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Supernanny Helps Eagle River Dad Tame Brood: REALITY TV: Reeling From a Recent Divorce, the Single Father Wanted Help.

February 18, 2007

By Cinthia Ritchie, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska

Feb. 18–When Jo Frost makes her entrance as the star of the ABC reality TV series “Supernanny,” she emerges from a shiny black London Taxi.

Not so in Alaska, where nannies apparently travel by air.

In Monday’s episode of “Supernanny,” Frost swoops onto Lake Hood in a floatplane to help an Eagle River family of five — single father Brian McAfee, 30, and his four children, now ages 4 to 9.

“We had fun with it,” said “Supernanny” producer Mark Allen. “We got to do something unusual.”

In the episode, taped last fall, Frost wears her trademark blue suit and no-nonsense pumps — her dark glasses glinting with authority — and helps McAfee tame his troubled brood. Included in her brand of parenting advice: setting limits, playing tea party and “the naughty chair.”

The episode is the first time Frost has featured a single father, and the first time she’s worked in Alaska.

“I think people fill a home with their relationships and energy,” Frost said during a phone interview from Los Angeles. “And that house was empty.”

Seven months ago, McAfee’s family was out of control. The retail worker was nursing the wounds of his divorce while his children, Elie, 9; Silas, 7; Kaia, 6; and Anna, 4, ran wild. They slapped, pulled hair and spit. McAfee had no idea how to deal with it.

“I needed a role model,” he said. “I wasn’t exactly desperate, but I did need someone else’s input.”

Every week he’d watch “Supernanny,” waiting for an episode featuring a single father. When he heard “Supernanny” applications were available in Anchorage last summer, he picked one up, took a few family photographs and sent it off. That was on a Wednesday. That Friday morning, the “Supernanny” producers contacted him.

“I didn’t think they’d pick us,” McAfee said. “I mean, come on, Alaska? I don’t think I could have been more shocked.”

In September, cameras were installed throughout their house, taping 24 hours a day. Then Frost arrived to observe.

The kids fought their way through their morning routine: One didn’t want to brush her teeth, another wouldn’t pick up his books. Frost raised an eyebrow. She made tsk-tsk faces.

“It was hard to act natural at first,” McAfee said. “I thought, ‘Gosh, Jo Frost is in my house. She’s the biggest celebrity I’ve ever seen.’ “

The second day, Frost shucked off the nanny suit and let down her hair, and McAfee began to feel more comfortable. The kids did too — they screamed and fought with abandon. They tested everything that Frost told McAfee to try, including “the naughty chair,” a piece of furniture for time-outs.

It was tough, he admitted. There were frequent tears, both his and theirs.

“It was hard to hear what she had to say,” he said. “There were times when my natural inclination was, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, lady.’ But then my defenses went down, and I saw there was some truth to it.”

According to Frost, whose resume includes 17 years of nanny and child care experience, there are no naughty children, just families caught in complex situations. Once parents learn how to unravel the emotions behind their children’s bad behavior, they can begin changing it.

“When I first walked into that house, (the family) was broken,” she said. “The divorce had impacted every aspect of their lives. The children were overwhelmed. And Brian was very, very fragile.”

A big step was getting McAfee to reconnect with his three young daughters. They did this through tea parties, McAfee squeezing his large body down on a child’s pink table and chairs. He lifted the tea cup to his mouth, his pinky finger held out as he talked in a fake British accent. The kids cracked up. Their faces shined.

“It was hard at first,” he said. “But Jo said to go all out, so I thought of the goofy person I used to be, and then I did it for my kids. I didn’t do it for all of America watching me.”

It was, Frost said, a major breakthrough.

“He jumped into their world and played and brought back the laughter and the humor,” she said. “His house became a home again.”

Frost said that McAfee’s confidence grew during the two weeks of taping the show, that he put love back into the house and helped the children heal through lots of hugs, kisses and family together time.

Five months later, McAfee says, the children are “still getting used to the new me.”

On a recent afternoon, Anna and Kaia played quietly on the couch. Silas was curled up on the floor, nursing an ear infection, while Elie sat by the fireplace playing “Hot Cross Buns” on her recorder.

Occasional disagreements broke out. There was some shuffling and pushing, some tears and pouting and whining, but McAfee stepped in and halted it before it got out of hand.

“Granted, everything is not magically better,” he said. “But we’re getting along at a deeper level. When I step back into that mode, I can hear Jo’s voice, snapping me back to connect.”

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Daily News reporter Cinthia Ritchie can be reached at critchie@adn.com.

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ON TV

TO WATCH Brian McAfee and family, Anchorage residents should flip to ABC Channel 13 at 8 p.m. Monday.

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Supernanny’s top 5 tips include routine and rules

Fans of “Supernanny” look forward to a recurring segment of the show: the naughty chair. This is an ordinary kitchen or dining-room chair designated for time-outs and used as a discipline tool. Jo Frost used the naughty-chair concept with the McAfee children.

But there’s more to Frost’s philosophy than putting kids in the corner. In her book, “Ask Supernanny: What Every Parent Wants to Know,” Frost outlines healthy discipline while stressing patience and perseverance. Here are the top five tips from the book:

1. Problem children don’t exist in a vacuum. Bad behavior might be that child’s only way to get attention. A chronically cranky child might be overtired because parents let him stay up too late.

2. Routines are essential and should be structured around mealtimes.

3. Spell out rules. A kid who is sent from the table for chewing with her mouth open doesn’t know she shouldn’t unless you tell her.

4. Forty-four percent of parents in a survey said their infants and toddlers weren’t getting the recommended amount of sleep. Ninety-eight percent agreed that children are happier after a good night’s rest.

5. The “naughty chair” is portable. Take a “naughty mat” to the supermarket and don’t be afraid to use it.

— Daily News staff and wire reports

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Copyright (c) 2007, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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