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Respecting Children's Emotions with Rachel Tomlinson


Respecting Children's Emotions with Rachel Tomlinson

Felicity Cohen: Hello, I’m Felicity Cohen. I’m so excited to introduce you to my Wellness Warriors Podcast. For over 20 years, I’ve been a passionate advocate for helping thousands of Australians find solutions to treating obesity and health related complications through surgical intervention and holistic managed care.

My podcast is dedicated to all the people past, present, and future who have helped shape my journey and continue to inspire me to work consistently to achieve a healthier Australia in both adults and future generations. I hope you enjoy it.

Welcome to the Wellness Warriors Podcast today. It’s my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Rachel Tomlinson. Rachel is a registered psychologist, a parent, and a parenting expert. I feel like that’s a really big title because as a parent myself and having raised two kids becoming a parenting expert in the space being a psychologist, it’s an ongoing journey. There’s so much to learn, so much to navigate. How do you see yourself as a parenting expert Rachel?

Rachel Tomlinson: I think actually every parent is their own expert. They know their family the best, they know their child, they know what they need. Where I come in is I’ve got a heck of a lot of knowledge, professional knowledge and experience of working with different families and sometimes you do need an outsider’s perspective to, to look in and help you reframe or tweak something that’s not quite working, but I think in essence, actually, every family, every mother, father, parent is actually the expert of their individual family. 

Felicity Cohen: It’s so valuable and necessary I think even with the pressures that we are faced with in the world, we live in today to reach out to experts, to gather that advice, mentorship, and support. I don’t think it could ever be more relevant than it is right now in our society that we are living in today. 

Rachel Tomlinson: I would agree. The things that we’ve gone through as a community and as a society in recent years has been absolutely unprecedented. And it does take a village to raise a child. And when we’ve been so isolated and separated from our villages, we are often then more reliant on what can we find virtually? What can we find online? Who can we listen to? What can we read that’s going to help us with those parenting questions or help us to feel like we’re supported. 

Felicity Cohen: I absolutely couldn’t agree with you more in that concept of it does take a village to raise a child. And in times when we feel isolated, looking to find those networks, those community support environments and the opportunity to have a host of people who can be there, you know, when things are going, you know, really not necessarily to plan and there’s challenges, but also when things are going well and reaching out for those community support systems couldn’t be more heightened and important in the world we live in right now. 

Your first book, Rachel titled “Teaching Kids to be Kind”, really fascinates me because the first thing it kind of makes me think about is when did kids not become kind or is there a moment in time where kindness wasn’t something that we were instilling or valuing or I guess, you know, educating our kids to be kind. 

Rachel Tomlinson: I think that I can answer that one in a twofold kind of way. I think that parents always want their children to grow up and have the best and, and be the best that they could possibly be. That’s what the majority of parents come to me saying, I just want my child to be happy. I just want them to be okay in their life and in their world. And so that’s an evergreen topic because kindness is all about how we engage with other people around us and it reflects greatly on the quality of relationships we have and how people perceive us and how we can then navigate our way in the world and so kindness is a really important part of the, you know, how can I have, how can I make sure that my child is a good child? But our society is becoming more and more individualistic and individual pursuits. And we also really struggle with technology and our technology is wonderful. We wouldn’t be here having this conversation if you know, we didn’t have such great technology, but it’s, it, it definitely breeds I guess, challenges. It’s instant gratification. So I want something now it’s at my fingertips. It’s available. Children are definitely, and adults, are losing the ability to wait and delay that sort of end goal because everything is so accessible. So I think there’s definitely some challenges that have come up with technology that make it not an evergreen topic, but something that parents are really interested in now. 

Felicity Cohen: Yeah, absolutely. In one of the reviews of your book, “Teaching Kids to be Kind”, I’ve noticed a comment that was around kindness has been traded for competition. And that really relates back to your statement around, you know, that we have become an individualistic society. But for me, I’ve always thought that it was a given that kindness was something that was created and learnt from such an early age. So I was really fascinated to look at the change in our society that’s led us back to actually coming back to that value system of really requiring the tools to teach kids to be kind and compassionate. So I think clearly it’s something that needs addressing and, it’s so important, you know, that we are teaching children to be kind every single day and random acts of kindness, you know, teaching kids and people in general, that it’s so important to reach out to others on a daily basis.

Rachel Tomlinson: And I think for a lot of families, you know, who, who are quite fortunate, they really want to instil in their children gratitude and appreciation and helping them to expand their circles of concern and look outside of immediate family and friends, and think about other people in their world. You know, it creates a much nicer community and there’s so many knock on effects from those random acts of kindness and being kind isn’t nice. Nice is something very different than being kind and it’s that compassion that one person can bring to somebody else’s day is, you know, the impact is huge on our community. 

Felicity Cohen: Absolutely. It’s an important reminder. One of the tips that you’ve highlighted in the book is around teaching kids, delayed gratification through activities, such as baking a cake to teach patience and teamwork. Do you feel that these are values in children that have been lost, that we need to really focus on reintroducing? 

Rachel Tomlinson: I think that, as I mentioned before, technology has played a really big part in you know, in that being a challenge. And there’s so much research out there that children who are able to delay gratification have better educational attainment, better income and socioeconomic status later, they’re less likely to become addicted to different substances, they’re more likely to have quality reciprocal relationships. This is a key skill. It basically is teaching a child, you want something and you want to work towards that big goal that’s going to have a big payout, or do you take the quick win and it’s a really essential skill. And I think that, yeah, when everything is so easy to access, like when I wanted information, when I was a kid, I would pull out that Encyclopedia Brittanica or you’d have to request that thing from the library, but now everything is just so available and it’s, it’s so easy to slip into instant gratification room.

Felicity Cohen: Definitely. And I think for so many people who live in a world of busy, satisfying those instant requests from children and meeting those expectations can be a bit of an, anything for peace approach as well. 

Rachel Tomlinson: Yeah. I would agree. It is easy to not have the boundaries and, and to give in, or to give children something else, but we are also, as you mentioned, busier than we’ve ever been, our kids are, so their days are so structured as are ours. It’s almost like we’ve lost the ability to see downtime as valuable. If it’s not filled, if it doesn’t have structure or a purpose, then it’s, it’s hard for us to see that as valuable so we end up over structuring the time and feeding into that idea that we’ve got to be constantly engaged, constantly busy, constantly being validated. It’s yeah, it’s a tricky cycle 

Felicity Cohen: Absolutely. Teaching kids to be still and quiet and present in the moment and giving them those tools to understand that it’s not a badge of honour to wear that sign of busyness for the rest of your life, because that’s going to lead to burnout and probably unhappiness rather than being a happy and well balanced person.

Rachel Tomlinson: A lot of clients that I work with, um, children all the way up to adults have so much trouble sitting still, they will use that busyness to help them avoid or distract uncomfortable feelings, um, or uncomfortable thoughts and okay, a little bit of distraction, a bit of scrolling through Netflix every now and again is, is absolutely fine. But when we are using it to avoid much more, you know, serious internal conversations or internal functions, it, it’s not helpful in the long run. 

Felicity Cohen: Yes, definitely. Your latest book, “A Blue Kind of Day” is really aimed at younger children, aged three to eight and giving them the opportunity to learn more about how to identify things like a little bit of depression or anxiety and learning how to deal with emotions, but also giving them the understanding of how to express those emotions. I feel that we are really living in a time where, mental health concerns are so prevalent. This is amazing because you are giving children and parents the tools to address potential mental health issues at such a young age and dealing with them is so vital. Tell me a little bit about “A Blue Kind of Day” and what inspired you to put together this book and to publish it? 

Rachel Tomlinson: It came, it came about a really long time ago. I was working in play therapy, with children and it obviously involved lots of really close work with families. And I would have parents asking me all the time, like, is there a story that I can read to my child? Or is there something that we can talk through? So we often use picture books and story books as structure for conversations with young children, and really there wasn’t that much out there. What I did as part of our play therapy sessions is I would actually create these little stories for the kids that I worked with that talked through, how did their sad feelings manifest or how did their anxious feelings manifest and what were some of the strategies that we’d been working on in counselling for them to address it? And then they got to, illustrate it themselves and then they would take it home at the end of counselling. I had a colleague who was like, you should publish this. And I was like, okay, that sounds like a great idea! So it then started the, the long process of getting that published. The overarching aim for that book is lots of stories out there have the fairy tale ending, everything’s wrapped up in a bow beautifully in neatly. We don’t see, we don’t often see children whose lives are not picture book perfect. There’s chaos or there’s trauma or there’s overwhelm and distress. And I think that every child deserves to be able to see themselves in literature and the amount of grownups that I’ve had reach out to me and say, I wish I had had this book when I was a child, because I was a child with depression and what it would’ve meant to see myself in a book, would’ve been everything. 

Felicity Cohen: Do you think that addressing these concepts from such a young age is part of a strategy around preventing escalating constant increase in mental health conditions as we get older and head towards adolescence? 

Rachel Tomlinson: I think that one of the biggest issues around seeking help and support for mental health is stigma. It’s still just, it’s still so prevalent. You know, if you break your leg, you go to the hospital, you seek help. And then people also care for you. They’re like, oh my gosh, you have a broken leg. You poor thing. Can I help? Or can I do. We hide depression. We hide anxiety, bipolar, borderline personality disorder. It’s not given the same level of compassion and empathy. Whereas if we start these conversations with kids so young where it’s, this is just a conversation we have, we talk about feelings. We give them words for their feelings, then they’re less likely to feel that stigma as they grow up, they’re more likely to talk about express it. And the sooner you can get help. The easier and more likely that recovery is going to be, or at least having the tools to continue working on recovery throughout their lives. 

Felicity Cohen: In your professional experience, how have you perceived the impact of COVID on children? Especially those who’ve had to from a really young age, be schooled from a home environment and had less contact with their peers. What have you seen as some of the outcomes? 

Rachel Tomlinson: I have seen a, quite a massive uptick in referrals for young people. Particularly for those who’ve experienced, two lockdowns, one lockdown is obviously very significant but two has proven even more detrimental. There’s lots of research that’s starting to come out that’s saying that people that have experienced too long downs are experiencing much higher rates of depression and anxiety in particular. But what I’ve been seeing is children who are developing social anxiety. So they’re getting very, very fearful about returning to a school setting with peers, because they’re locked down and they’re not walking to school, they’re not doing sport, they don’t have access to their sporting activities. Some young people are also very concerned about their appearance and weight gain, and our brain goes through a stress response when we feel isolated. We are supposed to be in groups. We are supposed to be around other people. And those stress responses and anxiety and depression are, are just increasing.

Felicity Cohen: Yeah. It’s a really big issue and something that’s so important for us all to be thinking about and addressing. And I’m really grateful to be having this conversation with you today because as we come out of the other end, we know that the impact is going to be on our children for many years to come and how we raise those conversations and help them navigate their way through to become more resilient and to deal with these issues, I think is really important. So I’m grateful for the conversation first of all.

The social anxiety issue, I think, is something that’s really prevalent. And I see more and more of that in our adult patient population as well. I think it’s so often misunderstood and that someone who has that social anxiety response to certain situations, they really need to know that they’re not alone and have the opportunity to deal with these things and it can be manifested in so many different ways. So, I was talking to someone who was telling me about their social anxiety and how they rarely leave their house because they don’t feel that they’ve got the self-esteem to place themselves in large community situations, even so much as not wanting to be in a supermarket setting, for example and that that social anxiety just brings a rise of overwhelming emotions. What are some of the things that people can, can do to deal with that? Have you got any really good tips for managing that? 

Rachel Tomlinson: Absolutely. I, I think that it’s very individual about what will work. So these are not specific tips for anyone person listening, but sometimes it’s about identifying what the thought is that’s worrying you. And when you can actually pull it apart, it could be, you know, people might be looking at me and judging my appearance or, I’m nervous that people might be thinking about me or looking about, you know, looking at me and so actually pinpointing what the thought is that’s making you worry, when you know what it is, you then have more power to address it, reframe it. Consider is this realistic? Is it likely, are there other, you know, your brain is feeding you negative options at that point, are there any kind of neutral things that I can think about that, hey, no, one’s really looking at me. Everyone’s thinking about themselves. Nobody’s focused on what I’m doing, but then also some really good grounding techniques. So if your brain’s got into a pattern of sort of building you up and making you feel very uncomfortable and worried about what might happen in the social situation, a grounding activity can really help. So it’s an activity that brings you back to this moment. So not the future worries or the things that might happen. It could be as simple as looking out a window or looking at the room around you and naming all the objects that you can see. So, water bottle, pens. You know. 

Felicity Cohen: What is the link between a happy child and a happy well focused adult? 

Rachel Tomlinson: I think it’s a pretty clear one! Children who are happy and well adjusted, develop more resilience, and they also have more reciprocal, respectful, positive relationships. They’re more able to cope with life’s issues and then they become adults who’ve been able to, to manage all of those issues also. 

Felicity Cohen: Excellent. How do you focus on your own wellness? 

Rachel Tomlinson: As a mom and I work full time and I have my books and, and my business, it can be a challenge some days, but I’m at the moment I’m doing a paint by numbers, which is really cool. It’s really fun. I set my daughter up next to me and she does her own version of paint by numbers and I do mine. So I’ve had to get more kind of creative about setting aside my self care, but for me it’s definitely creating things, whether it’s writing, I went and learned how to do glass cutting the other day and that was very cool. Copper boiling, I’ve done candle making, all sorts of things. It’s, it’s something new. I love learning something new and being creative because it’s just such an outlet. 

Felicity Cohen: I love the idea of art therapy, that it can be such an important part of how we self manage, how we self regulate and it’s so cathartic and relaxing as well. So using activities like that, I think is just fantastic for even helping you from a mental health perspective. I’ve also seen that you love to encourage kids to get out in nature, which is something that I’m also really, I love that we can focus on, for example, getting out 20 minutes in nature, a bit of forest bathing or connecting with nature can also be really grounding. Do you get out much with your kids in nature? 

Rachel Tomlinson: Ah, absolutely. We have a caravan. We go camping as often as we can possibly get away we are quite isolated. So whenever we wanna go anywhere, it’s a long drive um, and we go hiking as well. My little girl is five and she can walk five to eight km’s. So from a very young age, we’ve, we’ve got her out and got her walking and it’s just something that we enjoy as a family. We get a little picnic, we’d have a hike, and then we sit down together and enjoy some really beautiful scenery. 

Felicity Cohen: So one of my favourite activities and such a great digital detox as well, because when you’re connecting and going out with your family like that, leaving your phone well away at home is often one of the best ways to have a complete head space break. It’s so good for you. 

So what do you wish you knew about wellness? If you could take yourself back 10 years ago? 

Rachel Tomlinson: I think it would be slowing down and taking the time. Because I’m a very switched on person. I’ve always got something on the go a little bit, like what we were speaking about before, and I don’t personally use it as an avoidance but I just enjoy being busy. I’m a multitasker. My husband always jokes that he feels like I get extra hours in the day than other people get. He’s like, I don’t know how you manage to do these things. But for me, it, it’s a really tricky balance because that’s people often applaud you for being busy and for being, productive and constructive with your time and for me, it’s that balance. How much self-esteem do I get from being told I’m I’m doing really well, and I’m doing all these things versus, when do I actually need to stop and, you know, pull up stamps and just backtrack and say no to a few things. That balance is something I’m still learning. 

Felicity Cohen: I think that’s an ever moving target for all of us, you know, that myth of work, life, balance, and how to find it is so individual and finding what works for you. And I totally relate to that productivity message, you know, do we gain self-esteem from having a really highly productive day, but then the next day it might not be quite the same and accepting that, you know, there is going to be balance throughout the week as well.

Rachel Tomlinson: Mm-hmm and what does it cost us? If we maintain that level of productivity to keep getting that little self-esteem boost it’s it’s not sustainable which I’m figuring out. 

Felicity Cohen: Yeah, definitely. So as a published author, I’d love to know what you’ve been reading and if you’ve got any recommendations for us, 

Rachel Tomlinson: I have such an eclectic bookshelf. It’s definitely an interesting one. So my favourite author is Marion Keyes. So she’s brought out a sequel to Rachel’s Holiday. So the sequel is again Rachel, and it sounds very egocentric cause I’m like Rachel, Rachel and my name is Rachel, but actually it’s fantastic. She’s a fantastic author. She writes a lot about mental health, but adds a lot of real humour and authenticity to her books. I absolutely love her stuff. So I’d recommend that to anyone who you know, is interested in mental health and, and a little bit of humour. I’ve also been reading the Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, which I’m not finished yet. So I’m, I’ll see how that one gets on, but yeah, very eclectic, reading.

Felicity Cohen: I’m an absolute fan of Marion Keyes as well. She’s one of my top favourite authors. So the love that you’ve mentioned her, that is fantastic. Love it. And finally today, Rachel, our listeners are all Wellness Warriors. We know wellness is worth fighting for, and once you lose your health, you spend the rest of your life fighting to get it back, whether that’s physical or mental or spiritual health. And something that’s always inspiring to learn about is how others are going on their wellness journey, so my last question for you is can you share with us a time when you were struggling with your wellness and what did you do to fight for it or reclaim it? 

Rachel Tomlinson: It was fairly recently actually, I was in a job that didn’t give me as much balance as I have now. We’d moved house, my daughter had started school, my husband had been given a promotion, so I was working more hours. My book was just ramping up and these things are all positive things in essence but they’re all big life stresses, like job changes and moving house. And I was still just trying to plow through all the things that I needed to do and, putting immense amount of pressure on myself and I was really not in a great space actually. I was really struggling. I wasn’t feeling very happy and I’m usually a very bubbly person and, and very happy and cheerful. That’s not something that I have typically struggled with, you know, as a psychologist, I usually keep on top of that one where I can, and ended up having a conversation with my mum and just kind of broke down. And she was like, okay, what’s got to change. Like, say it out loud. Like, what are the things that have got to change? And I just rejigged everything, the support of my loved ones. I’m now. Not working full time, so that I can better balance my business and other work. And I found some different work where I can be finished, ready for the school run to pick up my daughter. My mom’s picking my daughter up one day a week and taking care of her. Husband’s making sure that he’s home when he can, and he’s taking her out for different things. So it’s just about asking for help was what I needed. I kind of got into this mindset of, I’ve got to do it all myself. I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to do it. And I didn’t recognise that all those positive things could have been also challenging me. 

Felicity Cohen: Thank you so much for sharing that. And I think, you know, one of the things in that is that we often internalise so much when we are going through those challenges that we forget that it’s okay to reach out and ask for that help and to look for what can I change so that I don’t stay in this silo for too long until it does become a lot greater that the challenge can you know, can grow and grow and manifest. So congratulations to you. I think it’s really important to recognise your own cues and your own needs. So I think that’s awesome. 

It’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with you today Rachel, many thanks for joining me on the Wellness Warriors podcast. 

Rachel Tomlinson: Thank you for having me Felicity it’s been a great conversation.

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