Interview with Parenting Expert Sue Atkins
Sue Atkins describes herself as ‘a writer, a speaker, a broadcaster, and a mum’, and will perhaps be best known to many as a TV presenter who regularly contributes on parenting and childcare issues. Making herself available to First Discoverers on the telephone, Sue chatted enthusiastically about her work with parents, childminders as unsung heroes, pushy politicians praising pencil-toting preschoolers, and much more besides.
First Discoverers: Hi Sue, welcome to First Discoverers’ series of interviews with professionals, and thanks for giving us an opportunity to talk. Perhaps we could start by asking you to outline your current career focus.
Sue Atkins: I coach lots of parents. Of course that’s my main passion – working with parents. And my work has seemed to take a turn towards parents going through divorce, and it tends to be with women going through divorce … perhaps it’s because I can identify with all the roller coaster of emotions as I have been through this process myself.
FD: So could you tell us how you came to be in your present role?
SA: Ever since I was a little girl of five, I wanted to be either a teacher or a journalist. [As a teacher] I had become a Deputy Head teacher as well as Head of PSHE for personal, social health and education in the school. I’m very passionate about children and self esteem, and always have been. I really loved doing that sort of work with the kids. Then I went on a course called ‘Change your life in 7 days’ with Paul McKenna and Dr. Richard Bandler – and it did change my life in 7 days. I just came out of there and said, right, I’m going to use my skill set to teach the parents how to give their kids self-esteem. And so everything I write, speak about or do is actually about building self-esteem in a child so they can go on to achieve their true potential.
FD: How does teaching parents actually work?
SA: There is this kind of taboo in Britain that you don’t ask for help when you raise a child. If you do, it must mean that you’re rubbish at it, or broken, or a bad parent. Well I don’t get that, because we ask for help in every other areas of our lives from marketing to management, but we don’t ask for ideas or strategies for doing one of the most important jobs in the world – parenting ? We don’t feel bad asking for help if our computer breaks down, so why feel bad asking for help raising a child?
FD: So just what help can you give?
SA: We [all] bring home the most precious thing in the world to us, and have no idea what to do with it! And if you’ve had a great childhood, and you’ve got great parents, you tend to copy that … play with them, talk to them, listen to them. But if you haven’t had a great start, you tend to repeat the pattern. I’m working with some families where they don’t think to turn off the television – it’s on four or five hours a day; or think to come off their phone when they’re talking to their toddler; or know that it’s lovely (and important ) to eat with their children regularly, and to talk with them over a meal. Simple things some parents don’t know because they haven’t grown up like that.
A cornerstone of childcare practice
FD: Are there some things you think we should celebrate about modern childcare?
SA: Yes, I think we should celebrate the professionalism of our childminders. I think child minders do an extremely good job: they go on courses, learn all about food and nutrition, a lot of it is done in their own time, and they’re not incredibly well-paid. They provide families with the knowledge that their child is being really taken care of. Like a surrogate mother, they care enough when they’re picking up the children to talk to them, listen to them, play with them, maybe even do some homework (depending on their age). Families know they can relax when [the job] is being done that well …
Cosseting parents and ‘cotton wool kids’
FD: But can our modern childcare methods ever be excessive?
SA: Yes, you do have overprotected children these days. I am very interested in resilient, autonomous children, [and] children need to take risks. Not silly ones, but considered ones [just]: Get into the habit of asking your children to think for themselves and learning to trust their intuition, perhaps ask them ‘Could you stretch to reach those monkey bars and do something interesting?’ So I do think we’ve got a little overprotective. Then you’ve got helicopter parents – studies show when their kids get to school, and [especially] when they go to uni, they struggle big time. They’re not used to making decisions, and some find it very, very challenging to be living in an independent environment – you don’t do your child any favours by overdoing anything.
Read more about this in our article: Managing Risk in a Nursery or Childcare Environment
FD: So do you see any need for change – in the Early Years sector, for example?
SA: I‘d still like to make sure children are playing. I think play is one of the most important pieces of work for children. And I worry about [Education Secretaries] and their ideas about pushing children. If you gave a child a pencil and sat them at a table, you’d get: “Oh that’s marvellous what they do in class.” And I think, no, Early Years is all about imagination, creativity, confidence, and playing. Because when children are playing they’re learning leadership, sharing, discussion, negotiation, as well as everything else. Play is the most important thing … and I mean free play, structured play, interesting play, giving them good experiences and offering them opportunity. And perhaps sometimes sitting alongside them to help develop their language, or their vocabulary as well.
FD: And what skills do you feel are the absolute must-haves for today’s childcare professionals?
SA: Empathy with children, compassion, confidence, boundary-setting that is firm, fair, & consistent, and of course a love of children. A real love to be with them, curiousness about what they’re learning and how they’re doing it, what they think, and how they feel.
FD: So what would you say to anyone looking to start a career in childcare?
SA: Go for it … absolutely go for it. If you’re drawn to it, it’s for a reason. So go for it and enjoy it, and get trained for it as well so you feel confident in your expertise. But it’s the most rewarding thing you can ever do, [so] absolutely jump straight into it!
Sue Atkins is an internationally recognised Parenting Expert, Broadcaster, Speaker and Author of the Amazon best-selling books “Parenting Made Easy – How to Raise Happy Children” & “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” She has just launched the 1st in her series of Parenting Made Easy apps for iPhones and iPads. Sue offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children from toddler to teen. She specialises in supporting families through divorce and has created a series of Divorce Cards to help start the difficult conversations about the changes that families face when they are going through divorce. She regularly appears on the award winning flagship ITV show “This Morning” and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and is the parenting expert for many BBC Radio Stations around the UK as well as the parenting expert on SKY News. She has a regular monthly parenting phone- in on BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester and her parenting articles are published all over the world.
To receive her free eBooks bursting with practical tips and helpful advice from toddler to teen log on to www.theSueAtkins.com and download them instantly today.