Start by noticing. She was 18 months old and had been building with blocks when someone bumped into her tower and it crashed. She was devastated and sobbing as I got down on her level to support her. I opened my mouth to connect with her and she slapped me across the face. WHOA. A rush of adrenaline surged through my body and I felt angry. My face turned red and my chest tightened. I noticed this reaction and said the only nice thing I could at that moment, “I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.” In the past I would’ve scooped her up and popped her down in timeout, sternly telling her that hitting hurt my body and she wasn’t allowed to hit me. Instead, I noticed my physiological reaction and that I was not able to respond with intention right now.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alyssa Blask Campbell.
Alyssa Blask Campbell has an M.Ed. in Early Childhood, is a leading expert in emotional development speaking to people around the world, podcast host for Voices of Your Village in over 100 countries, and CEO of Seed & Sew LLC. Alyssa was featured as an emotional development expert in publications such as The Washington Post, Kids VT, and Family Education.
After co-creating the Collaborative Emotion Processing (CEP) method with Lauren Stauble, she researched it across the U.S. and co-authored a book on it (coming in 2021). Alyssa is deeply passionate about building emotional intelligence in children, stating, “It’s never too early or too late to start.” Alyssa’s ‘show up as you are’ approach welcomes people into her village to get support at all ages and stages, shame-free.
Her company, Seed & Sew serves people across the globe through speaking, consulting, online courses, and podcasting, with tools to build emotional intelligence. For more information, check out seedandsew.org and follow along on social media @seed.and.sew.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I am one of five children, the only girl with four brothers, raised in Western New York in a small farm town. I grew up in the village, getting our eggs and veggies from local farmers, my grandparents down the street, and long days playing outside with friends. When I was a child my dream jobs were a waitress or cashier because I wanted to connect with other people and hear their stories. I love getting to know people and am a huge fan of diving deep into conversation.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I was interviewing for a range of jobs after college, from sales to policy to childcare, feeling unsure of what was next for me. My friend’s Aunt Shara, with who I’d become close as I gathered for Shabbat dinner or a midweek hang to get some kid time in with her toddler said, “You should do whatever you want, but I think you’d be nuts not to pursue a career with kids. You get my child unlike anyone else.” My mom ran a home daycare growing up and as one of five kiddos, I’d always been around children, carrying and feeding them, changing diapers, and putting babies to sleep since I was five. I felt comfortable around children. After hemming and hawing, I took Shara’s advice and decided to try out being a preschool teacher. I got my first teaching job at Imagine Early Learning Center in Brooklyn, NY, and pretty quickly fell in love. Within a couple of months, I was accepted into a graduate program to pursue my master’s degree in early childhood education.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many humans who have shaped who I am today, both by allowing my journey to unfold and guiding me along the way. When I met Zach I was in a tough place, working hard to stay afloat mentally with unprocessed trauma living beneath the surface. I was often in a reactive state, armed and ready for an argument, defensive, with my guard up. Zach was the first person who didn’t retreat when I attacked, and instead held space for me to feel, allowing me to feel safe enough to be vulnerable. He encouraged me to begin my journey in therapy and was my biggest champion for growth. Zach showed me what it felt like to feel seen, even when life was messy and imperfect. He taught me how to take care of myself and has never stopped encouraging me to dive deeper into curiosity, chasing dreams along the way. I went on to marry Zach and we are expecting a baby in March 2021. May the adventure and growth continue.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
This journey has been a series of mistakes and learning from them along the way. There have been so many along the way and the greatest lesson for me has been expecting them. Early on in my career, I wanted to do everything “right.” I was scared of failing, not being good enough, or disappointing others. The one thing that has been constant though is imperfection. I’ve learned to trust myself and that mistakes are inevitable, but learning from them is key. When I find myself making the same mistake on repeat, I need to pause and re-evaluate, reflecting on what might need to change. It’s a constant practice in resilience and perseverance.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Be prepared to fall and get back up. The first time I ever launched my parenting program, Tiny Humans, Big Emotions I was so psyched. I felt like I had prepared so well and then I launched it and no one signed up. Not one single human. I was devastated and embarrassed. I sat in that space, thinking no one wanted this program for about a week when I realized the questions from parents continued to pour in, all questions that I would answer in Tiny Humans, Big Emotions. It dawned on me that maybe this is something people want and I still hadn’t learned how to best communicate about the program. I went back to the drawing board, created a new launch plan, and sent it to live two months later to have 25 people from around the world sign up! With a following of about 250 people, that was huge! Those narratives will pop up around failure, being enough, and worthiness. If you are adding value to the world, it’s vital that you build awareness of those narratives so you can regulate and work through them. The world needs what you have to offer.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Can I choose two? My favorite book is Self Reg by Dr. Shanker. It was the first time I had read about the deep connection of neuroscience in emotion processing. I own three copies and the audiobook because I kept losing the book and then finding it again. Living with intention and not from a place of reactivity requires building awareness of how the body physiologically reacts in different moments and cultivating the tools to regulate the nervous system to regain access to the whole brain. Self Reg kickstarted my journey in both of those areas and changed how I got to live my day to day life.
My favorite film is Inside Out. It is such a beautiful depiction of different parts of us forming from infancy and informing how we show up in the world. Many of us operate from our subconscious, experiencing the present day based on moments from our past. Learning how to connect with these different parts of myself, the three-year-old who didn’t feel seen or the 14-year-old who was yearning for connection and safety, allowed me to notice when they are showing up in the present day, fearing that my adult self will feel the same pain they felt. This began a healing process for me that helped me show up as a more present, regulated adult rather than living from a triggered place of reactivity. The film is a great way to introduce these concepts to children and help them get to know different parts of themselves, some that feel scared or angry, others that feel excited or calm.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful ones, we also numb the positive ones.” — Brene Brown
Brene’s quote is one I keep in plain sight every day as it’s a reminder to me that hard emotions don’t need to be fixed or solved. The key to experiencing joy, peace, and contentment is allowing myself to feel hard things like fear, sadness, and frustration.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
We are currently creating a membership program where parents and caregivers can come to learn how to build their toolboxes for emotion processing alongside their children. It’s a safe space for vulnerability and hard feelings where empathy doesn’t leave space for shame to exist. Anxiety has never been higher in parents or kids because there’s so much fear of doing the “wrong” thing. We are creating a space where imperfections are normalized, where you have a place to turn with your questions to receive judgment-free support on this journey. Brene Brown said, “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.” We are bringing the village into homes of folks around the world who may not have space where they feel the safety of love and belonging that allows them to be imperfect.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?
As I was working with children I realized that so much of what I was doing every day came back to building the four cornerstones of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and social skills. Surrounded by tools for social-emotional development in early childhood, I kept feeling like the practical tools for building these four skill sets were missing. I’d attend workshops and leave feeling like that would be great if I could actually respond with that level of calm and clear-headedness in the moment, or it sounded good in theory, but with a two-year-old throwing a shovel at another child at the playground, it didn’t feel practical. I connected with a colleague, Lauren Stauble to dive into current and past research on emotional intelligence to try and find what we were looking for, but gaps remained. We decided to create our own approach, the Collaborative Emotion Processing (CEP) method. We researched the CEP method and have just completed a book on it for teachers and parents. It encompasses five things: self-awareness, scientific knowledge of the physiological reaction to emotions, self-care, bias, and adult-child interactions. You’ll notice that of the five, only one is about the tiny humans, the other four are about building our toolbox as adults. Now I run Seed & Sew, supporting parents, teachers, and caregivers with the tools to do this work and build emotional intelligence in children.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
We define emotional intelligence as being measured by four qualities and skills: self-awareness, empathy, self-regulation, social skills.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the measure of your EQ or emotional quotient. This is defined as your ability to identify and manage your emotions and the emotions of others. IQ, on the other hand, is Intelligence Quotient and refers to relative intelligence and is determined through a series of standardized tests.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Emotional intelligence affects how we show up in relationships with ourselves and others. When one has high emotional intelligence they may be aware of their feelings, able to regulate their physiological reactions and respond to their environment with intention.
For example; You’re coming home from work with kids in tow, ready to make dinner and feed your hungry crew. You get home to find out that the chicken you planned to make for dinner is not in the fridge. Your nervous system reacts in a fight, flight, or freeze response, feeling an urgency to solve the problem. You notice this reaction as your chest gets tight, your shoulders rise to your ears and your face gets flushed. By noticing the reaction you’re able to pause and ask your body what it needs to feel calm so you can solve this problem. You hear an inner narrative say that it’s scared that your kids are going to meltdown if dinner isn’t ready soon and you don’t think you have the bandwidth for that after your long workday. Yeah, that makes sense. They’re getting hungry. Let’s take 5 deep breaths before we figure out what to do. You pause and breathe, regulating the adrenaline or cortisol production that is leading the charge on your stress response, and allow yourself to regain access to your prefrontal cortex or rational thinking brain. When you open your eyes you create a plan for feeding the kids something other than you’d originally planned, getting mac and cheese on the stove, steaming some broccoli, and heating up some frozen chicken nuggets. Once things are underway you pause for a moment to thank your past self for keeping back up food in the freezer and pantry to turn to when Plan A doesn’t come to fruition.
When one has a low emotional intelligence they may live in a state of reactivity, acting from feelings without awareness or intention.
For example, You’re coming home from work with kids in tow, ready to make dinner and feed your hungry crew. You get home to find out that the chicken you planned to make for dinner is not in the fridge. Your nervous system reacts in a fight, flight, or freeze response, feeling an urgency to solve the problem. You yell as your child says they’re thirsty and then start to pull food out of the fridge in a panic. Your partner walks in a few minutes later and you snap at them, “What did you do with the chicken? Now we don’t have anything for dinner!” “What chicken?” they dare to ask. “Of course you don’t know what chicken because you never take care of dinner.” You are in a reactive state, unable to access your whole brain. Adrenaline and cortisol course through your veins maintaining your high-stress state. You get dinner together while picking fights with your partner and turning to scold the kids. When it’s time to sit down to eat you feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and guilty. It feels like you’re treading water just to stay afloat and need someone to throw you a raft, but there’s no one in sight. You are living from a subconscious place, unaware of your physiological reaction to emotions or how to self-regulate and calm your nervous system when it’s in a stress response.
Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.
I lived for a long time like the example above, living in a state of reactivity, unaware of how to calm my nervous system. I would find myself exhausted at the end of the day, feeling burnt out with nothing left to give myself or my family. I struggled to set boundaries with loved ones, at work, or with friends. I felt like I was failing if I wasn’t doing it all, like nothing, was good enough. As I started to do the work to build emotional intelligence, my whole world shifted. I built awareness of my feelings, able to notice them without judgment, and allow them without fixing. How I experienced hard emotions like fear, anxiety, disappointment, guilt, and shame started to become easier as I stopped trying to make them go away and instead allowed them to exist. I learned what helped my nervous system feel more regulated as a baseline and then what was calming in the moment of stress. When I built tools for self-regulation I gained tools for self-control. Now I navigate the day with more energy and a feeling of contentment with the unknown of what’s to come, trusting that I have a toolbox to pull from to navigate whatever comes my way. It has been the most freeing process of my life.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
Emotional intelligence is key to the workplace. As an entrepreneur it comes into play every day as I take risks, welcome failure, navigate resiliency and move through challenges. The ability to regulate your nervous system allows you to regain access to your prefrontal cortex, the home of your rational thinking and problem-solving skills. Empathy and social skills are key components for connecting with employees, customers, and partners. When you’re operating with high emotional intelligence you are more easily able to connect with those around you, helping them feel seen and acknowledged. Your ability to self-regulate will be mirrored by those in your space through co-regulation as their nervous system produces the same hormones as yours, whether that’s cortisol or feel-good hormones like serotonin or dopamine. Emotional intelligence is the greatest superpower one can have in the business world.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
When you are responsible for your own emotional regulation, others are free to show up as themselves. They aren’t afraid of your reaction, whether or not you’ll be disappointed in them or feel overwhelmed with their stories. Emotional intelligence grants people the freedom to be with and hold space for one another’s vulnerabilities without rushing them away for comfort. It’s a game-changer for relationships and connection.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
When your body produces adrenaline and cortisol your heart rate elevates, inflammation increases in your body to protect it if it were to be attacked, and your body pulls from your energy reserves to keep you alert. This reaction is very taxing on the body. When you’re living in a state of reactivity your body is working to maintain a high level of cortisol so it is prepared for an attack. This means you’re living in a high-stress state, often operating from your amygdala (feelings brain). Mental health can be very compromised when your body is spending so much energy to maintain this reactive state. It pulls you out of the present moment and increases your fear response, keeping your primitive brain on the lookout for potential harm. Many folks living in this state express feelings of anxiety.
When you’re able to build awareness of the physiological reaction and regulate your nervous system response you can build tools to calm and experience peace, joy, and contentment. You can access your whole brain and process experiences rather than storing the trauma in your body. Bessel van der Kolk wrote a fantastic book on this called The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing.
Ok. Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence? Please share a story or example for each.
- Start by noticing. She was 18 months old and had been building with blocks when someone bumped into her tower and it crashed. She was devastated and sobbing as I got down on her level to support her. I opened my mouth to connect with her and she slapped me across the face. WHOA. A rush of adrenaline surged through my body and I felt angry. My face turned red and my chest tightened. I noticed this reaction and said the only nice thing I could at that moment, “I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.” In the past I would’ve scooped her up and popped her down in timeout, sternly telling her that hitting hurt my body and she wasn’t allowed to hit me. Instead, I noticed my physiological reaction and that I was not able to respond with intention right now.
- Find the pause. The rush of adrenaline lasts about 90 seconds before your body has a slight pause to see if it should produce more. When you can find that pause, it’s the game changer between reacting from habit and building tools for self-regulation. After you notice the reaction, work to find that pause. I like to do this by asking myself a question, which makes my rational thinking brain try to come online. “What just happened?” “What are you feeling?” “Where are you feeling it?” These are some common questions I ask myself.
- Pour into your reserves proactively. I was in a classroom of 9 toddlers when I found myself losing my cool every day by 10 am. I didn’t have anything left to give. I yearned for a break from them after barely being with them. That’s when I realized I was trying to pour from an empty cup. We have 8 sensory systems that are constantly filtering information to decide what is important to pay attention to and what isn’t. It’s like an operating system constantly running in the background, pulling from reserves to stay operable. What your clothes feel like, the way the lights are shining in the room, the traffic that is changing your plan for the morning, how long it has been since you’ve eaten, the ticking of the clock and voices around you — the brain is working to filter this information all day long. We can support it by building up to its reserves with little deposits all day long. We refer to these as sensory-rich activities. Deposits of proprioceptive sensory input generally last about 90 minutes to 2 hours, at which point our body craves more, similar to how our sleep drive or hunger cues work. Here is a list of sensory-rich activities for adults to tap into. My go-to is to pause and breathe without a screen for 60 seconds. I often do this in the bathroom where no one is talking to me and nothing is requiring my attention. I also like movements like a quick walk around my backyard or a one-song dance party.
- Build a coping toolbox. The goal is not that we are always regulated. It’s that we have tools for calming the stress response and regulating the nervous system when we are ready. No matter how much you pour into that sensory bank proactively, you will experience triggered reactions in the moment. Your childhood experiences, cultural context, and social programming will inform how you react moment to moment. It’s key to build a toolbox for regulating the stress response as it comes up. What helps your body feel calm in the moment? Once you find that pause, what tools can you cultivate to regulate your nervous system? Can you take a walk? Squeeze your fists and release them, focusing on how it feels to squeeze and release? Take deep breaths, feeling your breath come in, fill your belly, and release? Do you have a smooth stone you keep in your pocket that you can feel and bring your attention to?
- Build awareness of your patterns and narratives. Some folks call this journaling, while for others they might pray or free-write. Spend 3–5 minutes each day noting what came up for you. When did you find yourself in a stress response? What stories were you telling yourself before, during, or after? What emotions were triggered or triggering? We cannot rewrite patterns from our subconscious programming until we are aware of them. When you carve out a few minutes every day to tune into that and build awareness, you’ll find yourself more easily able to access those narratives and programming in the moment.
Do you think our educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence? What specific recommendations would you make for schools to help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence?
Absolutely, I do. We created the S.E.E.D. Certification, bringing 5 experts in early childhood together for workshops on how to do this work in an early childhood program setting. The two biggest gaps I see in emotional intelligence in the educational system are an understanding of the nervous system and building adult tools to cultivate awareness and self-regulation. We dive into these areas and more in the S.E.E.D. Certification and are excited to expand the program for elementary schools in 2022.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
A movement to build awareness of and own responsibility for our reactions. I think this is key to showing up in connection with other humans empathetically and giving allowing ourselves to experience all of our emotions.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
My dream lunch would be with Adam Grant. His work in organizational psychology is so meaningful and important in our world. I would love to have the opportunity to connect with and learn from him.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can dive into our resources on our website at www.seedandsew.org and follow along on Instagram @seed.and.sew.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.