343 Transcript: Raising Emotionally Intelligent Kids (with Alyssa Blask Campbell)

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INTRODUCTION: [00:00:00] Hi, I'm Jen Riday, and this podcast is for women who want to feel more vibrant, happy, aligned, and alive. You'll gain the emotional, physical, and spiritual tools you need to get your sparkle back and ensure that depression, anxiety, and struggle don't rule your life. Welcome to the Vibrant Happy Women Podcast.

JEN RIDAY: [00:00:20] Hey friends, I have a great person on the show today. Alyssa Campbell is going to be talking about helping our kids be more emotionally intelligent, largely through learning the skills ourselves as parents. I'm super excited about this. Now we'll be talking about nervous system regulation among a number of other things, and that topic is getting bigger and bigger every day. It's important to know these skills as a parent, whether your kids are young, or college-aged or beyond. This is really important stuff. So welcome to Vibrant Happy Women, Alyssa.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:00:54] Thank you. I'm so excited to be here.

JEN RIDAY: [00:00:58] Yay! Go ahead and introduce yourself and specifically share how you became an expert of emotional development and emotional intelligence in children and their parents.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:01:11] Sure. Yeah. So I'm Alyssa, and I run Seed and Sew. My master's is in early childhood education, and I was working at a school. I've taught kindergarten down through infants, and I was working at a school where every teacher had a master's in early ed and we could do research on kids, partnered with the university. And a colleague came up to me at one point was like, “I think we're doing something different.” And I was like, “Tell me more.” We were at a mimosa brunch having this conversation, so we chatted over mimosas and dove into like, what was it that we thought was different and started to dive deeper into that together and really ended up uncovering that so much of what we had been given going in the field as teachers was about social development. And I think it's true for parents, like we want to raise kind, empathetic humans and kids who show up in what we call prosocial ways, like knowing how to share or say please or thank you or navigate that social setting with friends, etc. And the reality is that we can't do the social skills part without building the emotional development part. Like, what happens when I feel left out because I didn't get invited to that birthday party or I feel embarrassed at school when what happens when I'm disappointed because I didn't get the score on the test and I worked really hard for it, or I can't figure out how to do that math problem.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:02:46] And how do we then build the awareness of what's happening inside and the tools to regulate so that they can respond with intention in a pro-social way? And so much of what we'd received in training was about the social skills, and it was lacking the emotional development component and the education side. We call it social-emotional learning, and it's so heavily social that you can't do social without emotional. And so we started to dive into what research exists already around emotional development and where were the gaps? How do we build these skills? And what we found was that the biggest gap was in supporting the adult in how to truly show up and respond with intention, right? That we would there would be approaches or methods or frameworks around what to say or do with the kid in the moment. And that's great. If you're sitting here in a regulated state, you're listening to the podcast, you're scrolling social media and you're like, Yep, I'm going to nail that next time. And then the next time you're in it and your kid is swearing at your face, screaming at you, throwing something, hitting a sibling.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:03:55] Now, accessing that script or accessing those tools or seeing beyond the behavior to connect with your kid is so much harder than it was when you were sitting by yourself listening to a podcast, scrolling on Instagram. And so our work, it's called the Collaborative Emotion Processing (CEP) method and it has five components, and one is adult-child interactions, and the other four are about us and how we can build these tools so that when you are in the moment, how do you notice your own dysregulation? What do you do with that? How do you pay attention to or build awareness of the stories you're telling yourself about this behavior? Maybe the future projection, the anxiety you might be experiencing around like, how is this behavior going to show up down the road and what's it going to mean for my kid, etc.? All those things that come up for us in the moment as parents and be able to regulate, self-regulate, so that then we can show up with intention with the child. And that's what our work really is. So we researched it across the. There's a book coming out with HarperCollins next year that dives into this work, but it heavily focuses on us because that was just what was left off the table. 

JEN RIDAY: [00:05:09] It makes sense. How can we help our kids with emotions when we don't have a full understanding of what's going on in our bodies emotionally? So speak a little about nervous system regulation, what that means, how we understand it in ourselves so we can better help our kids with it.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:05:26] Sure. Jen, I can speak to you about this for seven years. I love nervous system regulation. It's one of my favorite topics. It's like the one thing I wish we supported parents better with. If I could give one gift to every parent, it would be understanding the nervous system. Because the nervous system is responsible for how we show up in the world. You know, how like if a kid does something or says something like eight or nine a.m., you can experience it differently than if it's the end of the day and you're spent. It's a bad time. And they do that really annoying thing and it's like 8 p.m. and all of a sudden now you snap. And now because our nervous system is at that point it's spent, it's dysregulated, versus at 8 a.m. when maybe we had some sleep in our tank, maybe we've eaten something hopefully at that point, maybe, and are just like operating with more in our tank. So the way that we look at the nervous system is if we think of a phone that has a battery life and you plug it in to recharge it and once you unplug that phone, automatically that battery starts to drain. Once we wake up in the morning as humans, our battery automatically starts to drain. Even if we did nothing else, our battery is going to start to drain because our brain's job is to keep us safe. It's constantly scanning the environment to say, Am I safe? It notices when somebody moves. Just as if we were in nature, it would notice if a bear is coming. It notices if a sound happens like if a car goes by. My brain's filtering that to say Is that important? Do I have to pay attention to it? It says Nope. All right, you can keep going. If my fire alarm started to go off, my brain would say, “That's important, pay attention to it.” And in order for it to catch things like the fire alarm, it has to be running in the background all day long. And that's what our nervous system is doing, is trying to keep us safe. And in order for those apps on the phone to run in the background all day long, we have to recharge it throughout the day. Otherwise, like the phone, it dies. And the more we use certain apps, the more we do certain things, the faster it'll drain.

[00:07:43] So say we're in the kitchen and there's the TVs on in the other room and the dishwasher is running and the kids are talking or playing or screaming, and all of a sudden there's all this stimuli around us that our brains are constantly saying, like, “okay, that noise is not important. Don't pay attention. Not important. Oh, that scream? important.” Somebody's punching, somebody's got to run, whatever. And so our brain is doing this. And in order to do that, it's being pulled from. And so noticing that if we are surrounded by stimuli, it's cumulative, it adds up. And our goal is to build in tools for adults and children to recharge throughout the day rather than getting to a place of overwhelm and exhaustion and burnout and meltdown and then trying to recharge. But what would it look like to recharge throughout the day so that there's something to pull from, even if you're not at 100% battery life, but you're at 40 or you're at 60, you're not in the red just about to die.

JEN RIDAY: [00:08:44] Wow, that's cool. So what kind of… Give us some examples of how we can recharge.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:08:50] Sure. So recharge can happen in a few different buckets. Movement and rest are like two big components, right? So we when we're looking at movement, we're looking at intentional movement. We have I'm going to get nerdy for a second here, proprioceptive input, which is that big body play or that deep touch. I'm a human who craves proprioceptive input like put a baby on my body – that fills my cup. I love like kickboxing or like an intense workout. I could get a massage and it could be four days long and I would be like, I want more. Like it's never going to be enough, Right? And I love that deep pressure and that touch. My husband, on the other hand, craves vestibular input. And that is where you're moving the plane of your head. This could be spinning, swinging, going upside down. He sits in a chair at work that can kind of bounce back and forth so that he can get a little bit of that rocking input throughout the day. For kids, this might be like going upside down. I had a parent reach out the other day, her kid's coming home from school and watching TV. And when she watches TV, she's hanging upside down off the couch. And she was like, “Is there something I should like do?” And I was like, “That's perfect. She's getting vestibular input. And she's doing exactly what her body is telling her to do.” And this could be when they were younger, you may have had a kid who really wanted to be bounced to sleep or wanted to be rocked, wanted that bouncing, swaying movement. That's that vestibular input.

[00:10:16] So those are two big types of movement that we're looking at. And everybody is a little different. Like I said, I crave that more perceptive. My husband craves that vestibular. We're all on the spectrum where we need, we all need both of those types of input but different thresholds for it, right? Like I need more proprioceptive, less vestibular, he needs more vestibular, less proprioceptive. And the thing that's annoying is that it's a little bit of trial and error to figure out where somebody's threshold is. And then the other bucket is sensory deprivation. This is that like rest downtime. I'm sure every mom listening has craved those moments where you're like, I just want to lay in a dark room or no one's talking to me and no one needs anything for me or whatever. That sensory deprivation of just a break, really a break for your body and for kids, this can look like being in a room by themselves or even just like coloring or reading or a time where they are just like taking that down time, right? We think of it as like a rest time for your brain. Those are big recharge things and then sleep food like general nervous system support. They're.

JEN RIDAY: [00:11:22] I have to ask, I've recently heard someone say creativity is a form of rest. Does that fall in the category somewhere too?

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:11:30] Sure. That would be in the down-regulation part for a lot of kids where I said like coloring or reading a book, doing something that's going to fill your cup. So when we think of recharge and again, that's going to be different for everybody. For me. It fills my cup to get in. We just had a work meeting and we were talking about highly sensitive children and we got in this really nerdy discussion in our team meeting and I left and I was like, Oh my gosh, I feel so recharged. Right? And there's another person on my team who left and was like, Oh my gosh, my brain is so fried. I need like a break. Like that type of creativity for me recharges me and for other humans, it's different types of creativity. And so creativity is a general umbrella. Yes. And it's figuring out within that like what recharges you within a creative outlet.

JEN RIDAY: [00:12:19] Yeah. Super interesting. And the argument going back to school is, you know, anyone who wants to get rid of music, shorter recesses, we're just creating, just, I guess -what's the word I'm looking for?- dysregulated children. I find my kids come home and just need this sensory deprivation element. For the most part.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:12:42] There's a lot of stimuli at school. I actually, I was having a conversation with a parent the other day who's advocating for their child at school right now because he was having to earn movement breaks, like if he was good, right? If he was good, he could have movement and the reality is that movement is what will help his behavior. Movement is what will help him focus movements. Also, what's going to help him on the academic side is that if you're dysregulated, absorbing information in content, especially new content, is almost impossible. That part of your brain is not online. And so movement and that downregulation, those combos, the recharge is crucial to showing up with prosocial behaviors to absorbing content and academics, that side of thing. Yeah, it's wild to me when it's like, “let's strip away the things that will support them in showing up the way that we want to support them.” It doesn't make sense to me, right?

JEN RIDAY: [00:13:45] You know, I was just speaking to a mom last night who was saying, pre-pandemic, you know, go, go, go, go, go. Then, no stimulation, really, or much less. And now she said, “I realized my kids need some of that. We're going back.” So she saidthey have something like soccer three nights a week and then dance is on a fourth night. So they really only have one weeknight free. What is the balance there? Because she's creating dysregulation for herself in a way that I believe she thinks she's helping her kids have more regulation. Because you mentioned these forms of rest, like we need the physical, we need some movement, we need creativity. You know, how do we balance all those forms of keeping ourselves regulated as a mom with kids who have to do it, too?

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:14:43] It's tough. It's tough. It's tough to be like in community. So you're right that when we look at like pre-pandemic, in pandemic and then whatever this is.

JEN RIDAY: [00:14:53] I guess that I also don't know what this is.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:14:57] But when we look at it in those buckets, you're right, it was like high stim pre-pandemic and then it was different stim. It was more screens, less connection. Connection is a recharge. We are social beings and we all again have different levels of connection and different types of connection that recharge us. You throw me as an extrovert into like a conference room of 100 people. I don't know. I'm getting energized by that. You throw my introvert husband into that and he's like, “Yikes, I'm exhausted. Can I sleep for three days?” And our kids are the same way, right? So recognizing these after-school activities or these additional things, who is the child that I have? Because if the child that I have thrives on that community and connection, a group sport like soccer might be awesome for them that might fill their cup if they're a child who thrives on structure in a day, having a structured activity after school might really benefit them if they're a child who can deal with some structure but also needs more flexibility or downtime than an after school activity after a full day of structure and stimuli might be harder for their nervous system.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:16:13] It might actually pull from them rather than replenish. And these are things that they can like, you can build a tolerance for and build coping strategies throughout the day so that you can get to a place where you can do something after work or you can do something after school. It's not like, well, what are they going to never do something after school? It's something you can build a tolerance for and build skills throughout the day as they build awareness of regulation and their bodies that they can say like, all right, throughout the day, it's helpful for my body if I'm going to go to soccer tonight, I know I need to do these things throughout the day so that I have energy left in my tank, right? Yeah. So preparing them for those things. But an after-school activity like dance or swimming was one that came out the other day in our village and I was like, That's awesome for that child who really benefits from the movement and going and doing something but doesn't want to have to engage with a whole lot of people. That was a really good after-school activity for her. You know what I mean?

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:17:08] Like thinking about like, who's the unique child? It's not that structured activities are all bad or all one size fits all. It's really who's the child and what might fill their cup, or what can we do to support them with throughout the day if they want to do that soccer thing, But it might drain them a bit more. How can we pour into their cup before they go to soccer or after they go to soccer? And then the parent side of things? How can we set ourselves up if adding that structure in is going to pull from our nervous system, which for most of us it will, any added organizational planning? You know, when you get to the end of the day and you're like, why do kids eat so many meals all day? Why do I still have to come up with another dinner? Because our brain is so done making decisions, it's fried. And so really looking at how do I set myself up for success here? What would it look like to plan out the month, spend 30 minutes on a Sunday night or whatever with a co-parent if you have one, or with a village member who also is going to that soccer practice and figuring out, hey, can we share pickups and drop-offs, what does this schedule look like? So it's all laid out and it's less daily decision making.

JEN RIDAY: [00:18:12] Oh, so smart. And I hope people do more of that shared pickup and drop-offs because it's a lot of driving to be gone every evening after work.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:18:23] It's also bonkers. It's bonkers that we're all doing this individually. Just tomorrow, my neighbor has three young kids and is going to a doctor's appointment and I'm home with my child tomorrow. And she was like, Any chance I can drop my two younger ones off? And I was like, Of course, any time. But we need more of that. Of like, yeah, you go into a doctor's appointment with two young kids sucks, and so you don't have to do it. Like lean on, lean on your village, ask for help. And I think it's asking for help. We feel like other people are doing it all and they're fine and they're regulated. So we should be able to in. The reality is no one is regulated and doing it all. And I wish that there was more of that discussion that like, Yeah. Lean on each other, ask for help. We don't all need to drive to soccer pickup.

JEN RIDAY: [00:19:11] No one is regulated and doing it all. Absolutely. I have a selfish question. No, it's not selfish. I take that back.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:19:20] It's also okay if it is.

JEN RIDAY: [00:19:22] It's not. I really. You said most moms, they would go for the sensory deprivation thing. That's what they're looking for. So I work really hard to keep us very unscheduled. We pack all of our activities on one night a week, and that's the night we run. And then we have all these other nights where we're like, “Ahhhh, exhale.” You know, how do I know that's working for my kids? And should I care? *laughs*

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:19:50] Should I care? That's my favorite. Yeah, I would just notice. So for us, I was chatting with an occupational therapist. He was talking about, like the difference between intervention and something, and she was like, “it's really we're just looking at something and if it works, we call it intervention,” but that's what we're looking at here is just observing and making note of is it working like is it working for all your kids? And working for me would be like, yeah, I notice that they are more regulated, which can show up in how they communicate with each other, their ability to do any sort of like household tasks that may be asked of them or really show up in community, whether it's in your family or what that means within your cultural context. Are they able to show up in community in a more regulated state when you are having these downtimes? Because for some kids, like I said, the structure is really beneficial. I was chatting with a parent the other day whose kid goes to a like alternative school and it's pretty unstructured. And she was like, you know, I had dreams of this school. It's so beautiful and it's all wood stuff and whatever. There's so much play and he's struggling. And as we broke down, like, what's going on, it kept coming back to the fact that he really benefits from structure. And so knowing what's expected of him and what's available at certain times, things like that really help him feel safe and calm. It's like a boundary limit that he needs within that he can thrive and that we're all different in that sense. Right? I was actually having this discussion my husband the other day. He's super duper, duper creative and like an artsy music way within confines. So if you say, here are the limits, create something, he can be so creative. I'm the opposite, where I'm like, Drop down all the walls and I can go nuts. Like I can create really fun things and we just operate differently. And so looking at your kids and seeing like, is it working for them? Are they thriving on those nights or and doesn't mean that like they're regulated the whole time and there are no hard feelings and whatnot but are they able to downregulate faster? Are they able to work through hard emotions in a way that's manageable? Right. Those are the things I would be looking at versus like, are they're spiraling out of control? They're fighting. It seems like no matter what happens, there's some sort of conflict, whatever. Then be like maybe they need a little structure and it doesn't mean you have to add in activities, but even boundaries around like what to expect throughout the night, a schedule, a routine of like, you know what, when we come home from school, here are the choices for you. Rather than sit down to Netflix and like pick anything like, “here's three movies to pick from.” For some of us having the like, here's three movies to pick from is really crucial in order to make our decisions and feel.

JEN RIDAY: [00:22:54] That's so cool. I feel this urge to go be a better sleuth, you know? I know when I'm regulated and what's happening, but to watch everyone, for example, as you were talking, I was thinking, “You know, my husband has been getting cookbooks lately and keeps baking cookies, cookies, cookies, cookies. But he's also very calm and regulated from it.” And it never occurred to me that that was a regulation activity that feels good to him.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:23:18] So so does he want my address to send them because I will receive cookies.

JEN RIDAY: [00:23:24] So funny. He's a scientist, but he grew up in Switzerland and he was on track to become a baker's apprentice. And his mom didn't like it. So she sent him off to live with the grandparents in the U.S. So it's always been in him. And now he's found his true calling. So I'll get your address.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:23:42] Perfect.

JEN RIDAY: [00:23:43] But, you know, I think about my other kids. I'd love to hear your thoughts. A lot of parents would say, “Oh, they're really regulated when they have their iPad.” True or not?

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:23:54] True, not regulated. Maybe they're not outwardly expressive. So when we're looking at -there's different hormones that happen within our body, right? So our like fight-flight-freeze response or the clear dysregulation is cortisol or adrenaline that's flowing through our brains gets us all pumped up, right? And it shuts down our rational thinking brain, our prefrontal cortex, and a couple of other hormones that come into play when we're looking at nervous system regulation. And then emotional regulation are dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. Dopamine is that reward center of your brain, and it keeps you coming back for more. It is something we all have a certain amount of dopamine stores in our body. And basically, as we pull from that, we get this like, high. And then after, when we stop, then it crashes down as far as as we went up. We're going to crash. It's going to mirror the high. And so there's… It's like it can ebb and flow. You can have like little waves of like – I got a little hit of dopamine and then a little dip and a little or you can have these huge spikes and then huge crashes. And often when we see the huge crash, it's the body saying like, “I'm trying to access more dopamine. And I, I've used up my store sort of thing, or the thing that was feeding my dopamine is no longer there, the screen is gone or that reward center. Something isn't feeding into it anymore.” And it's like a fix right there, like looking for more dopamine and serotonin and oxytocin. Serotonin will calm the nervous system and truly regulate it. It's what we're going for.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:25:28] And then oxytocin is a feel-good love hormone. That's the like when a baby laughs and you just can't help but laugh like that delicious giggle. You're flowing with oxytocin. They're flowing with oxytocin and kind of feed off each other there. And so when we're looking at those three hormones, screens are producing dopamine in the body. Dopamine is not bad. We all have it. We're going to going for a run is going to produce dopamine. So it's really just looking at what's the threshold and then what happens after and before. So if you have a lot of dopamine activities and then you have a screen activity that's going to produce more dopamine, you're probably going to see a crash from your kids in the next 20 minutes, half hour. And if we want to prevent that huge crash, what we can do is decrease the amount of dopamine in one sitting. So maybe instead of being on a screen for a half hour, it works better for them if they're on a screen for 15 minutes. And then we tap into one of those serotonin or oxytocin activities which generally involve movement. So or creative expression. So it could be that after you are watching that show, when you get home from school, you like just need to chill for a minute. Once that screen goes off, then you go jump on the trampoline, you go climb a tree, you go for a walk, you move your body in some capacity so that you're tapping into some of that serotonin to really regulate. Yeah, because what they're really doing is just numbing their zoning out.

JEN RIDAY: [00:26:50] So I love that a lot. Oxytocin. How would we tap into that? A hug?

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:26:57] Yeah, exactly. Physical touch is a big one and it can be also just like interaction. Like if you have a conversation that like, feeds you like leaves you feeling good, that looks like feel-good conversations, affirmations can produce oxytocin. Yeah, highlights of like talking about like tell me about a time today when somebody was kind to you or something you did that was really kind. Just even like reflecting on that can bring up some oxytocin and feel good by Wow.

JEN RIDAY: [00:27:28] I have a book idea for you. I'll tell you later, but perfect because…

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:27:32] I'm almost done writing this one. So let's go!

JEN RIDAY: [00:27:35] I don't want to give it away, but everyone watch for her second book. It will be what I told her.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:27:39] Oh, wait, Jen, Thanks.

JEN RIDAY: [00:27:42] Well, this is beautiful. You know, what's in my mind is I love those little categories of. “Hey, is this a dopamine activity? Well, you need some serotonin and oxytocin activities, too.” Why not teach our kids that? And why not look at that for ourselves? I'm needing a backrub. I'm needing to see a sunset instead of needing a screen.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:28:03] So sure. I love both, you know? Especially what we're finding in the newest ADHD research now is that if you have low dopamine stores in your body, if your body stores less dopamine, then it can be harder for you to access the serotonin or oxytocin activity without a dopamine bridge. So it might be that you tap into a dopamine activity which screens is a big one that comes up. But distraction of any kind, like a kids having a hard emotion, we distract them out of it, right? Like we make them laugh. We really just like flip the switch rather than allowing them to be in it, etc. We tap into some dopamine real quick, can help them, then access the serotonin. And so yeah, yeah, it's pretty fun. Fascinating research coming out. But if you have a child where you're like, they won't go jump on the trampoline, climb the tree, whatever, you can tap into some dopamine and it's not a bad hormone. Like I said, it exists. You can use it as a bridge.

JEN RIDAY: [00:29:03] Yeah, that's great. Good to know. Well, where can people follow you to learn more? Because, man, your brain is amazing. You're one of those people that has the information and can get it out logically. I love that. So where should they go to follow you?

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:29:19] Thanks. Yeah, I'm saying our whole thing is like, take neuroscience, but make it accessible and I love it. It's fun for me. We have a pretty active Instagram at Seed.and.Sew and Voices of Your Village is our podcast. And our website has a whole bunch of tools at seedandsew.org. But I would say our Instagram and podcasts are two places that we hang out a lot with a bunch of free information just to dive into this work together.

JEN RIDAY: [00:29:52] seedandsew.org.

JEN RIDAY: [00:29:59] I know, sowing the seeds.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:30:00] Which I know, I know in retrospect, like years ago I created this brand and really missed an opportunity. I saw it as like seeds, right? Like that one feels we have received is different. They need different things, just like kids. Yeah. And so I really believe in the village. I deeply believe in the village. And I pictured like every village member coming together with a piece and we so this quilt just kept coming up for me, like, yeah, all coming together to sow it. And that's where seed and sew was born.

JEN RIDAY: [00:30:32] That's beautiful. Love it. Well, I appreciate you so much, Alyssa. Thank you for being on the show.

ALYSSA BLASK CAMPBELL: [00:30:39] Thanks so much for having me, Jen.

OUTRO: [00:30:40] If you enjoy this podcast, you have to check out the Vibrant Happy Women Club. It's my monthly group coaching program where we take all this material to the next level and get you the results that will blow your mind. Join me in the Vibrant Happy Women Club at JenRiday.com/join.