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Thinking about Thinking

Thoughts on thinking about thinking from the Raising Thinkers Series


Filtering by Tag: Raising Thinkers

The terrorism talk - what every parent should know​

Tremaine du Preez

If you're a parent of enquiring minds you've had to face the terrorism question. If you're lucky it was only, What is a terrorist?. If you're less lucky you had to satisfy,What is ISIS? and if you're downright unlucky, your offspring demanded an explanation for, Why does someone kill for ISIS? Honestly, I'd rather have the S.E.X talk than this one.

I've had all three questions and more. My initial reaction was to quote the news of the day and Mr John Kerry in particular with; They are psychopathic monsters.Replacing psychopathic with 'evil' to fend off further enquiry. That about covers it, doesn't it? They're the bad guys - end of story.

I'm not a scholar of terrorism, politics or religion but if that truly was the end of my explanation, I would be failing in my efforts to raise a child that is capable of reasoning with a curious and critical mind. A mind open to the possibility that we are not helpless in the fight against terrorism nor indeed the bully next door.

How can we discuss the frightening yet inscrutable concepts of terrorism with our children? As a parent you know that your beliefs will shape your children's beliefs and actions, which will ultimately shape tomorrow's neighbourhoods and societies. Helping children understand an evil that is foreign yet right in our midst is a contemporary parenting imperative.

So how do you explain the inexplicable to impressionable minds? No matter how true it is, telling your children that terrorists ar 'psychopathic monsters' will engender even more fear and more helplessness against the 'bad guys'. Showing our children instead that the problem has a caus, and therefore a solutio, will do the opposite. In critical thinking we call this a thought experiments and, with the help of expert knowledge, it goes like this:

Q: What if we knew what makes an ISIS fighter?

What if we knew that ISIS fighters who had been interviewed in prison are generally ignorant about the religion and politics of their paymaster, that they know little of it's most extreme requirements? What if we knew that the average age of a fighter is 27, with 2 children. That they came of age in a war torn Iraq during the American occupation that began in 2003. As teenagers they couldn't go out to parties or even have girlfriends. Many of them grew up without fathers. They blame the Americans for this and leaving them in the middle of a civil war where food, safety and shelter were scarce and fear was plentiful. Violence a way of life. For many of them, fighting for ISIS is seen as a way to avenge that. To take action and not wait for someone else to do it on their behalf.

Armed with information like this, we have a way of making the truly incomprehensible, comprehensible. As uncomfortable as it is to think and talk about, we can only change what we understand.

Q. What about the big question? What is ISIS?

What if we knew that ISIS was formed around ancient texts called the Prophetic methodolog. Texts that followers are not allowed to question, for to question them would mean certain death. These medieval texts were written at a time of war when brutality and bloodshed were the norm. Experts like Bernard Haykel tell us that the Islamic State is trying to recreate these earliest days and reproduce its norms of war. They want to create a ast empire filled with loyal subjects who abide by their extreme laws. Much like Hitler and his Nazi party, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people who disagree with their beliefs. They see the world in black and white. Their propaganda tells us that they categorically reject peace and aim to bring about the apocalypse in all of its headline hyperboles, even if it means their own destruction. Perhaps this is why we find them so hard to understand yet their propaganda is clear and available.

Q. Why do they commit acts of terror?

It would seem that terrorism is their way of making us (their enemy) feel afraid. They hope that fear will create intolerance and hatred, driving a wedge between different religions and people. Perhaps they've been watching Star Wars' reruns and know that hatred is the path to the dark side. If we are weak, full of hatred and focused on what divides us more than what unites us as people we will be easier to conquer.

Q. Am I powerless to help?

While the the leaders of the free world go to war against ISIS, hunt their leaders and stop young people from traveling to Syria to join them, what can we do? We can fight a movement that is closing young minds to the beauty and potential of a free world by opening our children's minds to their own power. This means giving them information and tools to think critically, to probe and dissect confusing information and the permission to question everything. verything.

Because physical freedom is nothing without freedom of thought.

1. Lydia Wilson's report at
2. Graeme Wood's study of 'What ISIS Really Wants' as published in the Atlantic, March 201
3. Bernard Haykel, the foremost secular authority on the Islamic State's ideology.

Tremaine du Preez is an executive coach, Huffington Post Blogger and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in London. Her book Think Smart, Work Smarter - a practical guide to making better decisions at work is available from AmazonHer next book Raising Thinkers will be out soon.

Your CV May Be Holding You Back - Here's How To Fix It

Tremaine du Preez

CV's Are On Their Way Out, Faster Than You Think

In February 2015, French cosmetics giant L’Oreal was faced with 33, 000 applications for the 70 places available in their Chinese graduate recruitment scheme. At the thought of combing through 33, 000 CV’s their recruiters decided that it was time do things differently. Don’t send us your CV, they announced, we won’t read it. Instead they directed candidates to 3 online questions to complete instead. Here’s one of those questions compliments of the BBC and L’Oreal: "If you had one month and a 25,000RMB budget ($4,000; £2,570) to tackle any project your little heart desired, what would you do?" 

There was no call for the name of the school applicants graduated from, their chemistry scores, language proficiency or greatest hopes and biggest failures. The answers to three of these questions in 75 words or more, where analysed by artificial intelligence and suitable candidates were ranked in terms of the qualities most desired by L’Oreal. Only 500 of the initial applicants were invited for Skype interviews thereafter. L’Oreal’s recruitment director confessed that CV’s don’t give insight into what they are really after in students – raw talent.

Your CV Is A Hard Place To Prove Soft Skills?

Raw talent is top of the hiring agenda for forward thinking employers the world over. I’m guessing you didn’t have Raw Talent classes along with Corporate Finance and Mergers and Acquisitions sessions back at your B-School? So what is raw talent? Is it really that important and how can you prove to the employer of your dreams that you have it?

The latest Bloomberg Recruiter Report helps us understand what raw talent is and gets specific on the skills recruiters want but find hardest to get from newly minted MBA’s. Strategic thinking, creative problem solving, communication and leadership skills are on the top of their hit list. Not only are thesethe hardest qualities to come by but also the hardest qualities to convey in a two-dimensional CV. These are all high-level thinking and behavioural skills that aren’t function specific at all - this is raw ability. 

A further flip around online job sites tells us exactly what high-level thinking and behavioural skills mean to some of the world’s most successful and best companies to work for. 

In 2014 Accounting firm Ernst and Young were looking to fill approximately 16500 positions. Apart from technical skills and fit with company ethos, what were they after? Their recruiters were honing in on individuals with a passion for problem solving and the ability to tackle complex issues and generate insights. A global mindset is also essential to work across borders in their connected organisation. 

Intel is looking for innovative talent. Recruits that can spark new thinking that will lead to new ideas. KPMG wants to see candidates that are able to use social media to their advantage. In Australia, National Managing Partner, Susan Ferrier confessed that soft skills were now valued more than technical ability. Soft skills are the new hard skills, she said. In a world where knowledge is constantly changing and ever easier to access technical skills are losing their value. She feels that the ability to collaborate, solve problems creatively and authentically lead people already matters more. This is particularly important ant if you don’t have years of experience.

How Multidimensional is Your CV?  

A traditional CV is a hard place to showcase soft skills. Submitting nothing but a standard document to a recruiter is also not going to help you stand out from the ever growing, globally mobile, well-educated crowd. Here are some tips that will help you create a multidimensional, cross platform CV.

Firstly, decide on the soft skills that you can legitimately lay claim too. If you have a hair-trigger temper or feel invisible in meetings then you can’t claim emotional intelligence or the ability to influence others - you’ll soon be found out by a web savvy, beady-eyed recruiter. The key here is to highlight skills that you can easily demonstrate.

Start with your online presence because this is where a recruiter will go first. Do you have an digital footprint that backs up your soft skills claims? 

KPMG recommends that you post comments on twitter to show your expertise, have appropriate recommendations on your LinkedIn profile and participate in chat forums of professional interest. Use these forums to showcase your ability to solve problems or influence others - be the voice of reason in a heated debate or bring new insights to old ideas. Then be sure to mention this participation on your CV. Why? Because a recruiter will go straight there. You are saving them time.

Secondly, when you ask for recommendations on LinkedIn be sure to outline what skills you’d like the recommender to mention. For example: “Eileen, it would be great if you could mention how I was able to keep a cool head under pressure and rally the individual strengths of our team members on our last project together.” 

I get dozens of requests for recommendations from students and clients but most of them are bland and generic. It is much easier for me if you tell me exactly what you’d like me to mention - better yet, write something up that I can copy and paste into your recommendation!

Lastly, remember that recruiters see hundreds, if not thousands, of CV’s. Always ask yourself: “How can I make mine stand out?” Do you have a good idea for a new product for the company looking to hire? Do you think you can improve on a service they are offering or raise revenue in a smart way? 

Can You Prove Yourself Even Before A Job Interview?

Your ideas may not be fantastic or even feasible but they don't have to be. The fact that you already have ideas and can communicate them effectively tells a recruiter a great deal about your ability to solve problems creatively and communicate solutions. A coaching client of mine had an interesting and novel product idea for a financial company. She was looking to change jobs but preferred not to work through recruiters. She researched which companies had a gap in their product line up that could benefit from her idea. She then sent hardcopy letters introducing herself and explaining why her idea would work for each of the companies she had identified. There were 7 in total – all addressed to the CEO and sent to the company address listed on their website. Within 3 months, 2 product development specialists had contacted her and one made her a fantastic offer that she simply couldn’t refuse. Yes, it was a lot of work, but she completely removed herself from the slush pile of faceless, generic CV’s that HR departments face everyday. She really stood out and it paid off.


Stand Out - Let Your CV Work For You

If soft skills are the new hard skills, think about how you can communicate your talents in this area. Create a new category on your CV right under ‘Tertiary Education’ or ‘Employment History.’ Show what soft skill programs you have attended or discuss what soft skills you ‘are known for’ and how you use these skills in your life. Why you feel they are important and how you intend to develop them further. 

If an employer calls for the ability to take risks, show them you can do this by making your CV different or creating an accompanying online video showcasing your greatest failures! If they call for the ability to influence others, use the language of influence blatantly in your wording.

The traditional CV is a relic of the pre-electronic age, it seems to be going the way of big hair and platform shoes as it retreats into the ever lengthening shadows of the digital world.

You can no longer afford to be a subject matter expert and nothing more. You are a business and your career is the product of how you position yourself across different platforms as well as the risks that you take. Your CV should reflect this in a way that is as unique as you are.

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Tremaine du Preez is a behavioural economist, Huffington Post Blogger and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in London. Her book Think Smart, Work Smarter - a practical guide to making better decisions at work is available from Amazon. Her next book Raising Thinkers will be out soon. For more Thoughts On Thinking see her blog at where this post first appeared. 

Don't Tell Me To Calm Down - The Worst Advice To Give When Someone Is Angry

Tremaine du Preez

Don't Say - Don't Let Your Emotions Get In The Way

In the movie The Judge, Robert Downey Jnr is a high profile New York lawyer of ill repute. Back in his hometown he finds himself in a bar brawl and narrowly avoids having his teeth relocated by the local degenerate - thanks to his quick thinking and very smart observations of the said degenerate's parole status. Downey's character is perfectly calm, logical and confident throughout. Hostage negotiators, lawyers and actors are trained and rehearsed in this superhuman trait of not showing emotion in stressful situations. But what about the rest of us?

Why we say things we later regret

When our brain senses that we are being threatened by a word, a gesture or even a micro expression on someone's face, something incredible happens that is completely outside of your control. Activity in the frontal parts of the brain where rational thought occurs is suppressed. Can you see why we say things we later regret, or don't say things we should have said? It's our cognitive conditioning working against us.

At the same time, blood flow increases to our emotional circuitry and our instinctual hindbrain. This is the moment we become a warrior. It's also the moment we literally lose our ability to think clearly. It's physically impossible not to experience emotion at this point, but it is possible to manage the emotions that arise. Understanding this is the key to staying cool when agitated.

Tell tale signs in your body warn you when this is about to happen. You heat up, especially your face or neck, your heart rate speeds up a little or a lot. Your palms may get sweaty and you feel a burst of adrenaline, like a kick of energy flowing through you.

I had a coaching client who told me that once he felt this burst of energy during a conversation, there was no going back. He could not back down. It was as if the only thing that mattered from there on was the need to settle the conversation on his terms.

2. Don't Say - If She'd Said That To Me I'd Be Angry Too

Have you ever blamed someone else for making you angry? That idiot that cut you off in the traffic this morning, your teenage son who thinks curfew is only a suggestion or the incompetent salesperson at the end of an unhelpful helpline? Do I even need to mention your boss?

For most people getting angry feels good, the hormones that are released when we rage make us feel powerful. People stop and pay attention to us when we yell - unless we're the crazy on the street corner who yells all day at imaginary evils. More dangerously, stress hormones increase our risk tolerance. Making us more likely to do or say something foolish that we'll regret later - cue crimes of passion or football hooliganism.

Emotions are gone in 90 seconds

This initial bout of stress hormone (a chemical) burns up in 90 seconds. That's it. After that you have to choose to be angry to continue to be so. Thinking angry thoughts such as, how dare you say or do that? who does she think she is? will tell your brain to continue being angry and it will oblige with producing more stress hormone. If someone else ticks you off, you can blame them for how you feel in the first 90 seconds but how you respond to these feelings in your body is your choice alone.

Don't get me wrong, this is as easy to do as eating jelly with chopsticks. Take a breath, use a filler phrase that you can say in different situations such as, that's an interesting point of view or, I appreciate you sharing this with me, I hear what you're saying, do you really think that's appropriate behaviour? This tells your brain that you are not under physical threat and gives a you few precious seconds to think about how to respond as the first wave of stress hormone passes. Us coaches call this increasing your stimulus-response gap - and that's a good thing.

3. Don't say - Think Like A Hostage Negotiator And You'll Win Every Argument

This is popular advice from corporate trainers and bloggers. It's simply not possible that an 8 hour Sniper Mentality or Hostage Negotiator training program will turn anyone into a poker-faced boardroom negotiator. A hostage negotiator trains for years in the science of influence, mental agility and tactical combat. Even so, they don't win every argument.

There are two ideas from hostage negotiations that we are able to implement rather easily. The first is never to ever tell someone to calm down, that's like putting a fire out with gasoline. Instead, let them go on, for as long as possible, let them rant and rage. Fuming is hard work and requires a tremendous amount of physical resources. It won't be long till they stop and this is when you implement your strategy. What strategy?

Ask open questions such as Why do you think this has happened? This will get them thinking about your questions. Thinking forces blood back into their prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) helping them overcome fear and think a bit more logically.

4. Don't say - No-one Really Wins An Argument

Someone always wins an argument. Every argument will leave you changed. You can decide to brush it off as a bad experience or debrief it like you would an important client meeting.

I'm betting that the person who sits down and truly thinks about why they argue, what makes them angry, what they say and how they can be more constructive about it, is the winner. If neither one does this then my money is on the big guy.

Tremaine du Preez is a behavioural economist, author of Think Smart, Work Smarter, and lecturer in Critical Thinking. She blogs at The Huffington Post and Her next book Raising Thinkers - Preparing Your Child For The Journey Of a Lifetime, will be out in 2016.

How to give your child the gift of success

Tremaine du Preez


By the law of large numbers, most children will grow up to be average in height, weight, intelligence and in their life achievements. Wonderfully, blissfully, unassumingly average. No matter which way we look at it, our children have a better chance of being average than exceptional. To date, no parent has suggested to me that they would love for their kids to be average. Happy? Yes. Average? No. Would being average live up to the expectations that are heaped upon our children today? Average children can be very happy but not if being average is seen as being a failure. This is a reality in many asian families where teen suicide rates are consistently the highest in the world. 

I am guilty of wanting my son to do the best he can in school, too. With occasional tears and more homework than play during the week – we still barely keep up with the demands of school. But something happened over the summer that got me thinking about what I really wanted for my son.

Lessons from the bird man 

We spent a morning with a falconer along the Garden Route in South Africa. A mesmerising man who rehabilitates birds of prey that have been hurt or fallen on hard times, so to speak. These birds are his all consuming passion and love of his life. A life that is entirely funded by donations from the public. Is he doing a worthwhile job? Yes. Is he happy? Absolutely. But would I like my son to grow up doing something he loves that is entirely reliant on fickle handouts from tourists over a few summer months? To be honest; no. He’d be happy but he’d be poor. I’d worry too much. If not happiness, then what do I really want for him? 

The gift of making good decisions

My husband and I decided some time ago to dispense with the just let little Johnny be happy and find his own passion rhetoric because, honestly, we didn’t know how to help him do this, apart from letting him try his hand at everything – until something resonated with him or we ran out of money, time, patience or all three. We decided instead that we wanted our child to be a good thinker. 

Bonaparte knew what he was talking about when he said, “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.” We wanted our son to be the best decision maker he could be and nothing more. 

We knew that the decisions we had made in the past had created our current reality, and the decisions that we make today create our future. His life would also be guided and determined by the choices he made along the way. Not his final algebra score, but what he chose to do with it. Would that make him happy? We hoped that being able to make good decisions about how to spend his time, what to study, what to read, what not to eat or drink and how to respond to challenging situations in the playground, the campus or the office would make his life a little easier, a little more successful and maybe, a little happier. The rest would be up to him. 

How were we going to do this? Surely his school would teach him this? We soon found out that, even though school subjects were now considerably cooler and more relevant than in our day, teaching students what to think is still their primary goal. Facts and data are easier to teach and test for. Are school teachers even familiar with decision science and critical thinking? Should they be? But were we in a position to teach him how to make good decisions ourselves? We’d racked up a fair amount of lousy decisions between us in the past. 

Lecturing our son in the art of decision science would likely backfire before he hit puberty. But we could learn as much as possible about making good decisions, thinking about thinking and processing information soundly. Then, and only then, could we coach him. In fact, this is how I came to do what I do as a coach and lecturer in critical thinking. I realised that I couldn’t raise a critical thinker if I wasn’t one myself. 

Tremaine is a behavioural economist and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in Asia. Follow Tremaine on Facebook for weekly thoughts on thinking and raising your children as critical thinkers at or her blog at 

Her latest book, Raising Thinkers - Preparing your Child for the Journey of a Lifetime will be out soon.

Are you the parent you want to be?

Tremaine du Preez

Mentor, lecturer or coach?  

Executive coaching is solving some of the toughest corporate people challenges, can it do the same for parenting?

Parent Coaching.JPG

Are you an enabler; someone who helps others shine? Or a mentor; someone who gives great advice when asked? Or maybe a lecturer who tells colleagues how to doing things. Do you hog the limelight or step aside for your team at the awards dinner? Whatever you are, I’m betting it reflects your parenting style too. Of course, you probably love your kids more than you love your co-workers and your motives to succeed at work and at parenting will vary. But how you get things done and get big and little people to do things for you, is just that, your way.  Go on, join the dots, you’ll see what I mean.

Are you expected to coach your colleagues? 

Almost everywhere I work team leaders are expected to make the shift from lecturer to coach, or at the very least, to mentor subordinates. Companies are training leaders as coaches because it’s proving to be a lucrative strategy. It works, engages staff and helps them solve their own problems, faster. What if we could parent like coaches? Would we get the same results? 

Isn’t parenting coaching anyway?

No. A leader, executive coach or a sports coach will train in the art of coaching. Just as a teacher must learn how to teach effectively because being a subject matter expert doesn’t guarantee that you can impart knowledge. A good coach will get you thinking in new and interesting ways about your behaviour, your thinking and your potential. You won’t learn anything from an executive coach but will have to answer uncomfortable, probing questions and face some hard truths. Coaching will teach you more about yourself than you knew before.  

As a parent you can decide to act as a lecturer, a mentor or a coach. There will be plenty of lecturers in your child’s life, lots of mentors too but there will be very few true coaches. Of course, at times your knowledge is invaluable and mentoring is the right thing to do. But mentoring does not need to define the relationship you have with your child. It can be a beautiful fluid mix between supporting your child as a coach and leading them as a mentor.

Verbal bullying and putting parent coaching to the test

How do we coach a child? My son is physically small when compared to most boys his age. He’s not particularly sporty or physical on the playground either. So when he wants to join in the rougher games he sometimes gets pushed around. Bullying is not tolerated at his school so it takes different forms that are far more subtle than a shove or a punch. Verbal bullying, exclusion from games and other pursuits of emotional cruelty are dished out by children who don’t yet understand the impact of their behaviour. From about 6 years old, there would be days when my son came home in tears. Crying about the hurtful things some boys (and sometimes girls) had said to him. 

I couldn’t complain to the teacher every time a nasty name was flung at him. I also had no doubt that he was doing some name calling himself. Reacting to this and trying to solve it for him every single time was not going to help him. I also couldn’t mentor him because I had no experience with this. But I did know that I needed to build up my little boy’s internal resilience. Lecturing him not to react to the name calling was silly. What he needed was a system for dealing with this. Both during and afterwards. A way of making him feel OK about it that also didn’t deplete his ego. So the coach in me got to work.

A coaching conversation 

As he sat on the rocking chair in my study on a day that he was in a reasonable mood, I brought up the last incident of verbal bullying on the school bus. No lecturing, no mentoring just questioning to helping him find his own solution.

Me:   How did you feel about what the boy said to you? 

Him: Very angry.

Me:   So he called you a baby (insert any other here)? Is it true, are you a baby? 

Him:  No.

Me:   Why did it make you angry then, if you know it’s not true? 

Him:  Because everyone else heard him say it.

Me:   Could you have stopped him from saying it?

Him:  No.

Me:   Do you think you reacted in the right way?

(He had sworn at the kid and got into trouble too.)

Him:  No, but I didn’t know what else to say. I was so cross.

Me:   What would you have liked to do differently?

Him: To say something that makes me sound cool instead. And that won’t get me into trouble.

Me:  OK, would you like to have something that you can say again and again that sounds really cool?

Him: Yes. Oh yes. What can I say?

Me:   Well, you tell me! What can you say every time someone calls you a name? A few words that sound smart and don’t get you into trouble?

I asked him to go away and think about what he can say next time he is in this position. He wanted to come up with something that sounds calm but will also let the ‘bully’ know that he can’t hurt him with words. So he came up with a brilliant suggestion that he still uses today. He says: “You may think that I’m a …(nerd/baby) etc., but that doesn’t make me one.” And if he’s really angry or doesn’t have time to think or centre himself, he simply takes a deep breath and says; “Well, it’s a good thing that I don’t care what you think about me.” It takes real courage for a small boy to say this to anyone who is overpowering them with words. So we practiced this, out loud, several times at home.  Now he can say it without thinking about it. When he feels himself getting angry, this phrase comes to mind. 

As he gets older our tactics will have to evolve to meet more mature challenges. But he knows I will always look to him to think about how he wants to handle situations, before I mentor him in how I would do it. I’m proud to be a parent coach. I coach my little boy with the exact same skills that I use with CEO’s of multinational companies wrestling with multimillion dollar problems. It works. Mostly because my son is learning that through our dialogue, he can think of ways to solve his own problems. Soon he’ll be able to self coach on the simpler issues. He is already encouraging his friends to stop and think before they get angry!

Next week: Dealing with difficult school reports the critical thinking way.

Follow Tremaine on Facebook for weekly thoughts on thinking and raising your children as critical thinkers.


Note on coaching vs mentoring

A mentor is someone who knows more about what you do than you do. Someone with experience in your job. A good mentor is invaluable when one needs advice, opinions or insights into specific subjects. A coach generally knows very little about what you do and should not be in a position to tell you what to do or give you advice but rather guide you to discover your own strategy. 




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.  

What your child learns before going to kindergarten has the greatest impact on his intelligence in later life.

Tremaine du Preez

Everyone’s intellectual potential is set in infancy, at home, before they even get to school. Do you know how to build your baby’s brain during the most crucial period of cognitive development?


Here are some tips from the Raising Thinkers Series out in December 2014.

The day your baby was born, his brain was already packed with almost all of the neurons (brain cells) he would need for life. More than 100 billion - 3 times as many stars as there are in the milky way.  Even though the neurons of the brain already exist at birth, those that control higher order thinking, language and abstract thought as well as emotional regulation, can’t grow and develop till they are actually put into use. Neurons are activated through stimulation from the environment after birth. So, no matter how much Mozart you consumed during your pregnancy, your baby will recognise your voice, and little else when he is born. But then the fun begins. 

Once out of the murky, calm womb up to 2 million synapses per second fire through your baby’s mental circuits, in response to their young brain’s experiences.  A synapse is a connection between two brain cells. The more often a connection is used, the more stable it becomes. These connections eventually form memories, which is how we all learn. 

 “The growth in each region of the brain depends on receiving stimulation in that particular area.” - Child Welfare Information Gateway

The number of connections between neurons also determines the brain’s physical growth and intelligence.  Bigger brains have better circuity. This allows more messages to travel faster between different parts of the brain1. For example, continuously talking to babies will repeatedly fire language neurons and create connections that lead to the formation of memories and physical growth in that area. These language memories form a very important foundation for higher order learning.  Growth in brain volume after infancy may not compensate for poorer earlier growth.2 The first three years are the most important for the development of intelligence. How then can we encourage stronger, faster connections between neurons in our baby’s brain? 

If you want to give your baby the best cognitive start in life, your mission is fairly straightforward: to help your child build up sufficient networks of good strong synapses in the areas of her brain that support memory and language. These, in turn will open up the learning pathways to support higher cognitive functions. 

Here are some tips to help your chubby-cheeked cherub develop to his or her full potential. 

Language development

Your child’s first year is all about sounds. Talk, talk, talk to your child, face to face. Your child will hear sounds from the TV and from around him, but he needs to see your mouth moving and the body language that goes with the sound in order to catalogue words correctly. Your child is most engaged when you are close enough to make eye contact (remember your baby is short-sighted for the first few months). Keep sentences short and repeat important ideas. 

Try this: 

What’s in the box? Everyday, around the same time, introduce your baby to 2 new objects that you pick out of a box. Hold it up and ask “What is this?” Then let your child explore it, either let them grasp it or turn it around slowly so that they can see all of it. Describe it as you go. When he’s had a good look tell him what it is and show him how it’s used. No special equipment required.  

In your baby’s second year the brain’s language centres evolve dramatically as synaptic activity increases. Vocabulary expands exponentially, but only if they are exposed to many words and things to name. Eventually, pull objects out of the box, ask what it is and let your baby tell you. Then give them cuddles for being so smart. 


Scaffolding.  Is your little girl reaching for a toy that is just outside of her reach? Your first instinct is to pick it up and give it to her, right? Think again. This is both a behavioural and cognitive learning opportunity. Scaffolding happens when you follow your child's lead in activities that they initiate.  You provide just enough support to challenge her to the next level without overwhelming her with frustration. So nudge the toy to just within her reach. She still has to try to get what she wants. She is learning that she can help herself, that this requires effort and that mommy won’t just hand her whatever she wants when she wants it.    

Stranger anxiety and going to new places

At around 8 months old, your baby’s conscious memory stabilises. He begins to understand that objects can exist even when he can’t see them because now he can remember them. Your baby can look at a partially hidden toy and know what it is because they have a complete picture of it stored in memory. This is when stranger anxiety can begin because a stranger is someone that they don’t already have a mental image of. Going to visit granny and Grandpa for the summer? Even if your child has seen them before a few months ago, she will have forgotten them by now. So show her lots of pictures of granny and grandpa being sure to name them as you do. Skype often so that, when they finally meet up, there is familiarity rather than fear.   

Starting kindergarden soon?

Again, build up memories of the kindergarden so that it isn’t so frightening the first time you leave your infant or toddler there with complete strangers and lots of different things and noises. Look at the school’s website, explain the different pictures they have on it. Walk past the school and point out the different things in the playground. 

 Found these useful? Like my FB page here for more brain games over the next few weeks. Next week: Embracing your toddler’s tantrums.

1 Ed Bullmore, professor of psychiatry at Cambridge. Cambridge Neuroscience Department
2 Catharine R. Gale, PhD, Finbar J. O'Callaghan, PhD, Maria Bredow, MBChB, Christopher N. Martyn, DPhil and the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children Study Team (October 4, 2006). "The Influence of Head Growth in Fetal Life, Infancy, and Childhood on Intelligence at the Ages of 4 and 8 Years". PEDIATRICS Vol. 118 No. 4 October 2006, pp. 1486-1492. Retrieved August 6, 2006.

Would your children make it into the Kingdom of Google?

Tremaine du Preez

It’s easier to get into Harvard than Google. Your or your child’s odds of getting to work at one of the world’s most desirable employers with the all-you-can-eat-for-free organic deli at the Googleplex and it’s many miniplexes around the world, are 1 in 130.  The odds of getting into one of the most hallowed academic institutions known to our generation, Harvard, are a mere 1 in 14. Google gets over 1 million job applicants a year and employes 0.4% to 0.5% of them. Their internship is 2600% oversubscribed.  It must be the free lunches! But if you thought that the gatekeepers to the Kingdom screen CV's for the next genius among us. Think again. 

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Operation Parenthood

Tremaine du Preez

It’s no secret that we are preparing our dimpled darlings for jobs that don’t yet exist. By their very nature we cannot yet conceive of these unknowable jobs of the future, just as our parents could not have imagined us becoming a bitcoin trader at a hedge fund on Wall Street. (If you haven’t had a teenager explain bitcoin mining to you yet, I highly recommend it. It’ll stretch your mind and make you feel ancient all at the same time.) 

We may not know what the future looks like but we do have a pretty good idea of the mega trends that will shape our children’s environment along the way. A megatrend is an existing trend that has already gained so much momentum that its trajectory is likely to continue under most reasonable future scenarios. These trends give us a framework for hanging potential futures on. They’re not perfect but certainly more reliable than history, given the rate of disruptive change in most sectors today. They allow us to model a range of outcomes and their implications for the skills that will be most in demand when our children get there. 

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