An Interview with Michelle Tennant Nicholson

As part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Tara Miko Ballentine.

Tara Miko Ballentine is the founder of Bright Littles, tools to have fun, engaging conversations at home or in the classroom. Her commitment to supporting children comes from being a mother and her struggles growing up. She is committed to building a kinder future generation of thoughtful leaders through action and conversation!

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

grew up moving and changing schools almost every year, sometimes twice a year. It was tough always to be the new girl, but I learned how to make friends quickly and be comfortable anywhere in the world. Even though it was hard to keep up academically, I learned valuable street-smart skills that led me to become a serial entrepreneur.

You are currently leading an initiative that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit more specifically about what you are trying to address?

The world changed, but the tools we need to parent did not. I looked for age-appropriate tools to talk to and prepare my daughter for the real world, and I could not find anything. I rolled up my sleeves and created Bright Littles with a team of learning experts to create tools to teach basic foundational concepts.

What is a feeling?

Who can you talk to about feelings?

How do you speak up?

What does it mean to be an ally?

Who can touch your body?

What can you do when you feel_____?

We would not let our kids swim without lessons, goggles, and lifejackets; why would we not prepare our kids and give them the tools to deal with feelings, leaders, and safety?

Let’s prepare our kids!

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I started Bright Littles during the pandemic when I could not find the tools to talk to my daughter about her big feelings. She was experiencing so much loss — the loss of friends, school, and visiting family.

I was also struggling to talk to her in an age-appropriate way about what was happening in the world. I needed a tool to connect and create a conversation to know what she was thinking and feeling.

After talking to other moms, I knew I was not alone and that other families were in the same boat!

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up, and do it? What was that final trigger?

I felt helpless during the pandemic. My thriving marketing company was out of business overnight, and I was now a full-time mom teaching my daughter Zoom kindergarten in Spanish.

I needed to figure out how to make a living, and I needed to figure out how to do better for my daughter. My business world and mom world collided, and both needed me.

My A-Ha moment was when I could not find the tools, I needed to have big conversations with my (then) 5-year-old daughter; my entrepreneur side saw a huge problem that needed to be solved. My motherly side knew that the need for these products could not wait for another missed opportunity to do better for our future leaders.

Bright Littles is my love note to my daughter.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Bright Littles has made me a better mom. Instead of my work keeping me away from my daughter, she plays a hugely active role in creating the products. Poppy comes home with ideas and topics that could be future journals. She loves to help me pack orders and create content. She is the best cofounder one could ask for in a company.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I joined a mom entrepreneur networking group called Hey Mama early on. Through that group, I met many fantastic woman-owned companies that shared resources from manufacturers to web builders. I hired mom-founded companies to build my website, create my affiliate program, help with design, and more.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

We don’t talk about mental health for fear of being judged or feeling shame. I was taught not to talk about my feelings or show them. If I wanted to succeed in business, then never let them see you cry or feel upset. We have furthered this message in movies and characters on the big screen.

Finally, this is starting to shift, but more quickly is needed. Our young people are dealing much more with the internet and social media. We must do better and prepare our kids!

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

Asking for help is strong and brave!! We have to advocate and listen to our bodies. Individually, we all need some form of therapy. For some, that’s walking in nature, taking a yoga class, talking to a friend, or seeing a therapist.

As a whole, society needs to treat mental health as health. We don’t question a person with the flu puking and taking the day off. We need to view mental health the same. Unlike the flu, mental health doesn’t go away in a couple of days. If left untreated, it worsens and will manifest in life-threatening illnesses or suicide.

As a nation, we have so much work to do to adjust our mindset and put in the support needed to meet the mental health crisis brewing in our country. Allocating money to support programs in schools would be an excellent start! Proactive steps to support youth would be a huge step forward.

What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own well-being and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

I am Japanese, and my Obachan (grandma) taught me how to meditate and practice yoga ever since I was a little girl. It has been a constant in my life. I believe in the power of therapy, and my daughter and I see a family therapist together. I want to give her the gift of tools to help her with her emotions. Lastly, journaling is extremely helpful. Getting the words and feelings out of my body and onto paper is a positive mental release.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

My all-time favorite book is the Alchemist. I read it for the first time when I was 12 and have continued to read it throughout my life. I find new messages every time I sit down to read it.

I look forward to someday sharing the story and simple message with my daughter.

This year I read the 5-second rule. I struggle with overthinking things and getting in my head. I love the get-up-and-do-it. It might not be perfect, but it isn’t anything if you don’t give it a shot.

Podcast. I just finished listening to how I built it, focusing on entrepreneurial stories and the failures that came before success. I have the Happiness Lab next up.

If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

If we each chose to do one positive thing for the world, it would be a ripple effect of happiness. Millions of random acts of kindness!! Wouldn’t that be amazing!!

How can our readers follow you online?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!