The Weller Way

Name it to Tame it: How to teach children to surf the waves of Emotions

I’ve just returned from a lovely holiday in Turkey, and learnt two things:

  1. Turkish is a beautifully emotive language
  2. I’m a rubbish paddle boarder!

Is anyone a Surfer or paddle boarder?

I’ve tried it and just can’t master it, everytime I try to get up on the board, I wobble and down I go, back into the water. Not got the core strength! But you know how to lift yourself up everytime.

The goal of raising children should not be simply to have an obedient and compliant child, but one that can take control of how they feel through making choices. We want children that can use their own strengths to get up again when they are knocked back, and be able to self- regulate when they lose their balance. Just like surf boarders, this takes a lot of practice!


I hope today through this talk to be able to share my ideas about how we can teach our children to metaphorically surf the waves  of emotions.


Children are born with the potential to feel and express the full range of emotions. Not all of these are comfortable or manageable, they are often overwhelming before a child learns to regulate them.

Learning how to manage emotions and endure unpleasant feelings doesn’t come naturally, but they are skills that can be and must be taught. When we help children learn to regulate their emotions, we are doing much more than helping them control their temper, we are helping them with practice and guidance, in being able to cope with feelings.  Therefore we are teaching emotional regulation as oppose to emotional surpression, which comes from closing the behaviour down.

We know that a baby crying is their way of communicating a need, hunger, thirst, connection etc, but how does this translate as they grow older?

As a parenting coach, I’m often asked for strategies about taming tantrums, be it toddler or teen. Traditional parenting strategies aim to close down behaviour but the behaviour is simply a communication of a need, just like a baby’s.

The aim of today’s talk is to give you one ninja strategy:

NAME IT TO TAME IT: THIS IS YOUR NINJA STRATEGY that will make them a great e-boarder!

If you follow this strategy, coined by the neuro-scientist Dan Siegal, who wrote The Whole Brain Child,  it is a sound pathway to helping your child be able to regulate their own emotions and develop emotional resilience in the future.

The philosophy behind Name it to Tame it, upholds, that all emotions are both hurtful and helpful, and therefore serve a necessary purpose to helping us be whole.

Why would you use this strategy:

A very large concensus now amongst child psychologists and neuro-scientists that it is a child’s ability to regulate emotions that is a critical factor in their mental health.  Research by John Gottman concludes that it is “The Difference that makes the difference”.

What is the Difference?

The difference is an Authoritative approach to Parenting As oppose to more traditional forms of parenting (authoritarian) that punishes a child for behaviour, and doesn’t recognise the emotions fuelling the behaviour as a response to a need. This leads to surpressing emotions, which is damaging, or more anger. Punishment adds to the negative feelings that drives poor behaviour

How it makes a difference?

It can be argued that Emotional competence is more important than other skills linked to success and happiness. There is a current danger on focusing on academic prowess, without building core resilience skills, which may explain in the upsurge of the amount of teenagers suffering from anxiety and depression.l

Children who are able to regulate emotions:

  1. Pay more attention, work harder and achieve more academically
  2. Are better able to resolve conflicts with their peers
  3. Have lower levels of stress
  4. Are more caring to others.

Labelling Emotions:

As an NLP practitioner, I’m really interested in Language, particularly language that creates Connection rather than which fuels disconnection. We have the largest amount of words in any language, but the least for emotions. For example There are at least five different words to express surprise in Chinese Mandarin; some surprises are happy, others are shocks and still others are the slow, prolonged surprise you might experience while reading a book – suspense.

A British researcher called Lomas published an article in the Journal of Positive Psychology finding that the English language lacks words for positive emotions. He found that worldwide there are 216 words that we have no equivalent for. Here are some:

Words relating to relationships:

  • Nakama: Japanese for friends who one considers like family
  • Kanyininpa: Aboriginal Pintupi for a relationship between holder and held, akin to the deep nurturing feelings experienced by a parent for their child
  • Gigil: Philippine Tagalog for the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because you love them so much
  • Kilig: Tagalog for the butterflies in the stomach you get when interacting with someone you find attractive
  • Sarang: Korean for when you wish to be with someone until death

So what are the main emotions?

  • Anger:the most common emotion displayed by young children
  • Fear: fuels anxiety and meltdowns
  • Disgust:fuels prejudice, lack of respect and bullying
  • Happiness and Joy:Susan Jeffers, states seek joy not happiness in daily living because it is immediate
  • Grief and Sadness:”I’ve lost something important to me”: The proof of love present. If your child is the smartest kid on the block but cannot tolerate being sad, they will never be willing to risk failure or rejection
  • Surprise: Can be happy or sad (a shock)
  • Contempt and Shame: Self- loathing, Abuse of others, depression.

However these are all on a continuem of Pain & Power (Susan Jeffries)   and when we recognise that negative emotions serve a useful purpose, we can name that need.

For the purpose of this talk, I’m going to focus on the ones which lead to negative behaviours and explain why and explain how we can shift them from pain to power.

The over-riding reason for challenging behaviours, whether that’s screaming, whining, tantrums, anger, hitting, biting Is needs not being met.  If you are unsure of what these needs might be they are easily related to Maslow’s model:

Physiological: Hungry, tired, Hot/Cold, want to be at home (Shelter)

Safety. Fear: I might be in danger. Fuels Anxiety

Love/Belonging: Friendships, the need to be understood, the need for Connection & Companionship

Self- esteem: (humiliation , embarrassment. A challenge in confidence or respect. Frustration at not being able to do something because they perceive we don’t think they  have the skills or that they don’t have the skills.

Self- actualisation: Coping with change, coping with boundaries. Not understanding (logic) what is expected of them. LInked with developing their own Identity

Once we’ve looked for that need, what next? What are the components of the Ninja Strategy?

  1. Name the need: How can I help? Label the emotion e.g It looks like you are feeling angry right now”
  2. Validate the emotion: Showing that you understand how they are feeling, but you don’t agree with it. e.g I can understand feeling so angry that you wanted to say something mean.This is connecting to correct.
  3. Assert the limit….”This is  not how we speak to each other in this family because it’s rude.” Correct the behaviour, not the emotion
  4. Seek the solution: Do not fix. Ask your child what they think they should do. By fixing, you are taking responsibility for their emotions, not them. This may have to be done later if needs some time out to calm down. N.B Use time out positively, you will have agreed calming strategies and the place in advance.
  5. Apply the consequence and re-affirm that they always have a choice in how they behave to get what they need.

Forcing your child to say sorry doesn’t teach them how to make amends. Teach them that apologies are only meaningful when they are intent on changing their behaviour. We can help them change their behaviour by using discipline to teach, by using the relationship we have to guide and teach the values that we want them to learn.

We have lately witnessed some high profile monsters : Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein, who think that saying sorry is good enough, to absolve them of their horrific sexual abuse.

What do these 5 steps achieve?

Neurons that fire together, wire together. We know that there is so much plasticity in the brain, and that the old view that the brain was fully formed by age 7 has been proved wrong.

When we observe a child behaving aggressively, we often view this behaviour as naughty, inconsiderate or mean. This moves us to want to punish, without giving thought to the feelings driving it.

Young children cannot feel big emotions and at the same time think about their actions. This requires left brain logic to pair with right brain emotion and that takes time to integrate. So we become their upper brain for them, providing the pause and refelection and stopping the behaviour until they are able to do so themselves.

By looking behind the aggression, there will be feelings of frustration driving it, so we address the frustration.

The emotion pre-schoolers tend to struggle with the most is anger

Why does anger manifest itself: What is the need?

The need is: Frustration that something is in the way of me getting what I need.

Therefore, seeking a joint solution, rather than shouting or punishing is the more logical way and successful way. With toddlers we have to be their left hand brain for them, by setting the limit and establishing the consequence , but as they get older, we can ask how they think they can fix or amend the situation. Forcing a child to say sorry, does not encourage them to work out their own way of making amends. Trying to “fix” the situation for them, also does not enable them to take responsibility for their actions.

We need to teach from any early age how to calm themselves down and self- regulate, rather than punishment.

So how do we build emotional literacy from a young age?

  1. Use the Name it to Tame it Strategies.
  2. Explain that thoughts involve words or pictures that go on in the brain
  3. Ask your child where in their body they are feeling the feeling
  4. Behaviour involves the actions they choose to take with their body. Choice exists
  5. Plop words associated with emotions in sentences when you are speaking to them

Feeling disappointed, frustrated, angry and sad are all part of life. The one thing we can do is role model being comfortable showing these emotions, not hiding them from our children.

It’s connection, not control, that cultivates co-operation, trust, love, resilience and independence and which builds their internal compass.

We can help our children to find and nourish their internal compass.


N             Name it to Tame it, leads to

E              Emotional Resilience leads to

S              Self Esteem leads

W           Well adjusted child


Name it to Tame it: How to teach children to surf the waves of Emotions
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