Transcript: Tips on Parenting With Parenting Coach Sue Atkins

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Tips On Parenting With Parenting Coach Sue Atkins and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

Helen Thompson: In this week’s episode of First Time Mum’s Chat I’m thrilled to have the opportunity of chatting with Sue Atkins. Sue is an internationally recognized parenting expert, broadcaster, speaker and author. Sue has written numerous books and regularly appears on the award-winning flagship ITV show “This Morning”, Good Morning Britain and Sky News, as well as being the parenting expert for many BBC radio stations around the UK.

She is also the parenting expert for Disney family and is the host of “The Sue Atkins Parenting Show”. I can’t wait to tap into Sue’s wealth of knowledge and experience!

Hi Sue, welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat, I’m delighted to meet you and I’m looking forward to chatting with you about parenting. I can imagine that you are a very busy lady with your book writing, television and radio appearances and your podcast. So can you start by telling us about you and the books you have written?

Sue Atkins: Yes, lovely to be here, thank you for inviting me. Well, I’m the author of four books, Parenting Made Easy, How to Raise Happy Children and Raising Happy Children For Dummies, one in the famous black and yellow series. That one is a book you can dip in and out of when you’re sort of at different stages and ages for your children. I’ve written two books for children, The Can-Do Kid’s Journal: Discover Your Confidence Superpower!. Cause underpinning all my work is self-esteem for children and then I wrote a journal cause I do a lot of work with families going through divorce, particularly supporting the family as a whole, usually mum and the children called The Divorce Journal for Kids.

As you know, I’m, BBC’s parenting expert on the radio and I’m ITV ‘This Morning’ parenting expert and Disney’s parenting expert as well. So I have a lot of things that I do. I write, I speak, I broadcast and I’m passionate about parenting.

Helen Thompson: So you mentioned you had a book, divorce for kids. That sounds like an interesting book because it’s obviously helping supporting the kids if their parents are going through a divorce.

Sue Atkins: Yes. I, I write about the seven stages that everybody goes through and it’s based actually on Kubler-Ross’s Death and Dying, because change is quite painful and it’s quite challenging and it’s not quick and it’s sometimes not easy. A lot of people underestimate how long it takes to recover from a major event, whether that’s bereavement or divorce or redundancy or whatever it may be, that is quite a major thing in your life can take up to 18 months to two years. So, it’s not a broken arm, which is fixed in six weeks, it takes as long as it takes. So people go through this process but then you do turn a corner, which is sort of stage six and you do rise again, like a Phoenix and children are going through that too and often, this was written in a way for a little girl 20 years ago that was in my class, when I was a deputy head teacher.

And she said, but nobody’s listening to me and I can see her now little Becky, with her anger. She was seven and of course all sort of changes are happening to her, but no one’s really explaining them or helping her process her strong emotions, her anger, or her sadness or whatever she’s going through.

So the Divorce Journal for Kids is a way to express, understand, kids can do it on their own, or they can do it with you or their dad or their grandma and schools can use them to support and nurture and help children who are going through those changes as well. So, yes, it’s very, very helpful. Lots of family lawyers and divorce lawyers give it to their clients as a way to support the children through the changes as well. And it will start those conversations sometimes that you perhaps don’t have naturally.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, cause I guess with parents when they divorce, as you’ve just said, you don’t think about the child. You don’t necessarily think that the child’s going to be suffering because they just get on with it. But as you said, they do suffer, they do need to process what’s happening because they don’t understand, they think, why are my parents not together anymore? Why do I have to go to dad’s house? Why do I have to go to mom’s house? Why can’t I just be in the same house as both my parents? I guess it’s something for a child that they don’t understand. I mean, I was lucky and my parents didn’t divorce, but a lot of my parents friends divorced. So I had a sense of what it was like by observing my friends and what they were going through.

Sue Atkins: Yes, one of the key messages I tell parents when I’m working with them, is nearly all children blame themselves and so one key message is to immediately tell the children when you are telling them that it’s not their fault and then you go into explaining age appropriately, you don’t need to sort of watch it all out in front of your kids, but there are good ways of telling them. So sometimes I work with clients just for an hour, which is how to tell the children you’re divorcing because that is a very important moment. I remember talking to a client once and it was 50 years ago since her parents told her and she could describe exactly where she was and what she was wearing down to her red shoes and her little green cardigan.

So it is a big moment and you want to get that right and children are not damaged necessarily by the divorce, but the level of conflict they experience. So you can do it with dignity and respect. It’s not easy sometimes, but it’s very, very important.

Helen Thompson: I agree because it brings the self-esteem in as well, because whether you are a first time mum or not, your child has still got that self-esteem and you’ve still gotta help build that self-esteem to be the best child they can be and not force them to do something that they don’t want to do.

Sue Atkins: Yes and you’re a blueprint for love. Once I tell people that, they go oh my goodness, I hadn’t thought of it like that because how you handle it is very important. I have a client actually, in fact, she’s a friend, actually, just recently, she separated well, probably coming up to 30 years ago now and we were at cricket on Saturday, and her ex came across to say hello to me because, you know, I like him, he’s a nice guy and he came to chat. She completely and has done ever since, completely ignores him. So it’s so embarrassing cause there’s huge tension, and I know he doesn’t feel like that.

I mean, you don’t wanna be best buddies, but on the other hand, it is very awkward if you can’t get to a stage of some form of forgiveness and moving on. Cause it’s keeping both of them stuck. But the point for me is she’s got two boys. So, what does that teach them about relationships and about love and when they get married, eventually if they do, that’s gonna be very awkward, how do we put mum on the seating plan?

Helen Thompson: Yes, that’s a very good point because as you said, some people when they are divorced have done it very amicably and they do still see each other and sometimes they actually get on better when they’re not together.

Sue Atkins: Yes, it’s a real mix match, there is no one size fits all, but I think working with somebody like myself, who is a sounding board, who has no vested interest, I’m not a lawyer, I’m not trying to negotiate stuff, I help people with their parenting plan and I help support the family and the children and mum or dad or mum and dad through the emotional turmoil of that. And you can do it with dignity. Some people are very angry because it’s happened to them. Other people can make co-parenting work and co-parenting is really important. So sometimes you have to back up and this doesn’t happen, you know, first week, this takes time, but back up and look at the bigger picture. We want to raise a happy, confident, resilient adult. Let’s try and do this together and work it through. So it takes time, but it’s important to try

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I appreciate that. Just to bring it back to first time mums. You have a toddler roadmap, a positive toddler roadmap.

Sue Atkins: Well, I’ve worked for a number of years with all ages and stages and I noticed that during the pandemic, people were asking me all sorts of questions with young children. They were in isolation, they weren’t socially confident because of masks, they weren’t playing with other children, they weren’t able to share. So I wrote the Toddler Roadmap, which is an assortment of 24 week different modules. It’s not erroneous, it’s videos to watch, it’s audios to listen to, it’s stuff to read if you want to, around potty training, fussy eating, the arrival of a new baby, the why stage when they always ask why, the whining, the toddler tantrums, all of those things, it’s all covered in the Toddler Roadmap and there’s some free videos there and everything. So go to and start looking and learning and listening and enjoying that. Also I have the Toddler Roadmap podcast, which goes alongside it. So that’s available wherever you get your podcasts, whether that is Apple Music or whether that’s Amazon, or you go onto my website, which is just, click on podcast or click on Toddler Roadmap podcast. So I did a specific toddler roadmap series just for you.

Helen Thompson: That’s good, cause I know from my experience in childcare, that those stages that you’ve mentioned can be quite challenging to go through, especially when kids go why, why, why! You keep telling them why, you keep explaining why and they keep going but why does that happen? And eventually I just say, look, I don’t know the answer to this question. Why did we go and look it up or I would use technology and I will say, let’s go and look it up on the internet. Let’s go and look it up on, on YouTube or on Google or whatever it is and we’ll do it together.

Sue Atkins: Yes and of course children are curious and they’ve only been alive two or three years, so they don’t know the answers to loads of it. But of course it can be very tiring if you are trying to do all sorts of other stuff too, but also sometimes toddlers don’t have language and a vocabulary to want to keep chatting to you, so they might find that better attention helps them feel significant and important. And it’s a way of trying to connect with you and bond with you and communicate with you as well. So if you get that mindset, that takes it away from, oh, I’m trying to do this and I’m trying to do that. So yes, it’s about learning the different ages and stages of your children and what that means underneath it.

But all of my stuff is no finger pointing. It’s all about helping hand and about being a positive parent, because that really is a great thing. If you can be a happy, confident, relaxed parent, you’re gonna raise a happy, confident, relaxed child as well.

Helen Thompson: Well yeah, that’s right and I think that’s the key to what my podcast is all about. Trying to support parents to become positive parents and giving them the tools to be able to do that. Giving them the tools to encourage them to be more positive and say, well, look, it’s hard work, but here are some tools like the toddler roadmap, or here are some tools if you’re going through a divorce or whatever, even if the child’s a toddler and the parents are going through a divorce, they’re still gonna be the same process, but they may just find it little bit harder to understand, especially if they’re younger.

Sue Atkins: And that’s right and sometimes it just manifests itself in night terrors or wetting the bed again, if they had been dry. You know, there’s all little signs that they’re a little bit under change or challenge, so yes, you’re right but everything is all about trying to raise a happy, confident kiddy without making it too hard work to study it. It’s not that I like to do practical tips, keep it quite short, quick win videos on my YouTube, that kind of thing to make it easy to be the best parent you can be really.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, as people always say, kids don’t come with instruction manuals, so you’ve just got to learn the best way you can, you know, and do it, do it the best way you can.

Sue Atkins: And not making the same mistakes as your parents made. Just make different ones, perhaps!

Helen Thompson: Well yeah, all parents make mistakes, we’re not all perfect. Whether you are a parent, whether you are a childcare worker, whether you are a carer, we all make mistakes and I think that’s a very good point to make for parents not saying that everybody’s perfect because I think if all parents were perfect, life would be boring and kids would be boring.

Sue Atkins: Yeah, there’s no such thing. Yeah. There’s a poster actually, that goes round on social media and it just turns up everywhere, but it just says there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, just be a real one and it’s my quote. So often people just quote me for that alone.

Helen Thompson: Yeah and I think you can have professionals to support you and you can take their advice or not take their advice, do whatever you feel is the most comfortable thing to do and I think that would be my tip that I would give to a parent.

Sue Atkins: Sometimes you just listen to a podcast and you’ll pick up two tips and you go, oh, that’s helpful and that’s all you need. So, yes, it’s about little and often and not beating yourself up if you do get things wrong, but looking at perhaps how you could make it better next week, perhaps, or the next time.

Helen Thompson: So what would your two tips be?

Sue Atkins: Well, I always say children spell love P I M E. So you can’t go too far wrong. If you play with them, talk with them, listen to them and eat with them and those very simple basics will serve you in very good stead.

Helen Thompson: Eating with them I think is very valuable because I was brought up to actually sit down and eat as a family. We weren’t allowed to eat in front of the television. We didn’t have iPhones or iPads when we were kids, so we were encouraged to sit and if you wanted to watch something on TV, that was fine, but we had to negotiate with our parents and say, right, if I wanna watch this at six o’clock, can I have my tea half an hour early.

Sue Atkins: It’s about boundaries, isn’t it. And making sure that you think about these things. Otherwise your children are gonna be driving the bus and they haven’t passed their test and you don’t wanna give all the power and all the keys to your little toddler or your child. It’s about making sure that you have that balance. So you put in firm fair, consistent boundaries, and then you can’t go too far wrong and it’s not being authoritarian. It’s about being authoritative. You’re in authority here, you know better, you’ve been around a bit longer, so it’s not a bad thing to have boundaries.

They do change a bit as your child develops. No point in speaking to your four year old when they’re 14 as if they’re 4. But you know, some small, consistent firm boundaries make children feel safer and secure, so that’s the secret really and for first time mums, it’s a really about trusting your own instinct in so many other ways.

You’re gonna get advice from mother-in-law, from things that you are looking at online, but just navigate your own thing. Think, does that sit with my child’s personality? Does that fit with my family ethos here and then you go from there, but always trust your instinct cuz you love your child and you know what’s best for them really.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, as you said, be flexible. If you set boundaries when they’re young, then you are more likely to be able to set boundaries when they get a bit older, because they’re gonna understand what you’re talking about and they’ll be more flexible.

Sue Atkins: Yeah and it’s about offering them choices and teaching them to make better choices because there will be consequences. Not that punishment, any of that stuff and I’ve written a lot about, and I’ve done podcast specials on smacking and spanking and all that, but it’s about making sure that you start to sort of listen to them, teach them about choices but if you make that choice, this is the consequence and that can start even with toddlers. The more confident you are and the more relaxed and the more you kind of think about your parenting, I say , don’t just react, do respond to your children, cuz you’re actually thinking about what you are doing, what you’re saying and those very simple premises are really important for families, but you know, relax and enjoy the journey. They do grow up very quickly.

Helen Thompson: Yes, they certainly do and when you were saying that I was thinking about the cause and effect. Encouraging the child to understand what the cause and effect is, even when they’re young, even if they don’t fully understand, if you say to them, right, you’re welcome to wear your thin jumper, if you want to go outside, but just be aware that it might be cold and they may not understand that, but then they might say five minutes later, mommy, I’m cold, can I put on my other jumper?

Sue Atkins: Yeah and I think children, certainly toddlers, are told what to do all day long. We nag them, we tell them all the time and some of the tantrums and things are about not feeling any empowerment. They haven’t got a say in anything. So just little ways of helping them choose and it’s like when they get older, it’s the same principle, you want to do your homework before or after your dinner?

What’s implied is you’re doing your homework or the toddlers putting on things saying, oh, they’re driving for independence. If I go into the car a little bit earlier, perhaps I can let them spend another three minutes trying to put on the seatbelt rather than having a meltdown, so I do it. So it’s those very small things that help a child feel that they have some sort of say in their lives and you don’t want them to have, they’re not running the bus, but they are having a choice of some sort. So often takes down some of those big emotions that toddlers go through.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I had a fun time coming home today. He’s not a toddler, he’s just started school. He’s about five and he’s got an older sister who’s about seven and then there’s another brother as well. So the younger brother and sister were fighting over nothing. I couldn’t work out quite what it was and I just said to him, look, I don’t know what you want, but we need to keep moving, so let’s just work it out when we get home and then you can sit down and tell me the problem. I think he was just overtired from being at school all day and he was just letting go.

Sue Atkins: Yeah, sometimes it’s just that isn’t it and allowing the space for them. I talk about the crucial seeds and one of them is connection, one of them is feeling capable and competent, the next one is courage to fail and feeling that they count, that they’re significant. So if you look at the behavior and you think, well, which one of these is missing, that often really helps you think, ah, that’s what it is. They need to feel that they count, they’re significant, they’re important, I’m listening to them. So, yeah, there’s lots of things about that on my website as well if you want to explore.

You have to be a detective. You have to be a detective don’t you. Are they tired, are they hungry, are they overwhelmed, is it overstimulating? Working it backwards. What’s underneath the behavior and then you get to the crux of it and then you can sort it out can’t you?

Helen Thompson: Yeah, absolutely. So if somebody wanted to get in touch with you and find out more about what you do, how would somebody go about doing that?

Sue Atkins: Sure, well you can work with me one to one, I have a whole host of different types of coaching programs and things, if something’s triggered your interest I’m My website is because there’s another lady sitting on a yacht and that’s not me. So I’m the one and only Sue Atkins.

So check out my blogs, my podcast, my videos, my books, there’s a whole host of resources in my shop. There’s a free ebook, if you’re interested in the 9 Key C’s of Resilience that I wrote about, you can just download that one by going onto my website, popping in your email and then off you go from there, you have it and have a good read through it.

Helen Thompson: Thank you Sue it’s been good talking with you and I’ve actually learnt a lot from you and I hope that my audience will enjoy that ebook. So I’ll definitely put that in the show notes so people can get that.

It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

Sue Atkins: Lovely. Thanks for having me.

Helen Thompson: If you are looking for tips on parenting, then I think it’s safe to say that Sue’s got you covered. I highly recommend checking out the resources she’s talked about in this episode, and I’ll place links to each and every one in the show notes, which you can find at