me kay cooke

The Colour of Magic

pen pot

This is a recycled/reworked article first published in a national magazine several years ago. My work with kids hasn’t changed much over the years. It’s fun, colourful and can appear quite magical.

Sitting at traffic lights a few days ago, I remembered a seven-year-old called Adam whom I had helped to manage his ‘rage’ by associating his feelings with colours. We’re conditioned early on to build associations in this way. For example, even as I type this article, my mistakes are underlined in red – and teachers mark mistakes in red, too. We even talk about “seeing red” when we get angry or frustrated. Then there’s that traffic light stopping us. From early on, we learn to associate that particular colour with being stopped and with frustration.


I often use a traffic light analogy when working with children to help them think about their thoughts, feelings and subsequent behaviour. Here are some ways we think about it.

Red – stop, stuck or danger.

Green – start, go ahead, calm, nature.

Orange / amber – state of flow with time for choices.


Adam would get stuck in a tantrum for around 45 minutes and not know how to get out of it. I showed him new ways to handle his behaviour through the traffic light analogy.

Unprompted, he decided that red represented his angry brain, green was the colour of his happy brain and orange was the colour of his helper brain that could unstick his feelings.

Chatting about things that made him angry, sad or mad, I encouraged Adam to feel those feelings before he drew them.

Red lines soon appeared on the paper in front of Adam as he drew his representation of his angry brain – a ‘red’ spiky creation of tangles and sharp edges.

Next, I redirected his attention away from red feelings by having him play with my dogs. I even got him to hand over his negative ‘red brain’ to our dog, Oscar (who seemed quite oblivious), which caused much laughter. That’s a much more useful emotional state!

I asked Adam to remember having fun playing with his friends and his beloved lego, and to recall the feeling of pride he’d experienced at a school assembly recently. He drew these expressions, as green smiling faces, soft edges and flowing lines.

Then we explored orange/amber thoughts. Adam decided these were his “little helpers” – explorers of smart ideas and possibilities. He told me these little guys even made sounds like working on a computer keyboard! They could pull levers inside his mind and give him good advice and the picture was a busy yet organised set of orange shapes.

Adam cut out and laminated these images which then became useful resources during our work together. We used them in many ways, for example:

  1. Flash Cards – we acted out a sequence of feelings to train Adam into awareness of his moods, and to encourage more control.
  2. Splat – we acted out the feelings as we took the green card and SPLATTED it on top of the red, to squash it, with a big “splat” noise. This metaphor uses sound, sight and action to generate a sense of control in Adam.
  3. Squish – we talked about a difficult and unresolved red issue and then took the orange card and SQUISHED it (ie: gave it a side-to-side movement) on top of red. Next, we took take 3 deep calming breaths and blew each out onto the orange card. On the last out-breath, we gently placed the green card on top.
  4. Visualisation – by closing his eyes and imagining each of these activities, we firmly imprinted the processes onto the mind’s eye.


It seems so very simple – and that’s why it works. Behavioural change really does happen in an instant. Adam’s mum wrote to me some months later delighted to report he’d had no further tantrums, just like magic. I’d say it was fun too!


Is the playground any different to the workplace?

NLP Coaching For Resilience – with Mia who has been experiencing a situation with a girl we will call ‘B’ who clearly doesn’t like Mia.

B has been spreading unkind and untrue rumours amongst Mia’s friends, saying that Mia has been bitching about each of them behind their backs. B is trying to divide the friendship group and Mia feels her only option is to convince each friend that the rumours are not true. She is exhausted and worried that she will lose her friends.

The situation has brought back memories of a bullying experience we had worked through 12 months earlier (different environment, different girl). She is feeling stuck and un-resourceful.


We initially chatted about the difference between ‘bully’ and ‘bitch’ to loosen Mia’s thinking, to clarify differences, and have her dissociate from the previous bullying experience.


I asked her what she perceived the ‘problem’ to be.


A: “B doesn’t like me”


Q: “OK and what’s the worst thing about that for you?”


A: “No-one will talk to me because B spreads rumours that I’ve been saying things about my friends, when I haven’t.”


Q: “How have you been coping with this so far?”


A: “I have to prove to my friends that what B says isn’t true.”


From this brief exchange, I’m now focusing in on three aspects of the Mia’s perception of the problem:

Distortion (complex equivalence): B doesn’t like me = no one will like me.

Generalisation: ‘no one’ will talk to me.

Strategy: disproving rumours.


We began by challenging the generalisation: no one will talk to me


Q: What’s the probability that this will actually happen – that your friends will actually stop speaking to you because of B’s influence?


A: 20% chance that they will stop speaking to me.


Q: Which leaves an 80% chance that this won’t happen?


A: Yes.


Note the reframe from 100% to 20%


Q: How many friends in your friendship group?


A: About 20


Q: And of the 20 friends, how many might actually stop talking to you?


A: About 5


Q: And how many would never stop talking to you?


A: About 5


Note the affirmation of friendship


Q: How long do you think it would take for you to disprove the rumours?


A: About 1 week.


We drew a pie chart to illustrate the results so far: there is a 20% chance that 25% of your friends will stop talking to you, unless you spend one week disproving the rumours spread by B?


A: I suppose so.


Note the loosening belief


Q: So you have 20 friends – 5 of whom you really trust, 5 who you don’t trust and 10 who you moderately trust?


A: I guess so.


Note the different perspective


Having chunked down into some detail to dispel the overwhelming notion that she would have ‘no one speak to her’, we then began looking at the distortion of meaning.


In order to identify the mechanics of her complex equivalence I asked Mia to finish the following sentences:


I’m afraid no one will talk to me because …


A: “I don’t know whether my friends believe what she says about me or not.”


This is a problem because …


A: “I don’t want my friends thinking those things are actually true.


I shared some ‘stories’ with Mia, about when my kids were little and having done something naughty, they would often give the deed away by telling me what they ‘hadn’t done’ and therefore drawing my attention towards the very thing itself.


I asked her to explore the difference between ‘defending’ herself (which pre-supposes there is ‘something ‘ to defend) and ‘gathering more information’ through genuine enquiry by asking questions like “really – you think I said that????” “When exactly?” “Where specifically?”


We also explored the Shakespeare quote ‘the lady doth protest too much’.


I invited her to contemplate the words ‘I have nothing to prove’.


I drew 2 figures on the white board.

A: Mia

B: B


B’s strategy was ‘to try to influence the friendship group (against Mia)

A’s strategy was ‘to try to influence the friendship group (to disprove B)


Both strategies were ‘fight’ strategies – was there another way?


NLP Milton Model Sub modality/parts/squash:


I had Mia place ‘I have to prove (myself right/the girl wrong)’ in one hand and in the other hand place ‘I have nothing to prove’. We explored the sub modalities of each.


I then asked her to raise up her right hand which held the part ‘I have nothing to prove’ and squash it into the left hand which was holding the part “I have to prove (right/wrong)’.

At the same time I reminded her of her personal power pack within (using previously set anchors) and had her expanding sense of peace and power generalise through and travel through her arms into the closed palms.


She revealed a new set of sub modalities balanced in both hands.


After a break state, I asked her if she had any questions.


“What would you do in my situation?” she asked.


I offered a wide range of strategies that I have evolved based on my own similar experiences in many differing environments. Some of my strategies might seem abhorrent to Mia; others may feel useful for her to model. The emphasis being that there is no ‘one way’ to be resilient and that situations like this one occur in all walks of life.


We referred to neuroscience and simple mechanisms of stress that involve fight/flight/freeze OR she could FLOW in resilience.


We practised again the ‘one point’ exercise to centre, balance and feel strong from the inside out.


Finally, Mia wrote out some phrases to practise – creating them from a new place of ‘I have nothing to prove’ and ‘I am resilient’.


Mia immersed herself in a big mind stretch to facilitate stronger feelings of self confidence, more choice of behavioural strategies, new attitude of grace and authenticity, and a choice not to engage with, or mirror, B’s battle strategy.


Mia is 13 years old.


Playground based thoughts, feelings and behaviours are really not so different to those found in the workplace. Age may make problems more complex, less honest, more accomplished. The processes rarely change.

Making Something To Be Proud Of



Are you still not doing?


Is it still not working?


Are you like a Ferrari with no engine?


What does a Ferrari engine look like? Sound like? Feel like? Just imagine.


Does your empty-engine Ferrari have room to build a ferocious energy convertor?


Thought so.

Switch Positive

Help yourself and help others to feel good on purpose.


Direct your mind to 3 things that you like about yourself.

3 things that you like about yourself:




Direct your mind to 3 things you like about your family / home / work / class.

3 things you like about your family / home / work / class:





Direct your mind to 3 things you like about a close friend.

3 things you like about a close friend:





Direct your mind to 3 things you like about someone who behaves unkindly towards you or towards others.

3 things you like about someone who behaves unkindly towards you or towards others:






Repeat each out loud and share your opinion with others.



This exercise starts your brain training so that you filter your mind towards positive thinking. You will also set up good brain chemistry for learning. Kindness helps other people re-balance their brains and establishes cooperation. Switch your brain to THRIVE!