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Key Takeaways

  • Society lacks emotional modeling; educating children about emotions, especially fear-based ones, is crucial. Supporting parents to understand their children’s emotions is essential.
  • Common emotions in children are anxiety and anger, often rooted in fear. Anger can mask deeper fears and is linked to hunger and tiredness.
  • Barriers to Guiding Children’s Emotions: Challenges include parents’ perceptions, social media pressure, and shared learning between parents and children.
  • Parents should accept mistakes, learn from them, and view parenting as a continuous journey of growth.
  • Breathing methods, like “power breathing,” aid in calming during stress, helping regulate the nervous system.
  • Naming emotions reduces their intensity, enabling better communication and understanding.
  • The concept of “Don’t Resist It, Learn to Surf It” advocates accepting uncomfortable emotions rather than suppressing them.
  • Physical activities help release intense emotions, shifting emotional energy and promoting calmness.

Executive Summary:

Hey folks! Thanks for joining us on the NEGOTIATEx podcast. We feel privileged to host Natalie Costa on our show today. Natalie is an award-winning coach, speaker, author, and founder of Power Thoughts, a coaching service aiming to empower children and help them gain control over their thoughts. 

Her programs are created for children as young as five, designed to help them grow in confidence and deal with pressures by recognizing that they don’t have to respond to every thought or feeling.

Natalie’s background includes 12 years in the educational sector, a degree in psychology, and accreditation as a performance coach. She has been featured in various UK media outlets and is a super tutor for BBC Bitesize and co-author of children’s activity books.

With that brief introduction sorted, let’s jump right in.  

Navigating the Emotional Landscape

Aram refers to Natalie as the “Child Whisperer,” a title she received from her work with BBC Bitesize. They then delve into the heart of Natalie’s work, focusing on teaching children how to deal with internal and external difficult emotions.

Natalie highlights the importance of her work, especially in today’s world, where people are often unprepared to handle complex emotions. She highlights the necessity of teaching children to process and work through their feelings instead of suppressing or ignoring them. 

Additionally, she advocates for a more responsive approach, rather than reactive, to ensure mental well-being.

Aram appreciates Natalie’s perspective on society’s lack of emotional modeling and how modern media often provides negative examples. Natalie underscores the importance of educating the new generation about their emotions and helping them understand their underlying feelings, particularly fear-based emotions.

They also discuss the significance of supporting parents in recognizing their children’s emotions and what’s happening beneath the surface. Overall, Natalie’s emphasis is on building awareness within children and parents alike, giving them foundational skills for emotional understanding.

The Anatomy of Childhood Emotions: Understanding Anxiety, Anger, and the Fears Beneath

Moving on, the speakers discuss common emotions or “big feelings” children experience, how they vary with age, and the underlying fear associated with these emotions.

Aram asks about frequent emotions children often feel, and Natalie identifies anxiety and anger as the most common, noting an increase in anxiety since the COVID pandemic. She highlights that children have missed opportunities to build emotional resilience during this time, leading to unexpected separation anxiety, even in older children. 

The anger, she observes, often leads to power struggles with adults who may not know how to deal with the intensity of a child’s emotions.

Furthermore, Natalie mentions that anxiety and anger are both rooted in fear. Anxiety stems from fear of the unknown or uncertainty, while anger often acts as a protective emotion, masking underlying fears such as feeling unheard, disrespected, or violated regarding boundaries and values. Sometimes, anger might even mask anxiety, as it allows individuals to feel more in control.

Natalie also highlights that hunger and tiredness can contribute to anger. The goal, she says, is to increase tolerance for these difficult emotions, recognizing them as transient feelings rather than becoming consumed by them. 

Challenges and Opportunities in Guiding Children Through Emotional Terrains

On a similar note, Natalie addresses common barriers that impact the ability to help children navigate their emotions, focusing on both children’s challenges and the adults trying to assist them: 

#1 Parental Perception and Lack of Compassion 

Natalie emphasizes that being a parent is an incredibly difficult job without a manual or guide. She points out that sometimes, a barrier might be the parent’s perception of their child’s behavior. Shifting that perspective and understanding what’s going on with the child can be instrumental. 

She also stresses the need for parents to have compassion for themselves, acknowledging that they won’t get it right all the time and that they are often parenting based on how they were parented.

#2 Pressures from Social Media and Information Overload 

Natalie notes that children face unique pressures from their generation, particularly from social media and the overwhelming amount of information they receive daily. Young minds may not be equipped to process all this information, creating a barrier to understanding and managing emotions.

#3 Learning Alongside the Children 

Finally, Natalie talks about the shared learning process between parents and children. Parents don’t have all the answers and continually learn as they raise their children. Embracing a learner’s mindset and being open to growth can help overcome this challenge.

Overall, Natalie brings awareness to the complexities of parenting by identifying these barriers and emphasizes the importance of compassion, understanding, and a willingness to learn. Her insights offer encouragement and validation for parents navigating these challenges with their children, highlighting that it’s a shared journey filled with opportunities for growth and connection.

Embracing Mistakes and Celebrating Growth in Every Moment

Next, Natalie and Aram discuss the complexities and challenges of parenting. Natalie highlights that parenting is a continual journey of self-discovery and growth. Parents may fear making irreparable mistakes, but she reassures the listeners that it’s natural to make errors and emphasizes the importance of learning from them and apologizing to children when needed. 

Additionally, Natalie encourages parents to avoid catastrophizing single mistakes and to see parenting as a series of small moments.

Strengthening Emotional Resilience through Simple Breathing Techniques

Subsequently, Natalie discusses the importance of teaching children breathing techniques, such as “power breathing,” to help them calm down during stressful moments. She explains that when we’re stressed, our rational thinking can go offline, and cortisol floods our brains. However, if we practice diaphragmatic breaths, we can calm the nervous system and help bring the prefrontal cortex back online.

Natalie encourages both parents and children to practice these breathing techniques even when not stressed, so they become like a trained muscle that can be used when big feelings arise. 

The “Name It to Tame It” Approach to Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

Moving on, Natalie discusses the concept of “Name It to Tame It” as a way to help children build emotional awareness and better express their feelings. This approach involves helping children explore and identify various emotions, teaching them to say “I am feeling” rather than identifying as the emotion itself (e.g., “I am sad” vs. “I am feeling sad”).

Naming emotions can reduce their intensity within the brain, a concept referenced in Dr. Daniel Siegel’s work. Children can be better equipped to articulate inner experiences once they develop a rich emotional vocabulary, making it manageable to process and communicate their emotions. 

Embracing and Navigating Intense Feelings Without Losing Balance

After that, Natalie talks about the concept of: “Don’t Resist It, Learn to Surf It.” It is connected to the idea of deep breathing and involves embracing rather than resisting uncomfortable feelings.

Natalie explains that when we suppress or resist emotions such as anxiety or fear, it often makes them grow more intense. Instead, she suggests befriending those emotions, giving them shape, color, or even character, and then holding space for them. This approach, while difficult, allows feelings to come and go naturally.

The analogy of “surfing the wave” provides a visual image that can be helpful both for children and adults. It represents the idea of riding out an intense emotion, maintaining balance, and allowing it to pass. 

By doing so, individuals can avoid suppression, which can lead to emotions manifesting in other, often more disruptive ways. This method involves practice and mindfulness and ties into previous steps involving breathing and emotional awareness.

Energizing Calm: The Power of Movement in Transforming and Releasing Emotional Intensity

Lastly, Natalie mentions “Mood Boosters,” which is the importance of movement as a way to release energy and bring calm to a situation.

According to her, emotions are energy in motion within our bodies, and physical activities like running, dancing, or even jumping on a trampoline can help release intense feelings like anger. These movements can be gamified, or incorporated into fun activities, to encourage children to engage with them. Natalie also mentions the beneficial effects of being in nature or going for a walk.

The underlying principle is that moving the body can shift the energy of intense emotions and create a sense of relief or calm. Even though people might not feel like engaging in physical activity when upset or anxious, Natalie points out that the result often leads to feeling better and more balanced.

Natalie, Aram, and Nolan discuss a lot more on this episode of the NEGOTIATEx podcast. Write to us at team@negotiatex.com and share your thoughts on this informational podcast episode.

Thank you for your time!


Nolan Martin : Hello and welcome to the NEGOTIATEx podcast. I'm your co-host and co-founder Nolan Martin. And with me today is my good friend, co-host, co-founder, Aram Donigina. Aram, how are you doing today, man

Aram Donigian : I'm doing well, Nolan. I'm excited by our guest. It's a little bit of a shift from maybe some of the folks we often bring on. But I'll tell you one of the questions I get asked all the time for my students is, tell me about a current negotiation you have going on.

Now, I am involved with corporate partners who are doing different negotiations, and what I tell them is, most days, day in, day out, I'm negotiating with my six children, and sometimes they feel like hostage negotiations. So I said, you know what? I need to bring somebody on for my own benefit, who can help me with these day-to-day family negotiations.

So, I scoured the internet and I found today's guest, and I can't wait to introduce her. So if it's alright with you, Nolan, I'm going to do that.

NM : Yep, absolutely.

AD : All right. So folks, today I am privileged to introduce Natalie Costa. Natalie is an award-winning coach, speaker, author, and founder of Power Thoughts, a coaching service designed to empower children and give them power over their own thoughts. Throughout her career at private practice and workshops, she has helped thousands of children worldwide feel calmer, happier, and more empowered. Supporting children from as young as five, her programs are designed to help children recognize that they don't have to respond to every thought they think or react to everything they feel. That's good advice for adults too. By doing this, they can grow in confidence, feel happier, and be more empowered when dealing with a multitude of pressures.

With a background in psychology and 12 years spent within the educational sector, as well as becoming an accredited performance coach, Power Thoughts was born, it blends Natalie's past experiences and deep understanding of children and their needs, and provides them with tools to cope and thrive in the modern world.

Natalie has been featured in the National Press and TV, including Stella Magazine, Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, The Sunday Times, and The Telegraph. By National Press, we should have meant the UK Press, by the way. As we travel across the pond today for our guests, she is also a super tutor for BBC Bitesize, and the co-author of activity books for children called Know Your Feelings, Stretch Your Confidence, and Find Your Power. Her intention is to always be focused on helping one child at a time to be as happy as they can be. When not working, Natalie enjoys exploring new city, running routes with her husband, and she'll never say no to a good cup of coffee and a slice of cake. I'm with you on that one, Natalie.

Folks, if you're looking for tools to help your child feel brave, confident, and empowered, then not only is today's program for you, but you should also consider joining Natalie's Power Thoughts for Parents' Facebook group, where you'll get daily tips to support the entire family. Thank you, Natalie, for joining us today.

Natalie Costa : Thank you. Thank you so much, and it's a real, real pleasure to be here. Thank you.

AD : What I didn't see in your bio, but what I know is there, is you've been called the Child Whisperer, right?

NC : Oh, yes, I did. I did, I did. That was, through BBC Bitesize. We did a range of projects around emotional wellbeing, and yes, I have been called that by some parents as well. So. I don't what a promise, so.

AD : Well, listen, many of our guests that we bring into our podcast talk about negotiations, influence, persuasion, often in the context of individual's professional careers, or business to business operations. Your work is around helping children thrive in the midst of personal conflict, both internal and external.

So why is this work so important, especially as we sit here in 2023 and we look at the world around us?

Empowering Emotional Wellbeing: Teaching Children To Navigate Difficult Emotions (04:39)

NC : Hmm, good question. Good question. And I think, you know, why is it so important? Because we've never been taught or modeled how to sit with difficult emotions. And if we are looking at the world today, I think just putting on the news will show you that there are a lot of grownups that can't deal with difficult feelings. And I think, you know, this, to me, it's so important that we can start to teach our children how to work with difficult feelings and not necessarily always fixing them or suppressing them, or problem solving, but actually, how do I just work through it? Because my feelings come and go.

So, instead of reacting, how can I learn to respond? And I think, you know, it is really important because we've gotta look after our mental wellbeing. And like I said, you know, there's so much more awareness now around the importance of our wellbeing and mental fitness and all of the things that we should be doing to look after our mind. But we also have to recognize that a lot of this information wasn't around when we were kids, when we were younger, and our parents did the best that they could with the tools that they had, but it wasn't around for them either. But we now have the opportunity to do better.

AD : No, I really appreciate this piece about, we just haven't had it modeled for us. And in fact, it seems like what's so often we see day-to-day in the news, certainly in social media clips, it's the exact opposite. I mean, the things we're recording would be horrible examples for our children.

NC : Yeah. You know, and I think it is also that lack of awareness. So it is about beginning to educate the new generation in terms of having that awareness around their emotions, around how they feel and understanding, you know, what's going on and yes, it doesn't feel good inside 'cause of all these big feelings and just want to take that out. But when they start to learn the skills from a young age, and I mean, this is ongoing work and even us as adults. Us as well, exploring actually, do you know what? I got really angry there, but what was actually going on underneath? And what was it that I was really feeling? It always comes down to a fear-based emotion.

And in those fear-based emotions, we feel alone in our feelings. So that's the other thing as well, is in terms of, you know, my work is, yes, it's about building that awareness within our children, giving them the foundational skills that they will hopefully develop over time. But equally it's about supporting parents to recognize, you know, when your child says they hate you as triggering as it is, that's actually a window to, okay, well what's going on underneath for them? And in that they're feeling alone in those feelings and they don't have the tools and the development yet to cope with that.

AD : This is going to be a good conversation today, I can tell. Excited. This will be good. Alright.

NM : Now, thank you for joining us today, Natalie, I know that you did a number of things before diving fully into what you're doing now. Was this always the plan? You share a little bit about your personal general or..?

Natalie’ Unexpected Career Paths: From Teaching To Empowering Emotional Intelligence (07:45)

NC : No, it wasn't the plan at all. [laugh], I, no, definitely not. I never really knew what I wanted to do after school. I mean, I grew up in South Africa. My parents were quite, you know, get a good education, go to University. I loved arts and creative side of things, and I remember doing this EQ, IQ aptitude test and teaching was one of the things that came up. And I was like, okay, I could bring my art into this as well.

Fast forward, I absolutely did not enjoy teaching art to children because it was just crazy. It was just messy. But I, yeah, trained to be a teacher and I qualified and I also did my, what really interested me was human behavior. Actually from my teens, I always wanted to know, you know, why do we behave the way that we do? Personal development was a big thing for me. And so, my first year I did my teaching degree and then in my second year decided to do psychology as an additional in the evenings. And I loved that. I was fascinated by the brain, how it worked. And then I stayed on for another year to do my Honors in Psychology. And then I thought, well, I need to get a job.

And at that point, so many South Africans were coming over to the UK to teach. I thought, well, let me come and teach for two years and then go back and do my Master's in Ed Psych. But that never happened. Stayed here. And I wasn't happy being a teacher. I really wanted to leave because I was, you know, all the, the boxes to tick, the paperwork, the, you're doing everything but teaching. And I always used to say as well to my mom, you know, I want to teach what I'm passionate about. I want to teach kids about their feelings and stuff that I struggled with, you know, being a warrior and struggling with anxiety, I want to teach kids how not to, you know, have the tools to help them.

And so, a long story short, I actually dabbled a bit in the fitness industry. So I was a fitness instructor for a period of time, and then decided that's not the route to want to go down. And then the school I was with sent me on a coaching course thinking it was physical education, but it was actually a taster to performance coaching. And that really got me on this. Wow. You know, it's like, so life coaching kind of made its appearance then. And so that got me really intrigued in that field.

And so then I qualified to be a performance coach. And initially I still wanted to leave teaching. I was fed up. I was like, I don't want to do anything. I want to work with women making career changes. And then the kids that I was working with, in that particular year group were really stressed about going to secondary school and their tests and things. And I just come off a stress coaching day, CPD day, and I was like, why are we not teaching them about stress and the brain?

And so that got me on this journey of why don't I actually bring these coaching modalities and break them down into fun lessons that kids can start to learn how to regulate their emotions, why they behave the way that they do. So no, it was never the plan.

AD : What I hear though is a pretty consistent theme though, around a desire to understand human behavior, engage with it, and help others engage with that too. Why we think, and do, and feel, the way we do.

NC : Yeah, definitely. Definitely.

AD : And I'm hoping we can get into some like, specific vignettes. We've come up with some, I don't know where they came from. Certainly didn't come from, you know, my own world for sure. But we'll get into that. And some of that's for the benefit of our listeners, more of it's for the opportunity for me to get some free coaching. That's why, that's the whole reason we had you on. No, I'm just kidding.

So, before we go there though, I'd like to do just a little bit more setup and maybe talk about these big feelings that you were talking about. Do you see frequent flyers in terms of what these emotions or big feelings are, the kids most often feel? And then do they vary at all by age? I know you gave the context of kind of stress of starting secondary school. What do you see by age and in terms of, you know, common big feelings?

Unmasking Children's Emotions: Anxiety, Anger, And The Fear Within (11:40)

NC : Yeah, I think commonly it tends to be either anxiety and anger. I mean, if I kind of have to be generalistic about it. Definitely, I think anxiety has definitely been on the increase since COVID. That, you know, and obviously understandably our world's completely changed and I don't think we're out of it now. Because what I'm seeing now, at least here on this side is, you know, children still struggling to go back to school because, or should I say, that emotional resiliency that children maybe naturally would have developed at school. You know, the friendship fallouts, not getting part of a team. Like those little things that happen day in day out, that builds that emotional resiliency.

We didn't have that for a good chunk of time. And so the separation anxiety when kids go to school that I would typically have seen in my years as a teacher, like working with young kids that like first day, you know, challenges that was echoed now a lot later on down the line when you wouldn't really expect it. And then equally, you know, anger as well. I think kids are going to have big feelings. They're going to have meltdowns. And the challenge is for, you know, the parents, the adults as well, how do I deal with this? I don't want this because it's just uncomfortable. Just do what I say. And it's the power struggles we get caught in. And I mean, across the year, you know, across ages, I think it is it all kind of, to me there isn't anything specific that stands out, I think. But definitely, you know, if I have to say the anxiety aspect is something that I've definitely seen an increase of, over the years in comparison to, you know, when I started.

AD : And you were talking earlier, that, you know, everything's kind of fear-based emotions. Are both anxiety and anger rooted in fears?

NC : Yeah. I mean, I'm being very generalistic here, but we've got love or fear, but there's so much else around fear in terms of, think about when you're anxious, but we're afraid, like, what are we anxious about? Is that the unknown? It's the uncertainty. And you know, I often, one of the things I share with children and parents is, you know, what hides under that angry mask?

Because anger tends to be that more protective emotion. It's, you know, it makes us feel more powerful. So sometimes, you know, children that are anxious, it isn't displayed as anxieties. We know they actually get angry, because anger feels a bit more in control. But what's underneath the anger? What's it trying to protect? And even think for yourself whenever you've been angry, what have you been trying to protect? It's a boundary, it's a value, it's not feeling heard, it's not feeling disrespected.

And so it really is about, okay, exploring what is that fear, you know, is it disappointment? And, I'd also say, you know, under the angry mask, we've also got hunger and we've got tiredness and exhaustion, which is something else to consider too. But it's how do we increase our tolerance and capacity to work through those difficult emotions and recognize those emotions within us.

But that there's a feeling that comes and goes and I can feel the feeling, but I don't need to become that feeling.

NM : So, you kind of talked a little bit about the barriers that these children are facing. And so I was wondering what do you see as some of those most common barriers to helping children navigate those emotions? Potentially these barriers are with the kids or maybe they're with the adults trying to help them.

Learning Alongside Parenthood: Navigating Challenges With Compassion (15:03)

NC : I think, you know, and I always say to parents, like, being a parent is the toughest job you're ever going to do, and there's no manual or guide or book. And I think first of all, understanding, have compassion for yourself as a parent because you weren't taught any of this and now it's the blind leading the blind, and so you're not going to get it right all the time. But sometimes the barrier is the parent's perception.

And that's obviously the work that I do in terms of educating, let's shift that perspective, really understand what's going on with your child and why they're behaving the way that they are. But definitely coming from a space of compassion because we tend to parent how we were parented or maybe we do the complete opposite, but our parents did the best that they could do with the tools they had and so forth.

And I mean, I definitely think, you know, other barriers are so to say, I think every generation has its own pressures to, you know, like the pressure that they face. It feels like now that a lot of the pressure that the kids face is social media online, the amount of information we receive on a day-to-day basis that little brains just aren't really equipped to deal with. And I would say, a barrier as well is, or just a challenge is, but it's, we are learning on this process with our children.

So I'm doing the work as well as I'm raising, you know, as I'm looking after my children in that capacity, it's like, I don't have this all sorted and I'm not going to get it right all the time. And I think that it's always having that, you know, that learner's mindset about it. Yeah.

AD : Which is hard because it triggers a fear for us as parents too, that are we creating, you know, are we creating permanent damage? Are we, you know, are we making irreparable mistakes? And I think that's hard too. It's our own anxiety about parenting, or anger, going back to those two emotions. I feel like those two often show up in parenting as well.

Parenting As A Journey of Self-Discovery: Learning And Growing Together (17:05)

NC : Mm-hmm. Yeah, I would say it definitely is. It's being mindful of your own stories. Like that's why, you know, it's the biggest developmental journey you'll ever go on, I think is having children because you're learning all the time. They're teaching you about yourself all the time. And if you choose to, you can put on the lens of, okay, they're showing me where I need to grow, they're showing me where I need to be more patient, more tolerant, where I need to perhaps have a different perspective about things.

But it's also recognizing I'm not going to get it right all the time. And that's okay because the world isn't perfect. So it's, and I always say to parents as well, you know, there's always an opportunity for a do over. So if you have that learner's mindset, okay, I shouted at you, I flipped my lid. That wasn't cool. And I'm really sorry, I got so mad. I didn't even think about what was going on for you. I'm sorry.

I mean, it goes back to the question of like, you know, parenting has changed a lot, but I wasn't apologized to as a child. And it doesn't make our parents weak because our parents are human beings. But if we can apologize and own our stuff when we get it wrong, we're modeling what we want them to do. So we often say, “say sorry”, but are we saying sorry? You know, when we need to.

So I think, you know, that, sorry, just to go back on that point, that catastrophization of am I messing them up for the rest of their lives? I'm like, no, no, because parenting is not just one moment. It's lots of little moments. And if we're always trying to do the work, we're getting so much more, you know, I don't want to say right and wrong. But we're doing so much more right, versus getting it wrong.

AD : Well, that's great encouragement. I really appreciate that. You said there's no playbook, there's no owner's manual to parenting. You have some great frameworks and tools. I want to step into one of them, which is kind of this five steps to navigating big feelings. The first step is ‘explore it, don't fight it.’ Could you tell us a little bit more about what you mean by that?

Exploring Uncomfortable Emotions With Children: Curiosity, Compassion, And Courage (19:10)

NC : Hmm. Yeah. So that is the first step is the awareness of, we often want to fight the uncomfortable feeling or resist or suppress it. Let's sit with it, let's explore it a little bit. So you might not be able to do this in the moment when your child's shouting at you. I get that. The main thing there is what are you doing to keep yourself calm?

And that takes work and it takes practice and it's not easy, but later on, have a conversation about, “do you know, I got really how we had big feelings earlier and I got really mad and you got mad. Tell me a bit more about that mad feeling. Where do you feel the feeling in your body when you get really mad? What would, you know, what are the things that makes you feel mad?”

You know, and I go through an exercise of kids around, you know, coloring in where I feel the anger in my body. Where do I feel the worry? We sometimes create a feeling character. So, you know, one of the boys, we call this Anger Tornado. And what is Tornado trying to tell you? What does it need? So when we can begin to explore the feeling, what we're also doing with our children is we're teaching them, it's safe to be in this feeling. It's not bad to feel this feeling. It's not bad that you're angry. It's not bad that you're feeling anxious. It's just another feeling. And, you know, really seeing, helping our kids learn our feelings of visitors, they come and they go and each visitor's trying to give us some information.

And if we can listen to that information, then that can help us in terms of what does that feeling need? You know, maybe it is that I need help, maybe it is that I need some time out because there's too much going on. You know, and I mean, obviously this takes time over, you know, this not a quick thing. It takes time to build this, but I think it also starts with becoming aware of your feelings of, do you know what, right now I'm feeling really agitated, or I'm feeling worried. No wonder I'm feeling worried because I don't know how to control the situation, but okay, let me explore it a bit.

AD : Well, what I heard in that was some curiosity in helping walk our children through some curiosity about these emotions. Some deep compassion as we explore this together to create that safe, it's okay to feel this way, where we go matters. And then even some courage to be a little vulnerable with our own story. And, even how this stuff's showing up for us.

NC : Yeah. And that, I would say is where it really starts. You have to do this yourself. You have to recognize and sit, okay, this feels uncomfortable for me too, but that's what I'm saying. Like, the work starts with us, you know, and if we can have the courage and the bravery to do that, I mean, what a gift we're giving our children. But it's hard. It's hard.

AD : If it was easy work, we wouldn't have you on.

NM : Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing all that. Yeah, definitely, definitely sounds like, definitely, hard work and hard conversations to have. So I know that you title step two as ‘breathe it out’, what is this and why is blowing bubbles one way to help children stay calm and stressed?

Breathe It Out: Teaching Children the Art of Breath And Calming Techniques For Big Feelings (22:16)

NC : Yeah, so the breath, I mean, breath is something I'm sure we were all familiar with, like, just take a deep breath, but actually how are we breathing? And I think teaching our children how to breathe as well. That, you know, when we get stressed that cortisol floods our brain, you know, that rational thinking part goes offline, fight or flight kicks into action. We can't think straight. Whereas if we train ourselves to do those diaphragmatic breaths, you know, take those diaphragmatic breaths and the bubbles really is just, you know, it, it is one of, I mean, there's so many breathing exercises out there, but one of the ones I teach children is power breathing.

So, you know, we breathe in for a count of three and through our nose, and I slowly breathe out through my mouth, as if I'm blowing out lots of bubbles. So if I'm blowing out quickly, it's like the bubbles pop. But if I'm taking that slow out breath, that obviously, you know, elongates that outbreath. But when we're tapping into that diaphragmatic breathing, we're calming the nervous system. It switches on the rest and digest response. So it allows that prefrontal cortex to come back online, and equally that's just as powerful for us as adults. We need to be doing that because we have a fully developed prefrontal cortex. Our child doesn't.

And so we need to be that calm. You know, when I say calm, you might not entirely feel zen. It's the feelings, but you've gotta be that calm presence for your child. And you know, so breathing is one of the ways to do that. But I also say practice it. Practice it when you're not stressed, practice it when you're doing different things and you're constant to train it. I say to kids, train your body what it feels like. So you can use it in those big feeling moments, but it won't take the anger feeling away. It's still going to be there and it feels so counterintuitive. But the more we practice it, which is like a muscle, obviously that's what we're wanting to help our children learn and develop over time.

AD : I was hoping you, we were going to have Nolan practice the blow bubbles. Yeah. That I was, I would pay money for that

NM : [laugh]. Not today Aram. Not today.

AD : Natalie, “Name It to Tame It”. That's step three. How does that help children build their emotional awareness and help them better express their feelings?

Name It To Tame It: Unlocking Emotional Expression By Building Vocabulary Through Feelings Exploration (24:32)

NC : Yeah, that comes around developing that emotional vocabulary. You know, earlier I spoke about what's hiding under the angry mask. So beginning to help your child over time, explore what are those different, am I disappointed? Am I sad? Am I, and also what I would say is that, you know, I am feeling sad, I am feeling frustrated, I'm feeling stressed. So I am feeling the feeling I'm not the feeling, I'm feeling this feeling.

But when we can name those emotions as well, and I can't remember where this research has come from, but I'm sure Dr. Daniel Siegel talks about this in terms of when we can name those feelings, that it starts, it lowers the intensity of that emotion within the emotional hub of the brain and actually, “Name It to Tame It”, was adopted from Dr. Daniel Siegel's work, who's done some fantastic work as well around this.

But also what we're doing there is we're helping our children to develop that emotional vocabulary. And so another way to do this as well is simply just to talk about different feelings. So, I often have a poster of different feelings that I sent parents and, you know, let's talk about jealousy. What does jealousy feel like in our body? When might we be jealous? What makes, you know, what is that? How do I look when I'm jealous, you know? Versus if I'm angry or versus when I'm feeling sad.

And the more words children have to express how they feel, they can explain what I'm feeling inside because it just feels really uncomfortable.

AD : Now, I don't want to take us on a rabbit trail here, but I was reading one of your posts, recent posts talking about, and I just wonder if it's connected in terms of, connecting to kind of expanding our emotional vocabulary. The emotional vocabulary of students or of kids. But you talked about how there are better questions than just asking a child, “How was your day [laugh]? “ There's some better questions. I just wonder if those questions and if I'm off track, correct me. Do those also help us build kind of the emotional vocabulary so kids can talk about this a little more easily?

Enhancing Emotional Connection: Asking Specific Questions to Explore Children's Feelings and Experiences (26:27)

NC : Yeah, I think so, that those questions, I think asking your child the blanket question of how was your day. Day is a long day in the world of a child. And, even asking us, how was your day? Fine. But actually when we can zoom in on like an aspect of the day, you know, what was difficult about a day, what was one difficult thing you did, but you gave it a try in any case. What made you proud today? What made you smile? We're helping them kind of zoom in on a particular moment in the day. And then also we're tapping into the emotions that was around that as well.

So, it can maybe provide an opportunity to talk a bit more about the nuances of whatever the feeling is that they felt. You know, maybe I didn't feel proud, like super proud. Not that that's an emotion as such, but I might have felt, you know, yeah, I've done that, like a sense of accomplishment.

So I think, you know, that that's also really useful way to explore. And also what's also really useful with emotions is if you're watching cartoons or stories, look at the characters, what emotions are they feeling? And try to veer away from happy and sad and mad. Let's go a little bit deeper. I find that that's always a really powerful way because it's almost like we're going on a scavenger hunt to see what these characters are really feeling.

AD : That's nice. That's a good point.

NM : You write that, ‘resisting uncomfortable feelings won't make them go away. In fact, it usually makes them feel more intense.’ How does your step four; ‘Don't Resist It, Learn to Surf It’, connect to the deep breathing we were discussing just a minute ago. And what does it mean to surf uncomfortable feelings?

Don’t Resist It, Learn To Surf It: Mastering Emotional Waves By Embracing Discomfort And Finding Balance (28:03)

NC : Yeah, I guess it also ties in with the learning to sit with it or becoming curious about it is, when we have, you know, if I think of anxiety, we often get anxious and this fear of, you know, I was working with a client recently who was nervous about a public speech that they had to give and this fear that she felt that it was really big. And like this fear gets bigger and bigger and it stops me from doing things, but that's just resisting it because I'm trying to suppress it.

But actually, okay, let's befriend the fear. Okay, let's just, okay, here it is. Let's make it into a character that we've just spoken about. Give it a shape. What color? Is it heavy? Is it light? I love, that's such a, whenever I've done kids, even young kids, if you say, is it a heavy feeling or a light feeling? They tend to pick up like those, you know, as we don't have negative emotions, but if we're looking at those like more uncomfortable things, they tend always feel heavy. But, so it's, that's the, you know, that's focusing on our children, but with us as adults as well.

And I appreciate this goes against every fiber in your being when you want to get out of the door and you've got things to do, and you are, you can get yourself caught up in that power struggle and your child's having a meltdown. But the more we're trying to control or suppress the meltdown, the bigger it gets. But the minute we just, okay, I'm just going to hold space for it.

Like, and I get it. I get, this is hard. I know this is difficult and whatever that might be, that allows a feeling to come. And the feeling go, and actually even from, you know, as adults, and I've done this myself and I've got an uncomfortable feeling coming up, let's say it is, anxiety, I'll literally sometimes take myself and just go and sit, be like, okay, let this feeling come through me, and then it goes out again. And there's always that point where you can feel the feeling subside again. But, and I mean, this absolutely takes practice, it takes work.

It's a muscle we are building and it feels so counterintuitive. But if we're resisting it, if we're suppressing it, we know with suppressing emotions, they always come up and they come up in different ways. And that's why sometimes I like to use the analogy of, okay, I'm surfing the wave right now, I'm surfing the wave and teaching that to our kids as well. A big feeling. You know, it feels really big. We're just surfing the wave, imagine. You know, sometimes that visual can be really helpful as well.

AD : So we've been through ‘Explore It, Don't Fight It’, ‘Breathe It Out’, ‘Name It To Tame it’, and ‘Don't Resist It, Learn to Surf It.’ The fifth and final step is what you call ‘Mood Boosters’. Can you tell us a little bit about what they are and how they help bring calm to a situation?

Releasing Emotion Through Motion: Harnessing the Power of Movement (30:36)

NC : Yeah, so movement, you know, and I'm thinking about it, it works just as well with, you know, anxiety based. But movement is such a great way to release energy. You know, that emotion is energy in motion in our body. And you know, if you think about anger, it's a very big physical like that's a lot of energy inside me. So, I often, you know, teach kids to move it, to lose it. So move my body in a safe way to release the feeling. You know, we gamified a lot, so whether we set the timer for 30 seconds and we run on the spot or shake it out, you know, with some kids, one of the girls I worked and she had a trampoline in the garden, so she was like, I'm going to move it to lose it and jump on the trampoline for, you know, 10 minutes. Music as well, putting on your favorite song and dancing out when I feel like I've got these big feelings.

Anything to move the body. I mean, getting out in nature is also really good. Going for a walk or, you know, just getting outside. But we're moving that energy through our body. And I mean, I'm sure you can also relate. Has there ever been a time when you've like, moved your body and you're like, no, that was the worst thing I ever did. I mean, it's like, it generally, it tends to, we don't feel like it, but then afterwards we're like, do you know what? That actually made a difference. I feel better for it.

NM : Hey everyone, Nolan here. I have to jump in and end today's podcast for part A of the show. Be sure to rate, review and subscribe to the NEGOTIATEx Podcast if you haven't already. And also join us next week for part B of this awesome interview.

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