Transcript: Activities to Stimulate Emotional Development in Infants
This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Activities to Stimulate Emotional Development in Infants and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.
Helen Thompson: Giving your child the right start and building a really solid foundation is crucial for their emotional development and in this week’s episode of First Time Mum’s Chat, I’m chatting with certified toddler yoga teacher and infant massage and baby yoga instructor Jen Cooper. You’ll hear Jen and I talk about various topics including encouraging and developing emotional resilience, emotion and intelligence and mindful activities.
Hi Jen, and welcome to first Time Mum’s Chat. I always enjoy talking with you since we’ve got so much in common with the baby massage side of things. I’m looking forward to learning about some areas that are new to me, particularly baby and toddler yoga, and how they help toddlers and infants learn about their emotions.
You also mentioned when we last spoke about the areas of emotional resilience, emotional intelligence, and mindful activities and I’m looking forward to exploring these with you as well. Can you start by telling us about your background and how you ended up in Hong Kong doing what you do?
Jen Cooper: Okay thanks for having me, Helen. So I’m Jen. I’m from the UK originally from all over, lived in Oxford, London, I grew up in Leeds and most recently I’m from Scotland, which is where my little girl was born. So I’m a mom of a 2-year-old daughter, and shortly after I gave birth to her, I started experiencing postnatal depression and it was in the middle of lockdown and we were very isolated and I was very lucky to be offered baby massage classes on the NHS as part of my treatment for postnatal depression.
And it was really, really life changing. It really saved me in a very, very dark time and it’s from there that my interest in baby classes sprung and now I teach baby massage, baby yoga and toddler yoga in Hong Kong. And toddler yoga and baby yoga are the two subjects that I’m really excited to talk to you about today, about building emotional resilience and emotional intelligence in our children, which is something that’s so important.
Helen Thompson: So how does emotional resilience help with our babies in relation to baby yoga and baby massage?
Jen Cooper: Well, emotional resilience and emotional intelligence is something that’s so important, and I think that this new generation of moms coming through are particularly interested and invested in their child’s emotional development. It’s something that everyone’s attention is on at the moment and in terms of the baby yoga and toddler yoga we are building a really, really solid foundation in those classes for children to grow their emotional intelligence and develop emotionally through their childhood.
And in my baby yoga classes, which start at 8 weeks old, we are already modeling for the children, breathing techniques, we might be doing some mantras, we are doing massage which aids in infant mindfulness and mindfulness of movement as well. And as we move up through the older ages as the children from about 7 months old and up and in the toddler yoga classes, we’re speaking to the children about their emotions, we’re ensuring that they feel comfortable sharing their emotions, that they know that it’s safe to be angry, it’s safe to be sad, they’re allowed to feel those things. We help them with naming their emotions, and then we also provide them with healthy coping strategies in class too.
Helen Thompson: I like that because that’s what I try and do when I work in childcare to try and encourage children to let their emotions out. When I was a kid, I was always told to suppress my emotions. I wasn’t allowed to let my emotions out and I think it’s really important to let kids know how to do that and I think yoga is is a great way to do that because you’re also helping the mom as well as helping the child.
Jen Cooper: Absolutely, absolutely and in terms of the breathing exercises that we do, it’s just as much about teaching the adults in the class how to teach the child to breathe, and how to model that breathing so that they can use it at a later date if the child is deregulated, having a tantrum, or if something happens and it’s about giving them ways to cope and not saying, go away, I don’t want to see you like this. It can be very difficult, I know, as a parent to see your child in distress. It’s not comfortable for us, but giving the parents a breathing exercise that they can teach to the child, gives them something positive that they can use in that moment, rather than allowing themselves to be frustrated and allowing themselves to get angry at the emotions that the child is feeling.
Helen Thompson: When you’re doing baby yoga, how do we teach them breathing? Is it just like you do in baby massage by cues and teaching your baby whilst you are doing it? Is that sort of how it works?
Jen Cooper: Yes, in baby yoga, the breathing exercises are mostly performed by the parents and they’re modeling for the baby, that breathing. But we do some breathing exercises that are really beneficial that the child benefits from in that moment too. So a really good example is my bee breathing exercise, where we hold the babies really close to the parent’s chests. They hold the babies nice and tight with their head in their hand, and the body in the other hand and we’ll inhale in through the nose and exhale between the teeth to make a buzzing sound and if you try that, you’ll feel that your chest vibrates and by holding the babies nice and close to our chest, they can feel that vibration too. It’s very grounding for them. We’re creating a white noise in their ear and also they’re becoming aware of our exhale because we’re making it obvious with that Z sound and then the babies start to regulate their breath too. And when we practice that in class, we often find that the whole atmosphere of the room changes. All the babies settle and calm very quickly, and they’re all listening to the parents to see what they do. As the babies get older, they also start copying and they’ll start making that buzzing sound.
Or sometimes we’ll do it with a sh or a sound and when the babies start to copy it, that’s the babies becoming aware of their exhale, which is a really important step.
Helen Thompson: I think that sounds lovely. Gosh, I wish I had a baby so I could take them to your classes. It sounds really nice that you do that. Cause as you know with baby massage the skin to skin is so important because they feel the mother’s heartbeat and everything else, but I’d never thought of it, when you are breathing and relaxing, you are actually teaching your baby to do that as well.
Jen Cooper: Yes, they’re very, very aware of their grownup and what their grownup is doing. And they follow our cues more than you can realize. And for a very long time, that’s the case. I mean, to be honest, it can work on adults as well, can’t it? If you’ve ever been in a situation where you are having a volatile argument or perhaps if you work in customer service and you’ve got a difficult customer who’s getting irate, and you’ll find that if you take a breath and if you calm down, they can catch that calm.
And I think humans are very intuitive creatures. So in general, if somebody calms down, then you’ll calm down and meet them. But that’s especially true of babies and particularly with their caregivers.
Helen Thompson: Yes, so you mentioned also mindful activities. What are mindful activities that you do with babies, toddlers, and caregivers and adults?
Jen Cooper: Well some examples of the mindful activities that I use are really, really simple and easy. Any parent could do it at home. So, for example, when we are blowing bubbles at the end of class, all toddlers love bubbles in a bubble machine. So instead of popping the bubbles or running around mindlessly in the bubbles, we are mindfully trying to control the bubbles with our breath. The babies and the children try to blow at the bubbles and move them around the room.
So that’s a really, really simple tweak to an activity that a lot of parents will use anyway, to make it slightly more mindful. And we have several breathing activities that we do with the older babies and toddlers. Things like putting a pompom on the floor and the baby or toddler will blow it to move it across the floor, blowing a feather up into the air. They have to try and keep it up with their breath. So those are the breathing exercises that we might do. In terms of other mindful activities, any kind of sensory play is extremely mindful for a baby particularly, because they’re so involved in all their senses and all that discovery. They can really lose themself in the activity, as you’ll see with any baby or toddler, they can really lose themself in play. So the kinds of activities that we do in class are playing with a sheep skin rug. It might involve, I will give out roses to the children and they can smell the roses and pull the rose apart, maybe put the petals on their lips and really explore the sensations of it.
We sometimes play with instruments, banging on a drum and listening to the sound, listening for how long we can hear that sound for. Any kind of sensory play is a really fantastic mindful activity for babies and for toddlers and I work really hard to make sure that the sensory activities in my classes can be incorporated at home as well. It’s not something that you can only do in a baby class. Hopefully it’ll give the parents and the carers some kind of an idea of what they can use at home, what they can utilize in their day-to-day play.
Helen Thompson: I think sensory play is so important for babies especially, but also for when they’ve got a ADHD or anything like that. If they can be helped with that when they’re young, it can soothe them with so many ailments. I’ve experienced that a lot in my childcare, as well as in the baby massage. It’s so important with the sensories and you can give them so many different things to do when you’re massaging as well. So I think the sensory activities are great and I know you also do songs as well, because I follow you on Instagram and I’m amazed by some of the things you do. I loved your Scottish theme.
Jen Cooper: Yes, that was last week. Yeah, that was really, really nice. Oh, one of the sensory activities I was really excited about, was I created little spice pouches, including all the spices that go into Haggas. Let the baby smell the spice pouches. And for the older children, I separated out the spices. So the one pouch was thyme and one pouch was nutmeg, and one pouch was black peppercorns. And they had to close their eyes and they had to match the scents to each other. These ones and these ones are all the same and so on. So I was really proud of that. That was a really fun activity, and that’s a fantastic activity.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, it is, and it’s good for their senses, it’s good for their smell, it’s good for their awareness to feel the touch and the feel of the different textures and everything as well.
Jen Cooper: It allows them to get curious, which is a really important thing for children and I do feel that for a lot of parents, especially really busy parents that work really hard, and that’s the case all over the world, parents are so, so busy and particularly in Hong Kong where the working day is very long, they often feel very overwhelmed, feeling like they need to provide sensory activities.
It’s just another thing on my to-do list. It. Those kinds of activities are more complicated than just getting out normal toys and it’s part of my mission, I think, in classes to show the parents that it can be really, really simple things that you already have at home, that you just utilize in a different way or you just change your language when you’re talking to the child about what they’re doing.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, I think changing your language and talking to children, whether that be in classes or whether it be with senses, even if you’re taking them for a walk and taking them outside. Talking to them about what’s happening and talking to them about the flowers and saying, smell that and what does that smell like? And I think that’s so valuable, even when they’re older. I’ve done that with a 4-year-old. I take him swimming sometime and we walk back to the garden center.
He loves going in there and smelling all the flowers and I take him around and they’ve got little oils and essential oils, and I get him to smell those and tell him which ones he likes. And one of the people there commented. She said I love your communication with the little friend that you bring in because it’s such a lovely adult caring communication and how you involve the senses and she was amazed. And I said, well, it’s just what I do naturally and it helps that child, it really helps him to calm down because if he is stressed or whatever, and I take him in there, he just calms down instantly.
Jen Cooper: Absolutely. I think children tend to be very focused in on their senses, aren’t they? And that sort of fades as they get older. So a lot of what we can do is about encouraging that curiosity, encouraging that sensory exploration and just helping to remind them that that’s there and that’s something that they can come back to.
I love that you do that with a 4 year old, and I really hope that that’s something that he’ll keep coming back to throughout his life and he’ll remember, that’s an activity that I can do that I enjoy. It’s nice to explore smells. There’s a writer I really like called Gretchen Rubin and she investigates happiness and has been doing so for years. She’s written lots of books on it and she recently wrote a book about the sense of smell and happiness and, and how the two can co-relate. I think that’s a really interesting read.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, I’ll have a look at that because I think that would be good, cause it’s such a beautiful thing to do. So let’s just bring it back to yoga before we finish. So is there anything that you’d like to add more on the yoga side of the emotional and resilience and breathing techniques and even songs. I do a lot of songs with baby massage as well, and I know you can do that with yoga.
Jen Cooper: Well, something that I incorporate into my toddler yoga classes, and I think that a lot of toddler yoga teachers do this too, is incorporating stories into the class. So every class is based on a book. We read the book together and we explore the narrative through our movement and through our bodies. So for example if the story includes an elephant, we might start doing a pose that makes our bodies look like an elephant’s body, or if there’s a bat in the story, we might do a pose that takes us upside down, with the help of the caregivers.
And that’s another way to explore emotions and to build emotional resilience in your toddler is to help to encourage them to name the feeling of the characters in the book. Well, how does the monkey feel now, he’s lost his mum? He must feel really sad, right? Hmm. I wonder how he’s feeling now, he’s found his daddy? Do you think he feels better and so on, and that’s a really fantastic way to introduce to them the different feelings, to talk about the different feelings and to name them at a time when the child is not experiencing those feelings. It’s important when a child is having a tantrum or is feeling ang angry or is hitting, of course, we name the emotion at that moment, but it’s also important to name the emotion at a calmer moment too, so that they can really learn it and understand it cognitively because in the moments of stress and the moments of tension, it’s not a learning moment. The brain’s not primed for learning at that time, so that it’s not gonna go in and that’s why it’s really, really useful to use books and to talk about feelings in a calm moment, which is something that we do in toddler yoga.
Helen Thompson: I think it’s also good to teach them that before they’re having a temper tantrum.
Jen Cooper: Exactly.
Helen Thompson: I don’t like to say before the terrible twos. I had a lovely chat with somebody on my podcast who called it something else. I think the positive twos, it was just a different interpretation of it, but if we can teach them at a young age how to deal with that emotion from when they’re babies through to when they’re twos or whatever, then they’ll know how to deal with their emotions before they get to those terrible twos. It’s how we incorporate and how we teach our children. If we teach them to release their emotions and express their emotions, well then they’re not gonna have those major temper tantrums as much because they’ll know how to deal with them.
Jen Cooper: Yeah, I agree with you to an extent. I like to call it the typical twos because it’s typical for a 2 year old to experience tantrums, cause their brains are still under development, aren’t they and they don’t have the ability to regulate those emotions and that’s not something that we can teach them. We can lay the groundwork and we can encourage that learning, but it’s absolutely not the fault of the parent, and it’s not something that we’ve missed out if they have the tantrum. But yes, we definitely can lay that groundwork, get the children used to talking about feelings, and we can say to them, wow, you’re really angry right now. It’s okay to be angry, it’s safe to be angry, but we don’t hit mommy. Let’s do something else right now, let’s move away from that. But yeah, I agree, I think it’s a really good idea to move away from that terminology of the terrible twos. It can be terrible for a parent, it’s hard work, isn’t it?
When your child’s having tantrums and are deregulated it’s exhausting, awkward when you’re out in public, particularly when you’re dealing with lots of other people in public. Strangers who might have opinions about your child’s behavior, and it’s really difficult to focus on them in that moment.
I think if parents just remember about kindness and it’s about helping that child to feel safe with that emotion so that when they’re older, when they’re feeling angry and sad, they will have the ability to restrain that emotion, they’ll have the ability to keep themselves calm externally. They need to be able to feel like it’s okay for me to be sad, I can tolerate being sad, and I know that that’s all right. It’s okay for me to be angry, and I know that I can tolerate that and I can deal with that. That’s a much healthier outlook than an adult who is so angry they don’t know what to do with themselves. They don’t know how to cope with it and they cannot abide anger, they cannot stand feeling angry, so they’ll do anything to avoid it and that leads to these avoiding behaviors in adult life that can lead down more dangerous roads in terms of coping mechanisms and strategies that adults might use. So I think yeah, absolutely, the most important things are to name the emotion, to help the child to feel safe with that emotion and to make sure that they know with kindness that they are loved, no matter how they’re feeling. We want them around and we love them, and we feel comfortable with their feeling however they’re feeling, while also making sure that they know it’s not okay to hit, it’s not okay to bite, it’s not okay to throw things, et cetera, et cetera.
Helen Thompson: And I think that’s where the emotional resilience comes in, as we’ve just been discussing. Giving them the tools from a young age to learn how to do that, to learn how to deregulate.
Jen Cooper: You asked me about what songs I like to use in class, and there’s a fantastic song, an old Mr. Rogers song, any American people might know it. Yeah, he was a kids TV presenter in the States for many, many, many years and he has a song called What Do You Do With The Mad That You Feel?
What do you do with the mad that you feel when you feel so mad you could bite when everyone else is so, so wrong and nothing you do seems right. And then it gives lots of strategies that you could do, like you could jump, you could kick, you could run, you could punch a pillow and these are all safe, healthy things that you can do.
So songs like that are really, really useful and just general singing action songs, lots of body movements and allowing the child to learn how moving their bodies in different ways makes them feel and I think that baby yoga and toddler yoga classes are a fantastic foundation, not only for the children, for the babies and toddlers, to learn about their emotions and to develop their emotional resilience, but also to teach the adults and the caregivers who come to those classes, the parents and the caregivers can learn how to support that emotional development and how to manage their own emotions around that child and how to stop themselves getting frustrated or upset when the child is having a deregulated moment or is needing support. Cause that really is half the battle.
Helen Thompson: Yeah, I definitely agree with you on that one and I like that you use movement and yoga, because in my childcare career, I used to do a lot of movement with the kids when they were getting ratty and they were getting all sort of uptight and just being chaotic and running around and fighting with each other. I used to diffuse the situation, put on some music and get them to just play games with me and I know how valuable that is from the childcare side. So thank you for sharing it on the yoga side.
Jen Cooper: Yeah, it’s a really, really powerful tool and I think it’s about supporting not only the child, but also the caregivers around the child, giving them strategies to cope. So we do all sorts of things in yoga class, both baby yoga and toddler yoga, that work towards building emotional resilience and that leads children towards emotional intelligence as they get older.
Helen Thompson: Thank you we’ve covered a lot in this, so thank you for sharing that. How can people get in touch with you?
Jen Cooper: Great. So my website is www.little.hk. My company’s Little Hong Kong. My Instagram handle is @little.Massage.yoga and on Facebook you can search me, littlehk, and later on this year, I will be launching a video course, so there will be remote access courses available of my classes. So keep an eye out, anyone who’s listening, if you head over to my website, you’ll see a popup, which will offer you a free PDF for a nighttime baby massage routine. If they enter their email, that PDF will be sent to them, and then they’ll also be the first to know when those baby classes go live on the digital course.
Helen Thompson: So thank you so much for being on the podcast. I really enjoyed having you and it’s been great to talk with you again.
Jen Cooper: Yeah, lovely to see you, Helen.
Helen Thompson: I hope you find Jen’s insights about the wonderful world of baby and toddler yoga and how it helps them to learn about their emotions and develop emotional resilience as fascinating as I did. I’ve included links to Jen’s website and social media in the show notes, which can be accessed at MyBabyMassage.net/podcast/112.
Next week I’m chatting with mom of two, mindset mentor, time management guru, and alignment coach for moms, Jill Wright. We will be discussing the importance of learning to trust yourself and listen to your intuition and following your inner voice.
Be sure to listen to this episode when it comes out next week, and please subscribe to First Time Mum’s Chat via your favorite platform, so that you get quick and easy access to all of our episodes when they are live.