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Thinking about Thinking

Thoughts on thinking about thinking from the Raising Thinkers Series


Filtering by Tag: Neuroscience

Emotional Intelligence Part 1: The Neuroscience Of Emotions

Tremaine du Preez

Tremaine du Preez for the Huffington Post and the Coaching Club

Emotional intelligence is no longer simply about understanding and managing our emotions. Neuroscience continues to reveal the origins and impact of our emotional language, giving us clues as to how to wield emotions intelligently in both our personal and professional lives. But before we can use EI as a tool we need to understand emotions; how they are generated and affect our thinking, decision making and actions.

Here's a brief introduction to the neuroscience of emotions - what we know today. 

What are your emotional red flags? Coach Tremaine du Preez helps you explore your emotional language and lay the foundation for the 3rd domain of EI: emotional regulation.

Want the rest of the series delivered to you?

Subscribe on Youtube to Coaching Club TV for the rest of the 4-part series on Emotional Intelligence or sign up for our monthly newsletter here. 

Raising Thinkers: Emotional Intelligence starts with Toddler Tantrums and You

Tremaine du Preez

Science shows us how to teach our children out of their tantrums with long lasting effects.

At 3 and 33 we experience exactly the same emotions. Except, by 33 we’ve learnt how not to react to them like we did at 3. Some people seem to cope better with strong emotions than others. Those people had better teachers and better lessons in emotional intelligence from a younger age. 

When I work with executives to help them make better decisions and think more critically about information, at least a third of the time is spent on the role of emotions in decision making. Yup, ONE THIRD of our time is spent understanding the hormones (particularly stress hormones) and the emotions they generate.

What has any of this got to do with your tiny toddler’s tantrums?  Absolutely everything. 

Our toddler’s stress hormones first become visible to us when they are around 18 months to 2 years old. Exactly when the dreaded tantrums start.  They’re hard to miss with the biting, kicking and screaming about not being allowed a chocolate milk before dinner. It feels like the end of the world to them but it really is the beginning of a very important phase of their life. How they learn to deal with stress now sets the foundation for their ability to deal with what life throws at them later on.

Blame their tools

Your child’s tantrums results from an underdeveloped brain and an overflow of stress hormones. Something (brother snatches their toy, mommy says no to them, confusion, hunger,  etc.) sparks a rush of these stress hormones through their little system. Our body produces the same hormones when we are thrown into stressful situations but our brain has developed coping mechanisms to manage our response. Thank goodness. So we don’t fling ourselves across the boardroom table yelling at our boss that we hate her as tears flood our contorted face, we only daydream about it.   

The part of our brain to thank is our prefrontal cortex. It helps us predict/imagine the consequences of our responses and use logic to figure out how to get what we want instead. But it only begins to develop at around 4 years old and matures fully between 21 and 25 years old (sooner for women than men). The tantrum is not a calculated move to embarrass you or make you feel like a rotten parent. Your child is not physically capable of being spiteful or devious, just yet.  Fortunately, the average tantrum peaks after about 1 minute and is usually done by 3 minutes, although it feels much longer. 

Science to the rescue

Imagine you are in a raging mood about some injustice. Perhaps someone stole the parking space that you waited 15 minutes for? Then the thief turns around and shouts at you to calm down. Does this help? Hell no, it just further provokes you, does’t it? Now imagine feeling this way without having the ability to think through the results of your actions? Even calmly asking questions of your tantrumming toddler can enrage them further. Their body has to stop producing stress hormones in order for their anger to subside. They are not in a position to calm themselves down on cue, like you and I. Which is why is seems like they don’t want to be calmed down at all.

How you help your toddler deal with this natural phase of their childhood will create their first memories of stress and hence the neural pathways of how to cope with it in their developing prefrontal cortex. Every tantrum is a learning experience. Really. Firstly for you to gather data on your child’s tantrum triggers; time of day, level of stimulation, hunger, tiredness etc. Secondly, to try various techniques to help your toddler shorten their tantrums to just a few seconds and then develop alternative coping mechanisms. Here are some ideas on how to do this:

1. Distract and disarm

To stop production of a flight of flight (stress) hormone the source of the provocation needs to be removed. This does not mean that you give in to your child’s demands. You are still the parent responsible for behaviour boundaries. Rewarding a tantrum causes more behavioural issues than the tantrum itself. No, try distracting your toddler with an interesting object that you keep for just such occasions. It can be anything really, even their favourite song (I’m thinking the Frozen theme song) played on your phone. Remove them from the place that sparked the tantrum, like the candy isle or playgroup. Better still, avoid candy and toy isles all together. 

2. Don’t engage them on their terms

Sit calmly with them and let them know that you are there and ready to talk to them or give them a big hug but only when they are calm enough. Reasoning doesn’t work yet, that will start at about 5 years old, around the time when tantrums disappear. 

Tantrums tend to start with explosive anger that then gives way to the accompanying feelings of sadness. A sad child will reach out for comfort and then forget that anything happened at all. Try shortening the anger peak with a consequence that your child understands. “We can’t go to the park until you are calm again,” or, “I’m counting to 5, if you aren’t calm by then we are going home and they’ll be no TV today.” Say it once and then disengage. 

3. Tantrum training 

Tantrums in supermarkets or in the car can still seem manageable but what about that long haul flight? When everyone else is trying to sleep as you pace the isle with a wailing toddler trying to escape from your arms? You’ll know pretty early if your child is prone to tantrums. If so, let them happen in all the safe places where time-out is an option. Every time the anger begins, get out your notepad and make notes. What were the triggers? What did your toddler want? What calmed him down, how long did the episode last? After 3 or 4 tantrums, you’ll be an expert and will have found useful information about what turns this behaviour on and off. And importantly, this scientific exploration of your child’s seemingly illogical behaviour will stop you from generating stress hormones and getting angry, too.

Gina Mireault, Ph.D, reminds us that “Kids this age think magically, not logically. Events that are ordinary to us are confusing and scary to them. Confusion about the world is a great cause of anxiety to our toddlers.” Anxiety can easily provoke your little angel into a big tantrum for which there seems no logical explanation.

One question remains though. Will any of these work on your boss who seems to control his temper only slightly better than your tiny toddler? If only her parents had tried to tame her tantrums 30 years ago.


Are Temper Tantrums a Fight/Flight Response?  Psychology Today, Dec 2012, by Joshua Gowin, Ph.D. in You, Illuminated

The Science of Parenting: How today's brain research can help you raise happy, emotionally balanced children by Margot Sunderland.  

3 Lessons from Neuroscience to get Breakthrough Solutions from your Brainstorming Sessions

Tremaine du Preez

illustration19 Trema#39AD5C.jpg

The brief for a new project is in and your team is gathered for a brainstorming session. Everyone puts their thinking caps on and the idea free flow begins. After two hours of caffeine and cold pizza, someone comes up with a brilliant suggestion. The team loves it and you all work out who needs to do what to make it happen. That’s how brainstorming works for you too, right? Easy, creative, with breakthrough ideas? No? I didn’t think so because brainstorming seldom works as advertised. What you may have found rather is that you end up with compromised solutions. Perhaps louder members of the team drown out the introverts. Some participants free ride or refuse to offer ideas to avoid criticism. Others feel they are too junior to participate meaningfully. Perhaps the team leader already knows exactly what 

she wants to do and so steers the team towards her idea. I bet you can add your own brainstorming blues here. If you already know the issues then skip over to the solution on the next page.

Here’s the other tried and tested trouble with all of this. I’m sure you’ll recognise a few.

  • Not everyone has a good grasp of the problem to be solved and history of the issue. Has everyone read the brief?
  • Volume and not quality of ideas is encouraged in traditional brainstorming. This wastes mental energy and time.
  • In bigger groups, team members have to wait their turn to share their ideas, sometimes those ideas get lost in the process.
  • Very strong ideas can get diluted down.
  • Not being allowed to criticise and wanting to blend all the ‘best’ ideas tends to create compromised solutions.
  • Nobody is responsible for coming up with a breakthrough solution and so free-riding is encouraged.
  • Personal investment in the process can be low and rewards, if any, go to the group.

Traditional brainstorming can be like mixing all the colours on a colour palette together. No matter what colours you start with, you will always end up with brown. Mud brown. 

Better Brainstorming for Breakthroughs

Neuroscience knows that there are better ways to induce creativity. Even trying one of them will yield noticeable results. Ready?

1. Prepare for the storm

If someone has ever demanded creativity from you on the spot, you will know how hard it can be. This is usually what’s required of us in a brainstorming session. 

Participants are seldom expected to prepare for a brainstorming session. But imagine if they did? Asking each participant to think of, or investigate, their own best suggestion before coming to the session will vastly improve the quality of the ideas presented. Now nobody can eat the free pizza without offering a good idea in return. Better still, unfeasible ideas will not make it through the door. Each participant should share their own idea before the free flow of ideas begins, so no idea or person is drowned out.

2. Warm up mental muscles

Are you looking for creative solutions? A little innovative thinking or inspired problem solving? Luring someone away from their desk and then expecting genius ideas on the spot defies the laws our brains are subject to. In order to make new mental connections, the frequency that the brain operates at has to be lowered. Some relaxation or interesting stimuli should do the trick.  So, to coax the brain into a creative frame of mind, try some of the following;


Display unusual or interesting items or photos.  Let each person pick one and suggest an unusual use for it. - 1 min per person. (I had a colleague who used to bring in a rubber chicken, you know, the kind that has just been plucked and is ready for the pot.)

Disruptive thinking

Prepare a list of products, services or practices that the company or group already offers. Ask participants how they would improve upon it if they had a generous budget. 

Fames and biases

Ask individuals to identify a piece of conventional wisdom that is used in the office, city, country, society etc, and then how it could be challenged. 

3. Think up a storm

Of course, you can get straight down to business as you usually do. But the 5 to 10 minutes you invest in mental preparation will vastly improve the quality of your brain storming session. Now the group is ready to be productive.

Here are some tips to extract maximum value and creativity from the group. 

Keep the group as small as possible.

Put everyone on the same page.

Assume nothing. Ask for ideas about what caused the problem or led to the need to brainstorm. This will set the scene and make sure that everybody knows exactly what he or she is there to do. Write up different suggestions and notice how many you receive. Clarify and correct wayward ideas and faulty thinking. Note any ideas that are new and sensible. 


Look for loose associations that can contribute lateral thoughts. Naming a new trendy shoe? How about exploring the names of hip or upcoming neighbourhoods in your target market. An energy drink? How about popular trends in action movies? My dad is an undertaker who is forever looking to improve the quality and range of services that he offers. He visits biker clubs and extreme sports groups along with medical associations   and frail care centres to gather information on how to improve his offerings and best meet the needs of his clients in unique ways. Yea, he’s very cool, for an undertaker.

Kick conventional wisdom 

Challenge comfort zone thinking with some provocative questions: 

  • What frame we are currently using?
  • This issue can be reframed as ... 
  • Are we solving the right problem?
  • How do I/we feel about this?
  • What do I/we believe but cannot prove?
  • What conventional wisdom are we using
  • What is the current status quo?
  • What would shatter this status quo?
  • Are we asking the right questions?
  • What if our success was guaranteed? 

Shy team members? Play card games

Ask for ideas and solutions, which would ordinarily be spoken, to be written on cards instead, anonymously. Group the cards into similar themes.  

Remember that brainstorming is a process to generate ideas that lead to solutions. It’s not meant to generate the final solution. For that you need a more structured and analytical process.

Found these useful? Like my FB page here for more brain games over the next few weeks.