Jo Frost: Extreme Parental Guidance
How did Jo Frost tackle the terrible tantrums in her latest TV venture? We take a look at three individual stories…
From picky eating habits, awkward bedtime tantrums, anti-social behaviour and childhood addictions, when it comes to children Jo Frost has seen it all. The Channel 4 show, Jo Frost: Extreme Parental Guidance sees the nation’s parenting expert help different British families with common and unusual problems, getting them back on track and on the road to being a family again. We take a look at some of the most memorable cases from series one, seeking out Jo’s own opinion, as well as the confessions of the parents.
The Ward family
Louise Ward, 37, from Blackpool, reached the end of her tether when her son, Bailey, age 12, became addicted to a computer game that The Sun newspaper deemed more addictive than crack cocaine.
‘Two years ago my son, Bailey, developed what I thought could only be an addiction. He became sucked into the online interactive game World Of Warcraft and would sit at the computer for up to 12 hours a day. His meals were eaten in front of the screen and his sleep patterns were disrupted due to his constant preoccupation with game strategies. There were times I’d find him asleep with a notebook in his bed, and pictures of different realms and characters were often scattered around his room.
‘As a parent, the situation became scary when Bailey was asked to draw a picture of himself at school. One half of the drawing was a mirror image of himself, and the other was a distorted image of the character he imagined himself as in the game. It was clear at this point that Bailey literally slept, drank and breathed the World Of Warcraft.
‘As my generation had nothing like such computer games, it was difficult to understand what he was going through. Coming from a broken home myself and being a single parent of three children, I didn’t want my kids to miss out. I wanted them to have the same as everyone else, so I allowed Bailey to play on the game. At one point, I was actually spending quite a lot of money on “spiritual gold” for Bailey to spend within the realm of Warcraft.
‘For me, the game acted as a kind of babysitter for Bailey. With two small girls to look after, I gave in to his habit because that’s what he was content to do. Any attempts to remove him from the computer caused serious arguments, and at points we came close to blows with each other. We couldn’t go out as a family because it was such hard work and Bailey would be in a foul mood, ruining the day for everyone. Eventually I began to use Bailey’s gaming as an excuse for not being able to leave the house.
‘It took an outsider to realise that I was being a cop out as a parent. Jo Frost doesn’t take any excuses – you ask for her help and you do what she says. There’s no room for half-hearted attempts to rectify the situation, and at various points we were very blunt with each other.
‘Jo helped wean Bailey off the World Of Warcraft game and encouraged family days out. As a single parent I often feel like I can’t afford to do nice things with the kids. But Jo showed me that making a few sandwiches and going to the beach doesn’t cost much, and it’s something both my girls and Bailey enjoy.
‘Jo totally changed my outlook on family life. We’re no longer stuck in a rut, and she has made me realise that I’m lucky to have a family that has fun together and loves each other.
‘Weaning Bailey off the computer was hard at first, but once a routine was put into place, conflict between myself and him waned, too. The key thing was to learn that children will only misbehave if they get a reaction.
‘By standing firm, Bailey now has more respect for me. We’re closer as a result of this.’
What I learned from Jo: ‘Being a family only takes interaction. You choose to have your kids, not the other way around, so spend quality time with them.’
‘When I first heard about this family, mum Louise believed that she had a son who was addicted to the computer. He was playing on it more than 35 hours a week in school term-time, and in the holidays that could go up to 80 hours a week. He was eating his meals in front of the screen, but what that actually meant was that Louise was bringing him
his meals in front of the screen. He wasn’t being asked to come to the table or to get up from in front of the computer to do something else.
‘When I went to meet this family at home it was clear that Louise was overwhelmed. She had two little girls and was struggling to cope with them, and it must have started out as something quite convenient to have Bailey safely in front of the computer so she could focus on her two girls. Louise hadn’t ever made the connection between Bailey’s computer use and her issues with the other two kids.
‘In order to get Bailey off the computer, something else was going to have to come in to fill the gap – and that was going to mean Louise doing things with the whole family.
‘I knew that if I could give Louise some new techniques to help with the little ones, she would then have more time for all of them and for activities that wouldn’t leave Bailey sidelined. I wanted Louise to learn how to entertain the toddlers and how to set boundaries.
‘To help Bailey cut down on his computer time, I decided to wean him off gradually over four weeks. I proposed cutting down the use from four hours a day in the first week to just one hour a day in the final week.
‘I created a chart so that Bailey could clearly see what was expected of him, and to provide him with a sense of control and empowerment by getting him to fill it in. I also made sure that Louise was part of the same process, using the chart to record what she was going to do to replace his computer time.
‘Making Louise commit to various family outings, so that Bailey started to reconnect with his family and gradually felt much more involved, also made a key difference.’
The McLeod family
Amanda McLeod, 39, from Nottingham, lost all hope of her eight-year-old son, Rio, eating anything but bread and butter.
‘Ever since trying to wean Rio off baby food, we have had problems. Rio would not tolerate any hot food or food with texture. His staple diet would consist of toast, crackers, breadsticks and bread and butter. Asking him to try anything else would cause hysteria at the dinner table, and when he wouldn’t allow any other food near his plate we assumed he had a food phobia. My main concern was about his health. Rio was skinny, he developed asthma and was prone to acne and mouth ulcers. Any illness that went around at school, Rio seemed to get twice as bad. I was forever taking him to the doctors to get checked out.
‘As a family, we assumed that Rio would grow out of it. However, when stickers, reward charts and gifts at the end of the week didn’t persuade him to try new foods we knew there was a deeper problem. As a mother, I was concerned that he had to eat something, so I let him carry on eating just bread and butter.
‘My husband Roger and I were literally at the end of our tether when we asked for Jo Frost’s help. Every meal was spent with Rio crying as he attempted to play Roger and I against each other to get his way.
‘When Jo arrived at our home she was like a whirlwind. She took Rio off to the supermarket straight away and then made him sit down and try new and different foods. Rio then came home with a bag full of food, and the battle of trying to incorporate the goods into a family meal began.
‘While it was a lot of “fun and games”, by the time Jo left our family Rio had managed to try a few mouthfuls of a meal. On the last night of her stay, Jo spent almost three hours around our dinner table encouraging him to eat together with the family. Every time Rio’s food went cold, she ordered me to go back and heat it up. “Warm it up. Warm it up” again and again. But it worked. Putting the boundaries in place and issuing a consequence was the basic method we needed to take, and Jo put this in place for us.
‘Denying Rio the food he liked was not an easy ride. But as Jo said, we were dealing with a “very clever little boy”. When we tried to get him to eat different food, he’d pretend to choke or make himself sick. There was always an ailment causing him to be upset, and as a mother this was quite concerning.
‘To be honest, it was partly due to the filming process we went through as a family that spurred Roger and I to persevere with Jo’s methods. We had been through so much that we weren’t prepared to just sweep the problems back under the carpet. Rio now enjoys sandwiches, which he wouldn’t even entertain the idea of before, and has developed a desire to try McDonald’s, rather than screaming outside.
‘Rio’s health and body shape have totally changed thanks to his varied diet, too. He does gymnastics for three to six hours a week, his skin has improved and he no longer gets ulcers. Hardening up to his habits was the answer, and it took Jo to show me we should have done this from the start.’
What I learned from Jo: ‘It’s vital to set boundaries, and to make sure you stick to them. Changing your child’s habits will be a long and on-going process, but you need to go through this to come out the other side as a family.’
‘When I first met Amanda, I met a mum who was incredibly stressed out. Ever since their son, Rio, was two, she and her husband, Roger, had held up their hands to Rio and given in to his eating habits. What I saw was a smart little boy, but his issue with food was all in his head. He didn’t know why he didn’t like certain foods, because he just wouldn’t try anything. He had all the power in the family.
‘My first step was to lay down some new mealtime rules. Amanda needed to put the food on the table and then come up with a topic of conversation. The aim was to distract the whole family from Rio, the focus they had always been used to. Amanda then had to take a firm approach with her son. Asking him to eat the food on his plate would remove the option of just ‘trying’ it. Rio had to learn that trying was not an option, that food was all he would receive.
‘If Rio saw Amanda panic, he would see a loophole to manipulate her. Roger had to support her, laying down the rule that if Rio wanted to stay at the table he would have to sit quietly and stop crying. Both parents needed to see that negotiation was not an option, they had to step up and be equal with their discipline.
‘Putting change into place is all about perseverance. Parents have to break the mould and stay strong in order to break the precedent their child has set. When Rio reverted back to his usual ways, I took Amanda to one side and explained that it was natural for her to feel guilt at first. Emotionally, for her, this was about her relationship with Rio because he always made a beeline for her. Amanda had to really stick to her guns to see results.
‘The last thing I explained was that there had to be consequences if Rio refused to listen. Not allowing him what he wanted to do if he didn’t finish his dinner would force Rio to weigh up his situation. Though tantrums occurred, Amanda grew to admit that these weren’t real tears.
‘I left them on the note that baby steps were the key method to enforce change. Stay firm, and one day you’ll get where you want to be without even realising how you got there.’
Common concern: Bedtime behaviour
Paige Simmons, six, from Woolwich has never spent a night in her own bed, and mum, Joanne, doesn’t have the strength to refuse her daughter. Can Jo Frost resolve the bedtime battle common in many families? Here’s what she says about changing Paige’s routine…
‘When I was first told about Paige’s sleeping problems, I heard about a little girl who was so anxious about going to bed at night on her own that she would scream for hours, sometimes giving herself an asthma attack. As a result, she hadn’t ever slept a night on her own, and always ended up in bed with her mum, Joanne.
‘Watching Paige playing out with her sister and friends, I could see straight away that she wasn’t an introverted sort. She was happy and confident, even something of a leader, and this just didn’t square with the idea of a child too frightened to be on her own at night. Paige had learned how to manipulate her mum. She wasn’t anxious – she just wanted her own way. To change this was going to be a battle of wills. I knew that Paige was going to try every trick she knew to make her mum cave in.
‘I decided to create a healthy bedtime routine that would eventually become a ritual. Joanne had to be final about bedtime, putting Paige to bed and explaining the expectation that she was to stay there all night long. Joanne had to continue to put her back in her bed every time she came out. However long it took, Joanne could not cave in.
‘The first night was a real battle. Paige was trying everything she knew – crying, chanting, screaming, saying she was going to be sick. But Joanne stayed firm and wouldn’t let Paige into her bed. It was a victory, but only a partial one, because, rather than stay in her own bed, Paige ended up asleep on the floor outside Joanne’s room. It must have been really hard for Joanne to see her little girl sleeping on the ground, but it was a real step forward.
‘Sticking to her guns was the most important thing for Joanne. I needed her to send Paige a message that she was serious about this, so Paige would take her seriously in return. This is the same message that I try to give to all the parents I work with.’
Images: Channel 4