In this podcast (episode #451) and blog, I speak with teacher, parent, and emotional development expert Alyssa Blask Campbell, who runs Seed and Sew, an organization that is passionate about helping early childhood educators, parents and children create an emotionally intelligent world together. Alyssa and I talk about how parenting has moved from being an instinctive process to one that is guided by experts, how the wellbeing of the parent impacts the wellbeing of the child, how to recognize and develop resilience in children, how to avoid pathologizing childhood, and so much more!
I think a lot of people can agree: being a parent can be really overwhelming, especially these days! There are so many parenting experts out there, and even though they often have good advice, it can be hard to know what to do. For many people, parenting has become a lot less instinctive, and a lot more nerve-wracking!
This is why Alyssa is so passionate about, in her own words, “changing the ways adults experience children’s emotions so we can respond with intention to raise emotionally intelligent humans.” Raising an emotionally intelligent child involves teaching children about:
- Self-awareness: what is happening inside their brain and body. This means helping your child understand what it feels like in their body when they feel excited, angry, sad, embarrassed, upset and so on when it first starts bubbling up, and before it explodes like a volcano.
- Self-regulation: how do you help your brain and body feel safe and calm when you start experiencing these emotions? How do you learn to have control over your feelings? This process starts with us as adults. Through co-regulation, you can teach your children how to self-regulate their own thoughts and feelings before they feel out of control.
- Empathy: teaching children how to empathize with what other people feel based on what these emotions feel like in their own body. Contrary to what many people used to believe about children, they are incredibly insightful—they just need the skills to express how they feel, normalize emotions and develop their bodily awareness.
- Social skills: focusing on how children show up at home, school, and other places like restaurants and parties.
- Motivation: building intrinsic motivation to control their thoughts and emotions.
The great news is that it is never too late to teach your children how to be emotionally intelligent, or to teach yourself how to improve your emotional intelligence! We now know that the brain changes all the time (through a process known as neuroplasticity), and that we are all constantly learning and growing. As parents, we will mess up and make mistakes, but it is never too late to repair and grow. There is always hope!
We need to remember that children are less fragile than a lot of people assume. They are naturally resilient, but it is up to us as the adults to guide them and help them build up their natural resilience from youth and prepare them from the world. Part of our responsibility is to allow our children to experience hard things and challenges, not try to protect them from hard experiences and emotions. Children can handle challenges. We need to make sure we create an environment that allows them to experience all their feelings, even the difficult ones, and not brush these emotions away because they make us feel uncomfortable. As parents, we need to lead our children down a path of resilience, not fragility, which means also being aware of our own discomfort and working through these feelings. The wellbeing of our children will be affected by our own wellbeing, including how we regulate and manage our emotions.
It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. There is no checklist that you can tick off and guarantee that your child will have a perfect life. We all cycle through periods of regulation and dysregulation throughout the day—this is not a marker of being a bad parent. No one is perfectly regulated all the time, even the most “balanced” adult. And there is no formula for “if I do these things then my child will show up like this”.
A far better way to approach raising emotionally intelligent children is by focusing on how we as parents and educators experience our children’s emotions. When your child shows up the way they do, how do you experience this? What story do you tell yourself about their behavior? What is happening inside your body? What tools do you have to regulate how you feel?
Parenting starts with you being okay with yourself, and allowing yourself the be a mess at times, because there will always be messes. The important thing is what you do with this mess: how are you managing your thoughts and emotions, and what are you modeling for your children? How are your cleaning up the “messes”?
It is important to remember that emotions are not illnesses. Rather than asking whether what our children are dealing with or how they feel is “normal”, we need to realize that emotions are often inconvenient. The goal is not to get to a place where emotions are suppressed or avoided. Rather, as parents and educators we need to realize that there will be a lot of moments throughout the day that will be messy, and there is no way of predicting when these will happen. We need to learn how to expect curveballs, not because our child is “bad” or that there is something wrong with them, but because they are also human, and they are also experiencing the messiness of life.
In these moments, rather than asking if what is happening is “normal”, one of the best things we can ask ourselves is “is my child building a new skill, or do they not have access to a skill they already own? This helps us recognize that, in that moment, our child is trying to build a new skill or trying to develop a skill they already have, which empowers us and helps us know how to help our children in that moment by shifting our perspective of the situation.
It is important to remember that, as parents and educators, we are forever skill-building with our children. We need to learn to meet our kids where they are and help them grow and develop their emotional, mental and physical skill sets.
For more on children’s mental health, listen to my podcast with Alyssa (episode #451) and check out her incredible work. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!)
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1:10 How parenting has changed
2:34 Why Alyssa is passionate about helping parents & children
4:02 How to raise emotionally intelligent children
7:10 It is never too late to change how you parent!
11:20 The importance of teaching children empathy
15:18 Fragility versus resilience in kids
20:40 The myth of the perfect parent
24:45 How to avoid pathologizing childhood
32:05 The power of collaborative parenting
35:00 Why you need to practice self-care as a parent
42:45 How to meet a child where they are & help them grow
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