Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Exploring the Emotion Wonderland With Nadine Levitt
[00:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 394 of Live Happy Now. Navigating our emotions can be a challenge, and that’s especially true for children. But this week’s guest has turned even our most complicated emotions into a magical adventure. I’m your host, Paula Felps. And this week, I’m joined by Nadine Levitt, an author, educator, music artist, lawyer, and parent who wanted to change the way children learn about their emotions. So she created Emotion Wonderland, a magical place where all our emotions coexist, and we get to meet them, befriend them, and better understand them.
This week, Nadine explains how she created the Emotion Wonderland, what she hopes children and parents will get from it, and talks about how approaching our emotions differently can change the way we process our feelings. Let’s have a listen.
[00:00:54] PF: Nadine, welcome to Live Happy Now.
[00:00:57] NL: Thank you so much for having me. It’s awesome to be here, so thank you.
[00:01:00] PF: You have done something so incredible with your creation of Emotion Wonderland. So I guess can we start by talking a little bit about your background and how that led you into the world of emotional learning? You have interesting background.
[00:01:16] NL: That’s true. First of all, thank you for saying that. So my background, I’m in education. I’ve been in education for about 10 years, but I definitely did not come through to education in a very traditional trajectory. I wanted to be a singer, and my dad really made me get a law degree. He said, “Please, please, please. No matter what you do, just get something behind you.” To make money as an opera singer, which is what I love to do, you really have to be in that top one percent, and he clearly did not believe that I would make it there. So he was just trying to look out for me.
But I then got sucked into sort of earning money and in the corporate world as a lawyer. For six years or so, I literally argued about cheese. I argued whether Camembert should be called Camembert or whether it was a geographical indication, like champagne or port. One day, I woke up and I was like, “Gosh, I am not saving the world. Like this is not what I had in mind for myself,” and I ended up sort of taking up other opportunities, and there were other adventures sort of waiting for me.
I came to America, and I did go back to law for a little bit in order to get my green card. Then I quit that once I could and started singing again. I soon became a mum, and I think this is where everything sort of started focusing on education. Because now, I had these little beings, whom I wanted to help guide through that world of education and that world. I wanted to set them up to be successful little beings, and I really noticed how emotions played into people’s success, whether it’s academic success, professional success, or relationship success, confidence. All of these things really played into how nice a relationship you have with your emotions. How healthy is that relationship? How respectful is it?
I have two kids. One of whom has really big emotions, a highly sensitive child. It was really because of my kids that I made My Mama Says, and I turned it into a whole suite of tools. I had a curriculum around it that was in schools for social and emotional learning. The reason that I made it, let me just backtrack a little bit, because I would have gladly taken other programs. But what I realized was that I didn’t love the approach for most of the programs. So the programs were either really complicated to understand or just not empowering at all.
One of the big problems that I had was that every program I saw would teach kids about emotions one at a time. So this is happy. This is sad. There’s a frown, right? It just was this caricature of what emotions really are, and it made no sense to me because, I mean, I can’t name a single time when I felt one emotion alone.
[00:04:09] PF: Right. That’s so insightful for you to pick up on that. I love that component of it.
[00:04:15] NL: Yeah. It’s just like, well, if we’re going to teach kids about how to identify their emotions and how to maybe start thinking about what those emotions are trying to tell us, then we’ve got to start looking past that loudest emotion and start thinking about it as more holistic. So there’s many emotions, and together they bring a message for us. So we have to listen to all of the messages. That’s why we created – First of all, it was My Mama Says, and then Emotion Wonderland is sort of the latest thing that we’ve created, our latest baby, so to speak. This is sort of a course, and there’s a quiz to start with, which is a really easy, free, and simple, fun way to start talking to kids about how they’re feeling and start thinking about emotions coming in groups, not just one at a time.
[00:05:04] PF: Let me ask you because Emotion Wonderland is a stunning place to visit. It is all these different characters. Can you talk about that? Like how did you come up with the idea of this is how to present them? Because there’s several ways you could have gone to show these different emotions. Talk about the approach that you took and kind of how you came up with that.
[00:05:26] NL: Each emotion is reflected as an animal of some kind, and the reason that I did that is it’s much easier to think of a village of emotions that are inside of us all the time, kind of like Inside Out, except in Inside Out, they really have all of those emotions are controlling that little girl. I don’t think that they control us, but they’re inside us all the time. So it’s much easier to objectively see a character and say, “Okay, the Sad Sullen Pup is visiting me right now.” Or, “The Goofy Goat is in town. He brought a whole lot of friends with him.”
I did it really because it’s just a little bit easier to talk about when it’s not this color or this faceless sort of thing. I wanted it to reflect how they’re friends, and there’s many different – They pull different emotions with them, and so this concept that they could have a life of their own. We weren’t tossing around whether we should make them not animals but just like little blobs type of thing.
[00:06:28] PF: Little Minion type of things.
[00:06:29] NL: Yeah, minions. But then we workshoped all of these curriculums with schools, and what we found was that the kids, they understood emotions easier with the animals and they –
[00:06:40] PF: Oh, interesting.
[00:06:41] NL: Yeah. Because they actually put those behaviors onto animals, and the other ones were a little bit harder to differentiate, if they’re just a blob. It’s harder to give it a personality and to really relate to it.
[00:06:55] PF: So how many emotions do we have in total in the Emotion Wonderland?
[00:06:59] NL: Well, obviously, we have thousands of emotions inside of us, so –
[00:07:02] PF: You didn’t hit them all. That’s the sequel, right?
[00:07:03] NL: No. I definitely didn’t hit them all. So in our coloring book, for example, we actually give lots of room for kids to create their own characters and say, “Who’s in your village,” and think about ones that might not have been listed in the village. But we have 30. So there was some amazing work done by Brene Brown about how many emotions the average adult can reference. I think it was four total, happy, glad, sad. But if you say to people, “How are you doing,” and how often do you hear people say, “Good, good.”?
[00:07:35] PF: That’s the pat answer. Yeah. Or fine.
[00:07:38] NL: Yeah, yeah. Or when you think about how do I feel right now. I love to ask this question on any presentations that I give. I say just check in with yourself for a minute and see how you’re feeling right now. Usually, on average, people write down one or two emotions. So we really wanted to start saying, okay, what else is there? Now, if you’ve got those two loudest ones, what other emotions are there for you?
What’s nice about the visual, the 30, is that we’ve balanced them out between very, very challenging emotions to really easy emotions. I don’t believe in bad or good emotions because they actually all have that purpose. Sometimes, there’s similar purpose. So for example, happiness and grief actually have a similar purpose. So happiness tells us what we’re connecting with, right? But sometimes, it’s really hard to see exactly what we’re connecting with because we’re just so busy caught up in the dopamine hits and joy –
[00:08:33] PF: Of course.
[00:08:34] NL: When we feel grief, we’ve lost what we’re connecting with. But the important piece there is understanding what exactly do you miss so much, and how can you maybe fill that void and lead a more connected life so that if we’re really purposeful about it, grief usually is easier for us to take that time to become reflective and really purposefully think about what it is that we connect with.
[00:09:00] PF: Oh, that’s so insightful. As you worked with these different characters, how did you determine what animal you would use? I mean, like your yoga deck is just absolutely incredible, how you really explain this emotion and then this pose that they can do and why they’re doing it. So how did you come up with all of that?
[00:09:18] NL: Well, for the yoga cards, specifically, I actually worked with a yoga master who’s amazing, just to make sure that I was honoring also the yoga side to it, and I wasn’t sort of saying the wrong thing. Exactly, exactly. But the philosophy is that all of these emotions are important for us, and so we have to honor all of them. One of the things that we hear parents saying a lot is don’t be so angry or don’t just start your day so frustrated or grouchy or whatever it is.
But the reality is that if we just say, “I’m feeling really grouchy right now, and what else am I feeling? I feel like maybe a little misunderstood, or I feel like I’m maybe a little bit shy.” So there’s like all these things, and you can start to piece it together. Before you know it, the person is not feeling grouchy anymore. They’ve honored it. So the idea, really, with the yoga deck and with all the characters was really to start thinking about creating spaces for kids to understand like where do they live inside your village. Where do you feel it? How can we honor it, and how can we create space for that emotion to exist?
A lot of it, they relate very specifically. So frustration, that’s actually a Kriya that releases frustration interestingly, so this twist. Some of them are very purposefully done that way. Others were more based on the character. Brave, for example, or Sad Sullen Pup. Like what would sadness look like as a body shape? What’s nice about the yoga cards, though, is that they don’t just exist as yoga cards. So some friends of mine who have young kids have shared this with me. I get this response a lot that parents have put the cards all over the room. Then they say to their two or three-year-old, “Where’s the Angry Hippo?” They go find, and they jump on the Angry Hippo.
It’s so exciting for me because you’re creating that emotional literacy at such a young age, where they can start to also read it and see it and recognize it and talk about it and, again, honor it.
[00:11:24] PF: How’s that going to change their growing up experience? Because we didn’t talk about emotions growing up. We didn’t – As you said, it was like are you happy, mad, or something in between. So how is that going to change things for them?
[00:11:37] NL: Well, I hope, I think emotional intelligence is really awareness and then learning new skills and practicing them. I have been pushed. Somebody pushed back. A psychologist once pushed back on a podcast to me and said that they didn’t believe that emotional intelligence is learnable. It’s something that we’re just born with. I just really disagree with that. Because at the end of the day, I think it really is just that awareness. It’s understanding how things work and understanding how tools can be helpful in regulating them.
When I say regulating, I don’t mean control them. I mean, how do we listen to them? Then once they’ve delivered their message, they go away anyway. If we know how they work, and we know that there are certain tools that create more space around it, so we don’t feel overwhelmed with all these big emotions, challenging emotions sort of getting in our faces, and I think things like breath work or things like listening to music and things like that, I think you do become more emotionally intelligence. I think you can recognize that in yourself quicker, and you can have a much healthier relationship with your emotions.
So I’m hopeful that these will be kids that will not be scared to talk about emotions, that will be able to tap in for themselves and say, “How am I feeling right now,” and really, I think, just honor their emotions that they’re feeling.
[00:13:03] PF: I think what’s interesting about the timing, I’ve been doing some writing about Gen Z and how they are the most aware of the need for mental health, that is a huge value for them. So I believe that’s going to continue. Now, you’re reaching some young people who are the Alpha generation, that post Gen Z, who are also growing up in an environment where mental health is talked about, where it’s more accepted for you to explore that. So I think this timing is absolutely incredible. Because as they’re growing up in this age, where they are supposed to talk about emotions, you have given them all these tools for learning about emotions.
[00:13:41] NL: I agree with that. I think, interestingly, I just read a consumer report that said it was 84% of employees. They feel more valued and connected with their job if their bosses care about their mental health. It’s a money thing. It’s good for the economy. It’s good for people. It’s good for relationships, I think, if we start to think about the types of innovation that we can also unlock with people being more comfortable and having a more stable mental health based on their emotional regulation and so forth.
Anxiety and fear stops so much innovation and stops so much development. I think if we can have a relationship where we’re not scared of fear, like we don’t let it stop us from doing things, we listen to fear, and we say, “Hmm, thanks for showing up. I like the exhilaration that you’re providing right now, right? I like that dance. Let’s dance, and thanks for making me more aware and alert. I will be careful.” But it doesn’t mean I’m not going to get up on that stage and sing. It just means I’m going to be aware and alert, and thank you for being here.
I think most people who, if you’re an adrenaline junkie or if you’re somebody who just loves the adrenaline rush of things, which is how I used to feel about performing, it really is more about that fear because you have that little bit of fear. So fear in small doses is wonderful. Fear, when you have it in large doses, it can be completely debilitating. I just think about what kind of a world could we have if people understood fear a little bit better. On the flip side, what about anger?
[00:15:24] PF: Oh, my gosh. Yeah. Put that in perspective. It can be a game changer.
[00:15:28] NL: Right. How much anger are we seeing in the world today? We’re seeing a lot of conflict right now. But imagine if we could approach some of that by honoring it and saying no change in history of – As far as we know it, there has never been any real change created without anger. Think about that.
[00:15:49] PF: It’s true. That is – You have to get riled up to want to change.
[00:15:53] NL: Exactly. It takes effort. So I think when people understand that part and they also say, “Well, how can I use this anger in a positive way?” Or if you’re encountering anger, think about why and what could that mean and how quickly it can be diffused by just giving them the space to actually be heard and say – I noticed it just with my toddler, and I work with toddlers, or when I work with my kids. My kids are no longer toddlers. They’re now 10 and 9. But I remember, they’d be, “I’m so frustrated.” I’d be like, “Okay. I can see that. You’re really frustrated. But tell me, what else are you feeling,” and how quickly it would deescalate.
[00:16:35] PF: One thing that did strike me as I was looking at all the tools that you’ve created, and I want to talk about the specifics of them. But even though this is designed for children, parents will receive such a tremendous benefit. You’ve got the magnetic board, where you put your emotions. Casey, our marketing manager, and I were joking. It’s like, “I need that in my office.” It’s like, “It’s not for the kids. I’m doing that for me.” So it’s something that everyone who works with it is really getting the benefit from.
[00:17:03] NL: Absolutely. We’ve done a lot of workshops for kids. But, of course, the parents are always there. I’ve had so many parents afterwards say, “Oh, my gosh. I needed this. Like I absolutely learned something. This is great.” The magnet ball that you were just talking about is very cool, actually. So, Ella, my daughter, often says to me – We actually carry one on the car now, and when she’s having big feelings, she’ll say, “Mom, where’s the magnet board? I need the magnet board.” I’m like, “Okay, okay.” But she likes having the visual aspect of it like, “If I’ve got this, what are some of the other options of other emotions that I’m feeling,” and she likes the prompt of it. Sometimes –
[00:17:38] PF: Explain to us what the magnet board is and how that works.
[00:17:41] NL: Yeah. We all 30 characters as magnets, and then it’s in a sort of travel-sized magnet board sort of box. It’s got a pen in it as well, a whiteboard pen, so that you can draw on one side, and the other side is an actual village. So the idea really was that you could put up teachers or anyone else. Parents can say, “Okay. When you’re feeling confident, what else are you feeling?” Then they could find the other emotions and put those on the other side.
But what it’s turned into is really cool prompt for story writing and thinking about and really just engaging with these emotions and thinking about who would be friends with who, where would they live in the village, and so on, so forth. But I think having a visual prompt that you can start to say, “Well, when I feel this, I often feel these other emotions too.” When you think about – So one thing we do in our house is this mindful minute, and it’s literally – It takes a minute, and you say, “How are you feeling today,” and you pick out the emotions that you’re feeling. A magnet board is great for that because you can just literally pick it up and put it up. It’s helpful because it’s not just the one. It’s many emotions, and sometimes they look conflicting. You might be happy and sad. So you can talk about that. So it’s a great prompt.
[00:18:58] PF: That’s terrific and what a wonderful way for children to let their parents know how they’re feeling, without having to – They can’t always voice it or don’t feel like voicing it, but just being able to put it up there. That’s an incredible gift.
[00:19:12] NL: It’s definitely less confrontational than sort of sitting in front of your child and saying, “So tell me, how are you feeling?”
[00:19:16] PF: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Tell me about the plushies. How’d you come up with those, and how do you see them being used?
[00:19:24] NL: So we have the Angry Hippo, and we have the Sad Sullen Pup. The idea is that those tend to be pretty challenging emotions for kids. When some of the kids that we were working with were really, really overwhelmed with some of these big, big emotions, it’s really helpful to hold something and feel like you’re not alone, especially because it was also quite – They’re very cute. So not to be scared of anger, that it’s got a really positive side to it. But it really is helpful for those tactile kids in particular to hold something, whether it’s, “I’m so sad and I’m not alone and I love this little being,” to also practicing empathy, right?
So my example here is I have a lot of kids who say, “Ah, it makes me so sad for the Sad Sullen Pup because it’s always sad.” I’m like, “Yeah. It’s nice to have that empathy, that you feel that way.” Then we think about what are some of the positive things about sadness. What are some positive things that sadness brings you? What are some of the messages that sadness brings you? So there’s lots of different reasons for it, but it really works for those tactile kids in particular because it just – When you’re feeling homesick or when you’re going somewhere, just to take care of something, whether it’s anger, feeling angry or sad. It really is helpful to be the caretaker of those emotions.
[00:20:46] PF: That’s fantastic too. I think about children who have lost a parent, lost a sibling, have gone through something very, very tough and traumatic and don’t yet have the words for it, to be able to have Sad Sullen Pup and be able to share that sadness. I think that’s such an amazing way to be able to approach it.
[00:21:08] NL: Mm-hmm, absolutely.
[00:21:10] PF: So what else do we have? We’ve got the magnet board. We’ve got the plushies. We’ve got a couple of books that we haven’t talked about. Let’s talk about the books that you have because those are very cute.
[00:21:20] NL: Yeah. It started with the books, actually. So the first book is called My Mama Says Inside Me Lives a Village, and that introduces the concept that inside us live all of these different emotions, and they don’t control us, and we don’t control them. But if we listen to them, because they’re messengers, then they’ll go away. But with all of these emotions inside of us, then it means we’ll never be alone because we have all of these feelings. So we’re connected to something, and we’re getting signs from something. Even when we are physically alone, we’re connected to our emotions.
The second book is My Mama Says Inside Me Lives a Superhero. This is sort of the follow up, and it’s the idea that there are sort of a cause and effect, right? We have consequences to the things that we say and the things that we do and the things that we don’t say and do. The superpower that we have is that we can make people feel things with our words, actions, and inactions. So it’s a very fun kind of story about a mom saying you have a superpower, and the kid guessing like, “Does it mean that I can fly? Does it mean [inaudible 00:22:26] the sky? Does it mean I can do this?”
[00:22:29] PF: I love that.
[00:22:29] NL: Yeah. So it’s like really cute characters of a snail that has super speed and a llama that can throw up protective orbs. We have a gorilla that can freeze things. We have – I can’t think. I can’t remember now. Opossum that brings things back to life, I think. It’s a very cute story, and it’s this concept that we’re teaching kids that their words, actions, and even inactions that may seem frivolous to them and was sort of just a passing comment can really, really hurt or can really, really hold somebody up and help people. So a smile can turn someone’s day around or asking someone to play when they feel – It’s all on rhyme. It’s a cute story.
[00:23:12] PF: You also have online resources. So there’s things online, like is a wonderful starting point for parents to start exploring. Can you tell us, where do you advise that they start?
[00:23:22] NL: So there’s two places. One is go to emotionwonderland.com, and it really is this joyful, colorful place.
[00:23:29] PF: It’s an adorable – I want to live there. Animate me, so I can just go live there, okay?
[00:23:34] NL: Exactly, exactly. So it’s a great place to start because you can see the video sort of that introduces the philosophy behind the program. It’s a free quiz, so you can come back to it as many times as you want, and it’s for kids to really start thinking about how are they feeling. It’s based on which socks would you pick, which face are you most drawn to right now. So it’s a really quick, simple, and fun quiz.
Then you get your results, and the results – These are the top three emotions that you might be feeling right now, and here are some of the friends that often come with this emotion. Here’s the purpose behind these emotions. It just starts a lot of conversations. That’s a great place to start for sure. We have a course that we are on emotional intelligence, which takes kids through an exploration of this is what you think emotions might – A certain emotion might look like, and it might be the emoji, right, a smiley face. It was like, “But this is what it really looks like.”
Then there’s a video of all the different versions of happiness or excitement or whatever it is. The reason that I say that is because when you think about if I feel happiness and also excitement and also joy or a little bit of fear because I’m about to ride a roller coaster, it looks so different to happiness when you’re in love and not built up on a couch and just grateful for life and calm, about to watch your favorite show. Those are both happiness. Very different looking and feeling.
So the course really takes kids through the nuance of that. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What are the stories that we tell ourselves with this emotion? Because there’s all these thoughts that we start to tell ourselves, and that really goes into sort of the pattern recognition of our brain. So if you ever are expecting a call from a spouse or something, and suddenly you don’t, you immediately go to, “Oh, gosh. I hope they haven’t had a car crash. They haven’t had this,” da, da, da. Those thoughts start spiraling, right?
Well, that’s the same for kids, so realizing that certain thoughts come. The stories that we tell ourselves with certain emotions, some of them are helpful. Some of them are less helpful. So having the tools to fact check them is really important. It’s a short little course. We just did it for four different emotions. We do talk about their friends and things and their purpose, the sort of a nice way to arm your kids with emotional intelligence skills.
On the My Mama Says website, which is M-A-M-A, My Mama Says, we also have a lot of free resources. So parent activities that you can use with your kids, and they’re just fun games, ways to start talking about emotions because we really want this to be integrated. So it’s not just I’m going to an hour workshop or I’m –
[00:26:19] PF: Right.
[00:26:20] NL: Right?
[00:26:21] PF: Yeah. It becomes part of your life. It just is like – It’s play and it’s fun and it’s enjoyable.
[00:26:25] NL: Yeah. So next time you listen to the radio or you’re listening to a song, ask your kids like, “What emotions do you think are reflected in the song? What do you hear reflected and why?” Then how that changes the conversation in the car, you know? You can pick any emotion. What you think that would look like in body language or –
[00:26:46] PF: Oh, interesting.
[00:26:47] NL: Things like playing freeze tag, emotional freeze tag, or doing certain art. There’s art games, and we’ve organized them into here are the activities that you can do in the car, here are the activities that you can do in the park, here are the activities you can do over a meal, with friends, so on so forth. So we’ve got them all in these different sectors, but it really came from all those workshops that we had with schools.
[00:27:11] PF: I know that we’re doing a fantastic promotion. You’re part of our 12 Days of Christmas giveaway. So we’re going to be sharing your Emotion Wonderland characters with some of our listeners. That’s something they can sign up for, and we’re going to tell them more about that in the outro. As we let you go, looking five years down the road, when you look at Emotion Wonderland, what do you see?
[00:27:35] NL: I see it as a movement where people start to – It’s not just about me and our brand and our things. I think I would like to see a shift where people start to approach emotions from that group sort of perspective, and that it leverages play a little bit more. So I think having it be something that is just in your everyday integrated tool for people, that’s really what I want. I want this to be a movement for a different way to think about emotions.
[00:28:00] PF: Nadine, thank you for sitting down and talking about this. I know we’ll talk again, but thank you. Best of success on this because this is just an incredible program that you’ve created.
[00:28:10] NL: Thank you so much and happy holidays. I hope it’s not too many big emotions.
[00:28:16] PF: Only the good ones.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:28:20] PF: That was Nadine Levitt, talking about navigating our emotions. If you’d like to learn more about Nadine, get some free resources from the Emotion Wonderland or her My Mama Says website, follow her on social media, or find out more about her other offerings, visit our website at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab.
If you aren’t following us on Instagram, this is the time to start. Through December 13th, we are having the 12 Days of Giving, where we’re giving away one great prize every day. On December 11th, you have the chance to win the free Sad Puppy plushie from the Emotion Wonderland. So follow us @mylivehappy to register to win one fabulous prize a day. That’s @mylivehappy on Instagram.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day happy one.