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How to Adopt a Lasting Change to Support Children’s Emotional Intelligence

Episode 235– Working with children and their emotions can be a challenge. In this episode, Alyssa Blask Campbell, M. Ed, CEO and Found of Seed and Sew LLC, shares with us how you can support children’s emotional needs as an educator or parent. Alyssa breaks down the different areas adults can focus on with children and themselves in order to achieve a successful and continuous habit through habit stacking.

Learn more about the Seed and Sew program and how it can support families and educators on their website or, check out one of their many free resources through their Instagram page and their free emotion coaching guide.

Episode Transcript-

Alyssa CAMPBELL:

If we aren’t focused first on that sensory and emotional regulation, we can’t do much more after that. We’re going to work really hard on things that kids wouldn’t have to work as hard to retain if we built those other skills first.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Alyssa, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

CAMPBELL:

Thanks, I’m jazzed to be here with you!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Thanks! We’re delighted to have you. Everyone, we have Alyssa Blask Campbell with us. She’s the founder and CEO of Seed and Sew. First of all, tell us about yourself, Alyssa. Who are you? Why are you doing Seed and Sew? What brought you here?

CAMPBELL:

Yeah, so I have a master’s [degree] in early-childhood education and have worked in early ed. [education] in a few different facets. I have been a teacher from kindergarten all the way down to infants. I was a director of a center and a nanny and all these different hats in early ed. and found myself at a center about five years ago where I could do research on tiny humans.

Every head teacher had a master’s in early ed. and it was really resource-rich. And I connected with a colleague and we co-created the Collaborative Emotion Processing Method. We refer to it as the CEP Method – CEP. And we researched it across the US and we actually are just submitting a book on it now. And it’s all about building emotional intelligence in the tiny humans. And the work that we do at Seed really brings CEP to parents around the world and teachers doing this work on the ground.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Very cool. One thing I wanted to ask you about, as you’re talking a bit about your research and Collaborative Emotion Processing is sort of like the state of research and academics in early-childhood education generally. Because I kind of like, in my limited experience so far in early-childhood education, my sense is there’s still a lot more research that we could do in an academic setting, of course and trying to also get that in-the-field research and practical research to inform that or validate that or what have you. But I feel like there’s a long way to go. I don’t know what your opinion is there or what your sense was, based on your exposure to that side of things.

CAMPBELL:

Yeah, so there are obviously a lot of rules around researching kids, as there should be. And so doing research – like, we applied multiple times to get our research approved, to be able to do it by the IRB [Institutional Review Board]. It’s quite a process. And so I think if I wasn’t attached to a university at that time – our childcare center was, so we had access to an IRB, had access to their psych department, which navigated these research applications quite a bit as a resource to do this research. I feel like if you didn’t have access to that, it would be really challenging to navigate in your own.

And then on top of that, I feel like there is a whole lot of research that exists in early ed. that we aren’t necessarily taking and learning from as it stands, in terms of policy and all that jazz. And so, of course, I think there are more things we could research and things that we could dive deeper into. But I also would just really like to use the research we have and have that inform policy and approaches in early-childhood.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that’s a good point. Cool, so tell us a little bit more about CEP or the Collaborative Emotion Processing Method. What is that all about?

CAMPBELL:

Yeah, there are five components to it. And one is adult child interactions, which is the juicy one that everyone’s, like, “Tell me what to say to the kids! How do we build this?” And so we chat a lot about that at Seed [and Sew], that’s what a lot of folks come to us for.

But the other four components are about us as adults. It’s about what we are bringing to the table, what toolbox we have, what’s coming from our childhood. And so those four are bias – what are our biases? – which we’re really looking at, what is our social programing, our cultural context in which we were raised?

Self-awareness, self-care and scientific knowledge is what we call the last one, which for us really means mirror neurons, that we are in charge of our sensory systems and our nervous system regulation as adults so that we can build self-regulation tools and then co-regulate with kids.

So, those four are not as attractive as, like, “Tell me what to say to the kids,” but are crucial in us actually being able to show up and respond with intention in the moment. Because you can sit in a workshop and hear all these great things and go on Instagram and get these great phrases to say to kids.

And then when it comes down to actually doing it in the moment, we need the tools to self-regulate in order to co-regulate and respond with intention. And so then that last one, adult-child interactions, we walk folks through, “What does it look like now if you are regulated, you’re able to respond with intention? How do we support children’s emotional intelligence?”

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, it’s interesting because a lot of the conversations I have on the Podcast, of course we’re here to talk about early-childhood education and children’s development. But lots of times the conversation comes to ourselves as adults. And given that four out of the five are really almost exclusively about the adult, I think is another further evidence point that we have to look into early in a lot of cases when we look to work with children in their development.

CAMPBELL:

Totally, yeah. We can’t teach what we don’t know.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, exactly. Tell us a little bit more about the application side of this. So, if I’m a parent or if I’m an early-childhood educator in the classroom, a parent at home, what can I take away from these five points to try to apply this?

CAMPBELL:

I’ll give you a little overview. And we have programs specifically really diving deep into this, both for schools – for early-childhood education – and then also for parents, as well. We have a certification program [S.E.E.D., Schools Excelling in Emotional Development] for childcare and home care programs, which consist of myself and four other early-childhood experts delivering workshops in their expertize like content area to dive deeper into each of these components for teachers. And then we also have programs for parents. But I’ll give you a little overview.

For bias, like I said, we’re starting to build awareness of our childhood programing. So, we start looking at things like our attachment styles. And this can get really gnarly for folks because it is something that we will carry a lot of feelings with. A lot of it lives within our subconscious. And kind of like when we’re on autopilot, where we’re not sitting there, aware of like, “Oh, I’m doing this because of this thing from my childhood.” But it’ll just inform our every day. And when we can stop to notice those patterns, we can start to build that awareness of like, “Ooh, where is this coming from? And is this something I want to continue?”

My colleague who’s a part of the S.E.E.D. certification as well, Dr. Lynyetta Willis, she’s a psychologist and she talks about this as “legacy fruit” and looking at our legacy burdens and our legacy blessings and, like, what are we carrying that we want to continue to pass on to our tiny humans? And what’s coming to us that was passed on to us that was never healed or examined?

And so we dive into how to kind of take a good look at that, in the bias section. And then in self-awareness, we’re really building awareness in the moment. Like, “Ooh, where do you feel things in your body? What are you feeling? Are you aware that you’re having a feeling in the moment?” So many of us can let things build and build and then we erupt.

And when we can get to a place where we can start to notice and build awareness, maybe when we’re at like a 2 or 3 or a 4 on a 1-to-10 scale, then we can step in and regulate, versus when we’re at, like, an 8, 9 or a 10 and we’re exploding. And so starting to build that mindfulness or awareness of when we are starting to have a feeling, when we feel that rush of cortisol and learning what our emotions feel like.

Then we have scientific knowledge: so, this is the self-regulation component, the mirror neuron component, recognizing that when… you when a baby laughs and it’s the most delicious and you smile and it feels really good? It’s the best. And we’re mirroring their neurons. And it’s feel-good feelings in the same way that they’re feeling good.

The same exact thing happens when your kid has a tantrum on aisle four. They are spiking cortisol or adrenaline. And so you are, too. Your body literally mirrors that. And then we can start to build awareness first of what that feels like – “Ooh, there’s that spike!”

For me personally, I tend to feel like a tightness in my chest and my hands will clench. Sometimes my shoulders go up to my ears. When I notice any of those signs, I’m like, “Ooh, yikes. You don’t have access to your whole brain. It’s your job to regulate, to get calm so that you can support this tiny human.” And owning that, owning that regulation, building that toolbox. Or, “What does it look like to self-regulate in the moment?”

Self-care, this is one that we are always like, “Yeah yeah yeah, bottom of my to-do list.” And for me, I think what’s really huge here is that we break down [the fact] that self-care isn’t necessarily a weekend away or these big, huge things that feel like we cannot fit them into our schedule.

But instead, “Are you drinking enough water throughout the day? Are you taking care of your nervous system throughout the day? Are you stepping away from a screen for five minutes just to give yourself a little break and kind of fill that cup? Are you eating food throughout the day that’s nourishing, that isn’t necessarily the leftovers from your kid’s lunch that’s there to nibble, but truly something that fills you up? And are you getting enough sleep?” Those sorts of things.

Sometimes it’s, “Are you going to the bathroom without a kid on your body?” Like, really looking back to, “Are you filling your tank and so that you have things to give?” We look at this as – when we’re talking about the sensory systems – we look at it as a bank. And there are things that are natural withdrawals that are going to happen throughout the day, just stimuli like lights and sound and things like that are pulling from that bank. Or a change in schedule, any big emotions that you have to process, which happens regularly for us.

There are a number of things that are pulled from that bank as withdrawals throughout the day. And so we need to make sure we’re pouring into the deposit side. And that’s what self-care looks like to us. So, we have bias, self-awareness, scientific knowledge, self-care.

And then that last one, adult-child interactions. And that one is really hard to give an overview of because it’s meaty. Like, now you’re regulated and ready. What do you do from here? We have five phases of emotion processing. If people are interested, actually, we have a free emotion coaching guide that goes through the five phases of emotion processing, like how to guide kids through this. It’s www.EmotionCoachingGuide.com, pretty straightforward, that folks can grab that’s totally free, that’ll guide them through those steps of like, “Now what? How do we respond to the kids?”

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool. And you said that’s www.EmotionCoachingGuide.com?

CAMPBELL:

That’s correct.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Very cool. So, going back to the point that you made before, which really resonates with me in terms of there is quite a bit of good research and knowledge out there. And you’d like to see it applied a bit more. This is another one that resonates with me with that point, which is to say all the parts of Collaborative Emotion Processing Method totally makes sense to me and especially given other conversations I’ve had on the Preschool Podcast.

But I still find when I’m having a challenging moment with my child, I’m still, like you said, clenching my fist and my shoulders are going up to my ears. How do you take this great information and I guess make a habit out of it or be able to be in that mindfulness where you know you need to think differently or whatever? Like, how do you take this great stuff and like be able to do it successfully and consistently?

CAMPBELL:

Yeah, well that’s where you hit the nail on the head, “consistently”. So, for us this is a daily practice. And we have two courses: we have Tiny Humans, Big Emotions, and we have our Reparenting course. And the Reparenting dives a lot into this work for us as adults. And Tiny Humans, Big Emotions dives into that adult-child interaction component.

And we’re actually switching to only selling them as a bundle together because we realized you can’t do one without the other; you can’t do the Tiny Humans, Big Emotions part without doing the Reparenting portion. And our Reparenting course, we guide folks through a five-minute practice every day that we ask them to incorporate. And it helps us build awareness.

There’s a lot of research out there on the Gratitude Practice, which we’re huge fans of. And it’s similar when we look at the research for building new habits and routines that if you start with the grandiose – right now we’re in January, people are going to like, “overhaul their lives” for three weeks and then be done.

And for us, we’re like, “Actually, let’s start with just five minutes a day.” And when you start with five minutes a day, we then move to what we call Habit Sacking, where you’ll get a habit in place. And it’s just small changes at a time. And once that one habit is in place, then we’re going to Habit Stack. We’re going to add another one.

And we’re just going to focus on one habit at a time, recognizing that this isn’t about perfection. It’s not that tomorrow you’re going to wake up as a totally changed human with the whole toolbox to call on. But instead, you’re going to build these habits. You’re going to stack them on top of each other. And then you will wake up at some point and be like, “Wow, I have a toolbox to pull from that I didn’t have before.”

But when we try to overhaul that system all at once, it doesn’t last. It’s not sustainable. We want that consistency. And so we really work on five minutes a day for you to start to build your own awareness in the moment. It’s funny because, like, people come and they’re like, “Okay, what can I do?” And they want that thing they can order from Amazon or whatever that is just going to, like, change this. And the reality is of lasting change that we are spending a little bit of time consistently rather than, like, one grandiose change. It’s not fun news to hear, I feel like.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

No, but it aligns to some of the other things we’ve talked about in the Podcast. And one book that I really like about a similar topic – which is Grit by Angela Duckworth – is sort of a similar point in terms of, like, you see amazing athletes or actors, actresses or whatever and you’re like, “Whoa, they’re so talented!” But actually, when you dig deeper, you realize that they just created consistent habits over a really long period of time and just kept at it.

And even like people like [Jerry] Seinfeld, the comedian, he wrote everyday, jokes and stuff to be able to build those habits. And he talks about some other ones, too, in terms of like meditation and he does some weight lifting. These are the self-care things that you talked about, too. So, I really love the five-minutes-per-day point, which is which is great for building habits.

And I actually for this year, too, I approach things a bit differently. You mentioned the New Year’s resolutions, I’ve fallen in that bucket most years, too. And what I’m doing this year is every month I have a new goal. And so first of all, it keeps things fresh. So, by the end of January, when I’m getting tired of doing the one thing I was doing in January, I have a new thing to look forward to, which is cool. And then secondly, I figure if I can do something pretty consistently for 30 days, if three or four of the twelve things of the year stick, then that’s a really great outcome for me over time.

CAMPBELL:

Totally. Yeah, that’s awesome, I love that. We actually we have a membership program that’s opening up at the end of January again – we do open and closed enrollment. And it is designed to provide structure and accountability for folks doing this work where we are guiding you through with weekly support every week to keep you accountable. And every month we change the habit we’re working on. So, similarly to your approach here. Yeah, focusing on one habit change and that’s it for that month.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Very cool. And so you talked a little bit about some of the courses you have. And I see you have the S.E.E.D. certified course. Is that the combination of those two pieces you talked about? Or is that something different?

CAMPBELL:

The S.E.E.D. certification is the childcare component. So, for early-childhood programs, childcare centers and home care programs can become S.E.E.D. certified. And they get access to eight different workshops – that’s the one for myself and four other experts in early ed. And then my team, we provide ongoing support as they’re implementing the tools from the workshops.

Honestly, it’s really like, as a teacher, what I wanted for professional development, we created. Like, what I felt like I needed. I was going to conferences and workshops and I would get all jazzed up and then I’d come back and retain very little of it and feel like I needed help implementing it. And so we wanted to create a program where you can reference back to the workshops and have access to our team for implementation support.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

With so many things going on and so many things you are spending time on and a childcare program, why do you think it’s important to prioritize emotional intelligence and development?

CAMPBELL:

Oh, I think it’s the cornerstone for everything that we do. I would say actually, we have what we call the Triangle of Growth. And looking at similarly to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which early ed. nerds will know here, too. And we’re looking at the base of the triangle being where we want to start, where we have to start before we can move up.

And at the base of our triangle of growth, we have the sensory systems, which is that central nervous system regulation, the ability to regulate your nervous system so that you can gain access to your entire brain and not be operating from, say, your amygdala if you are experiencing a feeling or a trigger and being able to regulate that cortisol adrenaline production, all that jazz.

So, we work heavily with OT’s – occupational therapists – in our work, really focused first on that sensory regulation component for kids. And then the next tier for us is emotional development. And then the top tier – it’s three layers – the top tier is language and communication, that if we want kids to be able to access higher-level problem solving, conflict resolution, content retention, that for us all falls in that language and communication top.

So, when we’re looking at that middle of the emotional regulation, if you’re sitting there and you’re seething or you’re feeling embarrassed or you’re disappointed, you’re not taking in new content. You’re not able to access your whole brain to retain that information. And so for us, we want to help kids learn how to regulate that nervous system, process emotions and then be able to regain access to that full brain to do that higher-level thinking.

So, for me, in early ed. and truly just in life, if we aren’t focused first on that sensory and emotional regulation, we can’t do much more after that. We’re going to work really hard on things that kids wouldn’t have to work as hard to retain if we built those other skills first.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Very cool. Given we’re just starting out the year in 2021 and we’re all being and thinking more optimistically and having a positive mindset, any positive words of inspiration for our listeners before we wrap up today?

CAMPBELL:

Yeah, I think just the coolest thing is that there’s more attention on this. There’s more funding going into early ed. than we’ve ever had before. And I’m really jazzed to see where that will go as we’re focusing more on social and emotional development, really that emotional component.

We’ve been focused for so long on the social development, how to have a kind kid, how to have a kid that sits at circle time or can follow the rules in the school, etc. And we are seeing more and more of a focus on the emotional development and specifically building tools for teachers and caregivers and parents. And I think that that’s really rad. I’m jazzed to see where that goes.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome. Alyssa, thank you so much for joining us. If our listeners want to check out some of your certifications, courses, content, get in touch with you, where can they go to get more information?

CAMPBELL:

Totally. We have a pretty active Instagram at @Seed.and.Sew. And then over at our website, www.SeedandSew.org, we actually [have] our Self-regulation Challenge, totally free Self Reg challenge for adults. It’s five days of accountability and self-reg from us. It’s a video for me every day, like leading you through this work. It’s happening the week of January 18th and it’s completely free. Folks can sign up from that at our website. If they wanted to get a taste of this jazz and do it for free, that’s an awesome way to start. And you can sign up right at www.SeedandSew.org.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Oh yeah, that sounds like a great opportunity. Alyssa, thanks so much for sharing that and thanks so much for sharing your work and more information about emotional intelligence. I’m also equally inspired and excited by what this could mean for our little folks that we’re helping to move them forward on this. Thanks so much for your work and for joining us on the Preschool Podcast!

CAMPBELL:

You bet, thank you so much for having me

Kiah Price

Kiah Price is a Social Media Specialist at HiMama. Prior to HiMama she was an Early Childhood Educator in a preschool classroom in Toronto. She is the Jill of all trades at HiMama from dipping her toes in Sales, Customer Success, Operations, and Marketing! She enjoys sweating through spin classes, hot yoga, and biking along the waterfront trails in Toronto. She loves traveling and trying new foods and wines across the globe- 29 countries and counting!

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