1st Edition

Wise Words: How Susan Isaacs Changed Parenting

By Caroline Vollans Copyright 2018
    246 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    246 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    "Harassed" writes: "Your answers to correspondents are exceedingly clear, and when I read them I say, ‘That is just the answer I should think of’, though I believe I should have great difficulty when it came actually to putting it into words! However, I cannot answer my own problems, so will you please help me?" (20 August 1930)

    This much-needed collection brings together the columns of parenting adviser Ursula Wise, "agony aunt" for The Nursery World between 1929 and 1936, and pseudonym for the eminent educationalist and pioneering psychoanalyst Susan Isaacs.

    Wise’s replies, informed by theories in education, psychology and psychoanalysis, provide an insight into the development of modern, child-centred attitudes to parenting, with remarkably fresh and relevant advice. The letters are passionate, urgent, occasionally provocative, sometimes funny and always thoughtful. Topics from behaviour and temperament, anxieties and phobias, to play and education are explored and each theme is introduced and contextualised in contemporary parenting approaches.

    Bringing pivotal theories from the fields of education, child psychology and psychoanalysis into dialogue, this is an essential read for early years practitioners, teachers, course leaders and those studying in the field of early years education and child psychoanalysis. The continued relevance of Isaacs’ advice for modern parenting also makes this an enjoyable and informative read for parents. It is also an excellent resource for those interested in social history and the little known contributions made by women pioneers.




    Chapter 1: Behaviour and Temperament

    Chapter 2: Play, Occupations and Education

    Chapter 3: Fears, phantasies and phobias

    Chapter 4: Sleeping

    Chapter 5: Eating

    Chapter 6: Jealousy and sibling rivalry

    Chapter 7: When expert advice is needed

    Chapter 8: Eclectic letters



    Caroline Vollans gained fifteen years of experience as a primary school teacher before training in psychoanalysis and becoming a member of the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research, UK. She now works as a school counsellor, freelance researcher and writer.

    There are very few academics at the cutting edge of their field who can engage with parents and practitioners through everyday language and examples which chime with how it feels to be a parent or to work daily with other peoples’ children. This careful selection by Caroline Vollans of the letters from parents and replies of Susan Isaacs’ (known as Ursula Wise) in the 1930s editions of the much-respected Nursery World magazine demonstrated her genius in being able to do this. The book brings out the ability of Susan Isaacs to get alongside parents and also to influence the readers of Nursery World who are nannies, nurses, nursery nurses and teachers. She helps parents and practitioners to understand the children and giving them the possibility of acting in ways which help and comfort both child and themselves. Caroline Vollans notes that each letter is thought provoking, reassuring and helpful to read. Selecting which letters to include in the book was a challenge, but one to which she has risen with skill and has created a well organised framework showing the central aspects of Susan Isaac’s guidance for parents and practitioners. I missed my stop on the tube because it was such a thoroughly well put together book and an absorbing read.

    Professor Tina Bruce, CBE, Honorary Visiting Professor in Early Childhood, University of Roehampton


    Susan Isaacs is one of the hidden names of child development and education, who spent most of her adult life trying to understand and create the most appropriate ways in which adults can help children grow emotionally and cognitively. She was a patient and meticulous observer of children and bringing her work back into the public sphere is a great help for anyone wanting to understand how children tick.

    Professor Michael Rosen, Professor of Children's Literature, Goldsmiths, University of London


    This is an important book, providing recommendations and answers that remain valid for many of the problems facing children and parents today. Fearfulness, phobias, vivid fantasies; the learning of words, nervous strain, and eating problems - these concerns of parents in the 1930s find an immediate echo in today's world. The responses and discussions that are reprinted here are commentaries made by one of the most important of the psychoanalysts who developed Freud's work in this country: they are all moreover couched in ordinary language, and they aim to join together expert insights with a down-to-earth common sense. A phrase used by Susan Isaacs in these columns grasps the central theme of this work - she aims, she says, despite the difficulties of the developing relation between parent and child, to formulate this bond in terms of a "living relationship". Caroline Vollans does a great service to anyone with an interest in this primary relation between parent and child.

    Professor Bernard Burgoyne, Emeritus Professor of Psychoanalysis, Middlesex University


    This book is a fascinating read which will captivate early years specialists, parents and social historians alike. It is easy to read with accessible commentaries provided throughout.

    Rebecca Swindells, Education Advisor and website content editor, The Foundation Stage Forum Ltd

    All in all, this is a book to be welcomed and I am sure it will do well. It will encourage readers to rethink their assumptions about how to bring up children (if ‘bringing up’ children is what mothers and fathers do!). And it will help people to weigh up the advice they are offered, in the light of their assumptions. It should be read not only by students but by anyone interested in how to be a parent since it lays bare what complexities of understandings lie beneath those understandings.

    The History of Education Journal