‘The thing I’m on a mission to try and change is the idea that it’s ok to ask for help – we go on management and marketing courses, so [how come] we think we can walk out of the hospital and know what to do from toddler to teen?’
The chances are, if you have browsed the parenting aisle of your local bookshop you will have come across Sue Atkins’ work. Bestselling author, broadcaster and parenting expert; with 22 years of teaching and a prestigious diploma in life coaching under her belt Sue has been there, done that and got the t-shirt. As we sit down to talk I cannot help but get swept up in Sue’s infectious enthusiasm for what she does. Down to earth, approachable and hilarious, it’s easy to see why so many parents welcome her into their homes to help. As we speak toddler tantrums, terrible teens and addressing the stigma behind parenting courses, Sue proves that hard work and tenacity are the secrets to raising happy children.
So first things first, how did you get to where you are today?
Oh my goodness! Hard work and lots of wine – only joking! Genuinely it was hard work, a passion for what I believe in and an obsession to make a difference in the world.
And how did this all come about?
My parents both died within a year of each other and this was a massive catalyst really. I had a really lovely childhood and believe my parents gave me the gift of self esteem; after 22 years of teaching I decided I wanted to give this gift to other parents, so they could pass it on to their own children. I went off and retrained as a life-coach and loved it. It has been the most challenging thing I have ever done, but I felt like it was my calling to give the skills I had learnt to parents, so they could raise happy and confident kids.
Where did the inspiration for your books come from?
Well the universe kicked in! Out of the blue after I had finished training, Wiley invited me to write ‘Raising happy children for dummies’, I felt like it was a sign and spend about six months writing and another three editing it. From there it took off – all sorts of interesting things happen when you write a well known book! I created my ‘Parenting made easy’ CD’s and then an app called ‘The secrets of well behaved kids.’ In 2012 I was invited to write ‘Parenting made easy – how to raise happy children’ by Random House, Penguin.
How did you get into the media side of your work?
My books opened a lot of doors, as did my passion to help parents. ITV invited me on This Morning and have asked me back quite a few times. I’ve also been on BBC Breakfast and on BBC Radio2 with Jeremy Vine.
What would you say is the most common question you get asked by parents?
Well at the moment I’m doing an awful lot of work around divorce as I am publishing conversational cards this month, which aim to help parents start the conversation about divorce with their children. Generally speaking, I get a lot of questions about putting boundaries around kids. Parents seem to want to be their child’s friend all the time these days, so I work with a lot of people who just need to say no and use discipline. Toddler tantrums are another common one, as is, ‘What’s wrong with my teenager? They won’t communicate and they’ve gone off the rails!’
Parenting is so personal; do you find it difficult to give advice?
Well you see the parents are already having problems or worries before they get in touch, so they’ve already raised their hands and said, look we’re in trouble here. The thing I’m on a mission to try and change, in the UK in particular, is that it’s ok to ask for help. I don’t judge people – it’s not for me to point fingers – that’s ridiculous.
Do you think there is a negative stigma behind going on a parenting course? What would you say to the parents who feel like failures for admitting they need one?
This really bugs me – we go on management and marketing courses, so why would it be that we have children and come out of the hospital knowing what to do all the way from toddler to teen? Why would you know all those skills? I think it’s crazy and don’t know how to break down that taboo, but will never stop trying. I remember when I was 12 my father said to me, ‘Well I don’t know Sue, I’ve never done it before.’ At that age I was shocked, as I still believed my parents knew everything, but the same applies now – how would a new parent know how to raise a happy, confident child? This especially applies when someone hasn’t had a happy childhood of their own; I notice people either repeat patterns or deliberately go against what they experienced.
In your opinion then, what are the secrets to raising a happy child?
I always say children spell love T-I-M-E. You need to put time at the centre of everything – play with them, talk with them not at them, read with them, play in the garden and let them develop their imaginations. Also have fun – a smile is a curve that puts a lot of things straight in a family! Saying all that, children need discipline and consistency. They need you to be in a good place and to be confident, positive and relaxed – your children learn everything from you.
Read the full interview here