I mentioned, we reached out to listeners on Facebook to see what questions...
MARTIN: ...They might have for you. There were a lot.
MARTIN: So we just have time for just a few of them.
FROST: Thank you.
MARTIN: But just to give you an example of kind of the hunger that people have for guidance in this area.
MARTIN: This is Jen (ph) from West Melbourne, Florida asking about her 3-year-old son. Here it is.
JEN: He has determined that playing - going into the street is some kind of a game. And so he will go outside and make beelines into the street getting me to chase him. And when I catch him, he's laughing. So he obviously thinks it's funny. I've tried timeouts. I've tried schooling him. Short of keeping him out of the front yard, that's the only thing that seems to keep the behavior from happening.
MARTIN: One of the hallmarks is - of the work is you were in the home you got to see a lot. So understand that you can't possibly have the full picture here, but what is your advice for Jen just based on what you've heard here?
FROST: You know, you can't - people look to train a child to know how to behave outside and how to be kept safe by giving them timeouts and by controlling their behavior, rather than understanding that it's an education to be able to understand the trust that's built between you and your child and being able to be out in public with them and know that they can be kept safe but actually trust that they're not going to run into the road.
Here, we have a young child who's being defiant to all costs, and there is no follow-through. But I'm sure there's no reward either. And I'm sure there's no verbal praise and acknowledgment and guidance in what they are doing OK. I call it cat and mouse. I'll run into the road. I'll get your attention in a negative way, always, and then we go around in that vicious circle rather than building the trust.
MARTIN: So what would you recommend that she should do here? Would she say - she should praise him when he's listening? Or...
FROST: Yes, and you would build verbal trust. I use a technique called the Roman technique, which allows a child to feel that - as an independent little one, they want to walk, and they want the freedom of feeling like the big boy they are. And, you know, you actually teach them that they can do that, but you need to keep them safe. If they can hold onto the pram, and if they show that they can't hold onto the stroller and that they're willing to let go of it that they have to hold your hand.
So you build a verbal trust through action that allows the child to recognize that if they behave a certain way, they get more independence because really at the end of the day, there's no teachings from the parent in being able to allow them to meet their expectation.
MARTIN: I have another question from listener Meredith (ph) from Brooklyn, New York who also has a 3-year-old son.
MEREDITH: He's a great kid, but he is all about mommy, mommy mommy. And he won't let anyone else do anything except - only mommy does everything for him. It's exhausting for me, but it's also exhausting for my husband because he's basically ignoring my husband on everything.
MARTIN: She says that he's so attached to her that she has to be the one to put him to bed every night. What should she do?
FROST: No, she doesn't. But if she likes it, then she will be. Let's be honest here. I kind of call it the spit-and-polish syndrome. There's an underlining nice feeling of needing to be needed constantly. You know, and children will tend to gravitate to their primary carer. And what's important is for the mom to confidently let her son know that actually mom is going to do something else right now, and it's OK that dad does it and to actually follow through on that, even if the child is screaming and causing a fuss because otherwise, you validate that the mom should be doing it and not his father.
And then the father and the son are really robbed of having that lovely playtime and the things that they do together. So it's more a case of recognizing, why doesn't mom confidently just back, you know - back off a little bit and let the father have that interaction with their son.
MARTIN: You always talk about - it's interesting that, you know, having watched the show and read the book, you always kind of have, like, a tip-of-the-iceberg situation, don't you? That there's one problem that presents, but really kind of there's always something beneath it.
FROST: Oh, it's always such a puzzle piece really. I think, you know, it's all interlinked. And I explain that very clearly in the book, that when you don't have a framework in place that creates that consistency that supports the principles, then they will eventually end up tumbling down, and they bleed into one another. Whereas, you know, if you can recognize that those puzzle pieces come together to create the whole picture, it works better.
MARTIN: On the other hand, I have to tell you that many people contacted us - we just only gave you a couple here - they were all women. And I don't know what that means because I know that - I know for fact from our research that the people who listen to our program are very evenly divided in the genders. And I just wondered in your experience, is that the case? Is it often the mothers who reach out, that the dads don't? And clearly when there are two parents in the home, both need to be involved. Do you have some guidance for getting the...
FROST: To start talking.
MARTIN: ...Other person to...
FROST: The other person to be on the same page.
MARTIN: ...To be on the same page, you know.
FROST: Absolutely, don't stop talking. You know, you need to communicate. You need to be able to talk to your partner. You need to be able to talk about the important factors of, you know, their nutrition and how they're going to be raised. You mustn't stop talking. You know, I don't think it's any mistake that moms come forth, I think, you know, as primary carers. These moms pick up the phone, but dads do stay home as well.
And I think sometimes it becomes a little bit more easier for moms to express themselves verbally about those situations. I'd like to see fathers come forth more. And we do see on our websites some blogs where fathers are home now and talking about it. In the end of the day, it is about family. It's not something that one shouldn't feel they can't talk about because it is all for the better of the child.
MARTIN: I think one of the things that people are attracted to about you is your certainty. You're very - you know, you're very warm. You're obviously a very kind person, but you're very certain. But a lot of people come to parenthood uncertain. You know, they didn't like the way they were raised. You know, a lot of people were raised with the switch and the belt and harsh words...
FROST: That's right.
MARTIN: ...And they don't want to raise their children in that way.
FROST: No, they don't.
MARTIN: And yet, they don't necessarily know...
FROST: And that's very true.
MARTIN: ...What they can replace that with.
FROST: That's very true, and that's why we do have the shows. And that's why I do love to write, to be able to give parents the knowledge so that they can make those choices. That ultimately means that they become more assertive, and they make decisions. And they learn from those decisions, and from those decisions, they become more confident. And the fact that they know that they don't want to take some of their past and how they were raised into their own parenthood is a great sign.
It means they're very conscientious about how they parent and how they will continue to parent. And the uncertainty comes from a not knowing, but you can't allow that to be an excuse for not doing anything. You know, that means you do have to think about what kind of a mother you are going to be, what kind of a father you are going to be, what kind of a relationship do you want with your children, what kind of foundation do you want to lay down. You've got to ask yourself questions and think about that and sit on that, even if you don't have those answers.
MARTIN: Are you ever stumped, though? I mean, have you ever walked into a situation and said, I really don't know what to do here?
FROST: No, 'cause my mindset's not that way. My mindset's not that way. I'll walk into a family and see a situation, and then I will look with what I need to do. And if that means teaching a parent a particular skill or for them understanding first the importance of why something needs to happen afterwards, then that's what I focus on doing. And that takes a lot of hours. It takes a lot from you physically, emotionally, mentally.
But I feel really passionate about what I do. And everything that really - a whole team of us come together to be able to help one family The fact is, is that helping that one family can break cycles of generations of dysfunctional behavior that then can continue to create patterns of behavior that for the next four generations create function and healthy relationships. Then it's worth every piece of time that you spend with a family.
MARTIN: So you're like the Marines. You have a bias for action. Jo Frost is author of the new book "Jo Frost's Toddler Rules: Your 5-Step Guide to Shaping Proper Behavior." She was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Jo Frost, thank you so much for joining us.
FROST: Thank you.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.