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Tips on Moving and Supporting Your Kids

Moving is not a simple, straightforward process that always goes according to plan. And if you have kids, you can expect a few unexpected surprises to crop up along the way. This is why it is vital to ensure everyone is on board with the decision and on the same page when it comes to executing your move. Below, The Imagine Project shares tips on how to do so smoothly.

Finding the right location

Finding the right house for you and your family is probably not going to be the easiest task. After all, finding the right house has so much more to do than just selecting a home that meets all your wish lists; it’s also about picking a location where you’re going to have peace of mind concerning your family’s safety; knowing that your kids are going to get the best of the best education, as well as having plenty of options when it comes to fun stuff to do outdoors or indoors. Nonetheless, the search is not as difficult as it was, say 40 years ago when there was no such thing as the World Wide Web. Nowadays, you can search for suitable family-friendly properties online using realtor sites to search for available listings. Have your kids help you with the search, making it fun for them to see the future possibilities. You can make a list of things together that you would like in your new home.

Storing your belongings for another day

Of course, you’ll need to ensure your new home can accommodate all your things. If not, you may want to consider finding a local storage unit until you can decide what to do with those things you don’t necessarily need anymore. Alternatively, maybe you want to choose a property that’s smaller than your current one for financial reasons. If so, you could also use self-storage to store your extra belongings for however long you need. Help your kids choose what stays with them and what goes into storage. They may have a hard time parting with certain items, you can always take them to the storage unit and show them their things are being safely kept for later. Create bins with their names on them so they have some ownership.

Make alternative arrangements

Suppose you don’t have the finances just yet to put a down payment on your dream home. While you’re saving up, you may want to consider staying with friends or family while you work on getting your finances in order. However, be sure that if you are moving your pet along with you, they have the space to accommodate your pet too.

Make sure your business functions smoothly

If you are planning on moving your business with you, then you’ll want to ensure that your business functions smoothly despite any disruptions that could cause it to veer off track. Things you can do to ensure everything goes smoothly on this end include packing and labeling your office furniture and equipment carefully and clearly, hiring efficient and trustworthy movers, and even working remotely when necessary to help fill in the gaps when you are out of the office and dealing with things related to the moving process.

Make sure your kids are comfortable with this big change

Since this is likely to be a major adjustment for them, you will have to be extra cognizant of your kid’s feelings. Furthermore, you’ll have to exercise that extra bit of patience should they end up acting out whenever they feel overwhelmed about what’s taking place. Moreover, you’ll likely need to be more thoughtful in terms of including your kids as much as possible throughout the moving process. For example, you may want their input regarding the schools they’d like to attend in the area. Or, once you’ve moved in, you can set up their rooms first so they’ll start getting used to their new home, surroundings, and routines.

Using The Imagine Project journaling process will be helpful in all stages of this major change, from the time you tell them you are moving until after the move. You can write your Imagine stories as a family and share them together so everyone is able to express how they are feeling and can empathize with, and support each other. To learn more about how The Imagine Project works and download the free journals go to www.theimagineproject.org.

Be sure to do your best to manage your own stress. When you are stressed, your kids will feel it. Take some time to just be with your kids, cooking, watching TV, reading a book, going for a walk—these special times can offset the stress you all feel. Your family’s happiness is probably the most important thing to you, aside from choosing a home that you’ll be happy with in the long term. Do your best to show your family that they’re your topmost priority at all times during this challenging process.

Visit The Imagine Project. where we give kids all the necessary tools to assist them with overcoming any daily stress or trauma they may be experiencing.

Thank you to Gwen Payne for contributing to this article.

Good luck and keep Imagining!

Love,

Dianne

Dianne is the founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps children K-12 (and adults) process and heal from difficult life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne has her Masters in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children, has written multiple award winning books, is an international speaker, lives outside of Denver, CO, and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

Image via Unsplash

How to Help Your Child Cope With a Divorce

Navigating a divorce is no easy venture, especially if children are involved in the mix. If you’re stressed out or visibly affected by any major life change, this may translate to strong emotions within your child as well. Acknowledging how this split will affect them and making a mature plan of action with your co-parent will minimize trauma and help your kids cope. Here are some of our best tips on how to approach this process.

Communicate Effectively

From the initial divorce discussion and beyond, communication is a major step in easing the tension that a child could be feeling. Let them know why you’re splitting up (in a simplified way) and reassure them that it’s not their fault. If possible, make sure that you’re breaking this news with the other parent present. This way, you can both answer questions in the best way possible. 

You’re also going to want to communicate details about living situations, schedules, routines, and more. The way in which you approach these conversations is going to be different depending on the ages of your children. Kids who are under age six may just need reassurance that they’ll be looked after and able to see both parents. If they’re a bit older, they’ll be more emotionally in-tune and able to think more about the circumstances that led to the divorce.

Respect Their Feelings and Listen

Despite how old your children are, it’s important to be there to answer their questions and continue reassuring them that everything is going to be okay. Make sure you’re a good listener and that you can recognize and validate their feelings. Giving them an opportunity to express these feelings and letting them know when there will be changes to their day-to-day will help them adjust in time.

One of the most important things that you can do is to continue showing up for your child. Staying as involved in their life as possible will remind them of your unfaltering love and support. Going to their band concerts, shopping together for school dances, and visiting them at college family weekends, for example, will prove time and again how important they are to you. Make sure that you continue being conscientious of your child’s mental health. If they’re showing signs of emotional imbalance, you may also want to have them speak to a school counselor or therapist so they can consult with an outside point of view.

Keep Things Private

Make sure you avoid dumping bad feelings onto your children about their other parent. They’re dealing with this process in their own way and don’t need second-hand stress knowing how things ended, especially if there’s hostility. This could translate into symptoms of trauma, immense guilt, and anxiety for your children. The right outlet for this is professional help like therapy sessions or divorce groups with parents who have gone through the same thing. Making sure you’re maintaining self-care, eating well, and staying productive is important to personally cope with a divorce as well.

Though the proceedings of a divorce can last months, you may want to keep meetings with your lawyers and the sticky parts of divvying up assets as private as possible. In the meantime, make sure you’re still sticking to a routine with your children. This will provide them with a continued sense of stability, especially as they’re experiencing so many changes.

Give Them Their Own Space

If you’re looking to purchase a home after the divorce proceedings and bring your kids into a new space, consider speeding along the process with a pre approved mortgage. This will reduce the amount of time they spend with uncertainty and create a new sense of belonging and stability sooner, in turn helping your kids cope with the divorce better. After this step, you can try to involve your kids when house hunting and highlight some upsides of a move. Maybe the new home is closer to their friends or school. It may have a great rec center, soccer field, basketball court, or community pool nearby. Any sudden change in environment can feel like the end of the world for a child but reassuring them that you’re keeping their best interests at heart can help during this challenging process.

Since you’ll likely be co-parenting in two separate homes, it’s important to give your children their own space for comfort and happiness. Whether they have their own room in a new house or still share the space with a sibling, you should bring items from their other room so that there’s a level of familiarity. Once you have some of their favorite things, you can start adding some fun new decor and involving them in the decorating process. Asking them to help pick out paint, posters, or bedding can be an engaging activity to do together that ensures you’re crafting a space they’re comfortable in.

Stay Positive

Avoid talking about your ex-spouse in a negative manner and be gracious when you co-parent. Even if it’s a challenge, you must be supportive of the time that your kids are spending with their other parent. Continuing to remain civil during get-togethers, games, graduations, and more goes a long way. There will be times that you have to see your former partner, and it’s much healthier to maintain a positive relationship for the sake of your children.

If you need help developing a Mindful Co-parenting Plan, click here for a program that may be helpful.

There are many proven psychological effects of divorce on children that may result in them externalizing their emotions. This can build up and lead to poor performance in school, anger towards friends and classmates, health problems from stress, and more. Taking steps to minimize stress from divorce is possible with empathy and proper attention. Help your children express their emotions and develop resilience by using The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a transformative journaling process that helps children (and adults—you can use it too) work through their challenging life experiences and even Imagine a positive ending to their difficult story. Working through an incredibly challenging life change like divorce is hard, but in the end it can create resilience and the ability to adapt to life as it comes. Giving a child the opportunity to express themselves will promote self-awareness and improve mental health.

Good luck and take care.

Love,

Dianne

Dianne is the founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps children K-12 (and adults) process and heal from difficult life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne has her Masters in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children, has written multiple award winning books, is an international speaker, lives outside of Denver, CO, and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

Successful Back to School—Social-Emotional Support to Help Students Thrive

It’s back to school time again and most educators are acutely aware of the potential social emotional needs of students. Last school year was a challenging year for many teachers. Anxiety, social insecurities, inability to focus, distractions coming from many angles were worse than prepandenmic times. How can teachers give students the opportunity to stay present, grounded, feel accepted, and focus on learning? One simple and free way is by using The Imagine Project.

Emotional support through writing

The Imagine Project is a writing tool that gives kids an opportunity to talk about issues that are bothering them; a difficult life event or a stressful situations they’ve experienced recently or in the past. This is done by having students K-12 write their story using Imagine to begin every sentence. They follow a 7-step simple writing process that’s in a journal format. The journals can be downloaded (for free) at www.theimagineproject.org. The beautiful part of this writing process is in Step 4 where the writer is asked to Imagine a new, more positive version of their story—helping them shift to a positive mindset, giving them the social emotional support to move forward and learn.

How to begin

Students can begin the first week of school by writing a story about coming back to school—their worries, hopes, and dreams. They can keep an Imagine journal and write it in often, on their own or together in the classroom; particularly when there is an emotional event in their lives, classroom, school, or in the world. Using this process often teaches students a tool they can use whenever needed as difficult life circumstances occur.

Social Emotional support in the classroom

When classrooms do The Imagine Project together and read their stories out loud to each other, empathy and camaraderie are created. Kids hear that they aren’t alone in their experiences and they feel a sense of relief in telling their story, and a sense that they’ve been heard. It’s a remarkable and beautiful process to watch students in a classroom come together and support one another. Relationships are critical for our social emotional health, as is self-expression. The Imagine Project helps promote both of these. Watch here to teachers and students talking about using The Imagine Project in their classrooms.

Student Stress

When a student is experiencing stress (past or present) it’s difficult for them to make friends, focus, and learn in school. Giving them a simple process (that meets many core standards and can be incorporated into many lessons plans) will support their social emotional needs and growth–something students need now more than ever. To learn more and get started go to The Imagine Project Getting Started page. If you recognize the value of social emotional support for students as students go back to school and throughout the school year, you will love The Imagine Project!

Thank you,

Dianne

Dianne is the founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps children K-12 (and adults) process and heal from difficult life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne has her Masters in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children, has written multiple award winning books including The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress. She is an international speaker, lives in Colorado and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

 

National Wellness Month: Self Care for Parents and Kids

We often associate wellness with physical health. However, wellness is described by the Global Wellness Instituteas the “active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” This includes your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. As we step into National Wellness Month, here are a few tips for keeping you and your family focused on wellness and keeping self-care at the forefront of your mind.

How to Understand Your (and Their) Stress

Stress can come in all shapes and sizes, and is going to look different in you than in your children. The way they cope may be totally different from what you’re used to dealing with. In fact, the way that you even coped with your stress as a child may be different from the way you cope now! Understanding your child’s stress is the first step to working through stressors, big and small. You may start to overcome.

Although you as an adult might know when you’re stressed, the signs of stress in a child can have a wider range as they deal with these emotions for the first time. There might be physical signs, such as dizziness, fatigue, or a change in what they’re choosing to eat, the possibilities are endless. However, there can also be behavioral signs. Compulsive habits might take place, or small outbursts might occur. Sometimes these can just be part of growing up, but if repetitive could mean more.

While you can’t expect to solve all of your child’s problems (and in truth, you can’t always solve your own), there are a few coping mechanisms that can help create less stress. The Imagine Journal offers an opportunity for your child to write about anything they’re feeling, even if there may not be any stressors at the time. While you can always offer a safe space, sometimes offering a non-parental option can feel safer. It not only helps create trust for future problems down the road but can help build healthy mechanisms as they get older.

How to Handle Loss

Whether it’s moving to a new house or grieving a loved one, big life changes can affect your child in ways you may not even know. Offering outlets for conversations are key ways to make sure you and your child are adjusting to these life changes.

If a loved one has a progressing condition such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s, sometimes offering time to understand why changes are happening, giving them a chance to ask questions and voice their concerns, and understanding the grief as disease progresses can lead to an easier transition. In cases like this, keeping a routine is vital. In fact, family stability is directly linked to a child’s success. Visiting older grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles can help them realize they’re still a part of their life. While life changes are inevitable, showing love, connection, and that you’re there through these changes can really make a difference.

While you can’t always prepare for the loss of a loved one, you can take steps to help handle these life changes that work for both you, and your children. When it comes to life changes, caring for a loved one who has a rare terminal cancer like mesothelioma, it’s important to provide the right resources for them. These changes can be hard to deal with at any age, and you might not always be able to provide the right coping mechanisms that they need.

Other difficult diseases such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes can be a shock once discovered to adults and children. If this is the case when it comes to life changes, there are caregiver resources available that cover anything from counseling, to support services that allow your kids to be involved in these life changes, as little or as much as they would want.

Offering these options can help your child open up, and can even help you find peace in some of these changes in life. While you can’t expect everything to be smooth sailing, small steps to connect can make a difference.

How Fatigue Shows Itself In Others

Fatigue may show itself due to too much activity. You’ve experienced being tired before, right? But, this can go the other way too and can be present if they’re not getting enough activity. It can also be a sign of stress or an effect of other changes in their life. Fatigue in children can present itself in different ways over time.

Some important things to consider here are if there are huge life changes taking place, or if there are stressors at school, in their extracurriculars, or in their personal life. Are they getting regular exercise? Are they getting plenty of rest? Are there changes happening that even you can’t control? Maintaining stability where you can and creating opportunities to work their mind and bodies can help them stay mentally healthy, along with yourself. After all, these tips work for parents too!

While you can’t expect to be the perfect parent, finding coping mechanisms to focus on self-care for yourself and your children is key to creating a healthy, trusting environment. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be scared to give yourself some credit where credit is due. Even the small things can go a long way.

Love,

Dianne

Dianne is the founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps children K-12 (and adults) process and heal from difficult life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne has her Masters in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children, has written multiple award winning books, is an international speaker, lives outside of Denver, CO, and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

 

A Practical Guide for Surviving as a Parent of a Special Needs Child

Raising kids with special needs can be a labor of love sometimes. While the rewards are immense, it’s a task that taxes one mentally, physically, and spiritually. If you’re the guardian of children who require extra attention, be aware of your limitations. The following information from The Imagine Project will help you measure fatigue levels and develop effective coping strategies.

Identifying Parental Fatigue

Serving the needs of a child with special needs requires focus and determination. It’s helpful to have a focused approach toward gauging your situation. There a questions factors to ask yourself, such as:

  • How’s your sleep quality?
  • How are your depressive and anxiety symptoms?
  • How’s your marital satisfaction?

One sign you’re overburdened is not getting enough sleep. If you’re having trouble achieving quality rest, you’re not alone. According to researchers, between 50 and 70 million American adults suffer from a sleep disorder. Try wearing a sleep tracker. If you discover you aren’t getting a proper snooze, you can also cut down on caffeine and alcohol.

Along with fatigue, you may be experiencing psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety. Having depression comes with physical effects, including nausea and high blood pressure. Anxiety attacks sometimes trigger shortness of breath and upset stomachs. Fine-tuning body awareness will increase your ability to pick up on these cues. Consult your doctor if multiple signs are present, as medicine is often necessary for intense conditions.

A single-minded focus on providing outstanding parental care can cause marital strife without you even noticing. There are heaps of online assessment tools to assist partners with this task. Depending on the results, it may make sense to start seeing a couples therapist.

Preventing Parental Fatigue

Now that you’ve made an effort to reduce existing tension, create a self-care plan to lower the odds of additional strain. Find ways of reminding yourself that no parent is perfect. Develop a social support system so there’s always someone to talk with during moments when you’re overwhelmed. Create an emergency relaxation kit for periods where solace is necessary. For instance, if a hot bath helps you reset, prepare candles and other soaking supplements to make the experience as refreshing as possible.

Have a trusted individual on speed dial that can relieve you of parenting duties while you unwind. Beware of inadvertently burdening your support network. Thankfully, there are plenty of organizations that will lend a hand. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them.

Thriving Despite Parental Fatigue

Regardless of your stress-reducing efforts, raising a child who has special needs takes its toll. You still want to hold onto your goals and sense of self. Perhaps you’ve wanted to start a business. With companies often being exclusively online, it’s possible to do this even if you’re constantly home providing care. Forming your venture as a limited liability corporation is wise. It means you’ll have less paperwork and more flexibility, in addition to certain tax advantages. Each state has varying regulations regarding LLCs. Do your homework before moving forward. However, starting a business requires a lot of hard work and dedication, so make sure this is something you can do without disrupting your work/home life balance.

Maybe earning a bachelor’s degree would make building a business easier. If so, you can do that from home also. Online schools used to be considered inadequate learning platforms. Such opinions have now been disproven. Web-based learning is exceptionally convenient, and you can earn recognition from an accredited institution no matter what schedule you’re keeping.

All parents need coping tactics at times, but raising a special needs child takes some grit and commitment. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or take time for yourself when you need it. With these tips, you can take care of yourself with the same love you give others.

The Imagine Project is a writing process that can help you deal with the challenging emotions that come up with raising a special needs child. Download the journal and try writing your own story, and if your child is old enough, he or she can write one too

Thank you Gwen Payne for writing this wonderful piece, supporting parents of Special Needs children. Raising a child with Special Needs can be challenging at times, I hope those who need it find it helpful.

Love,

Dianne

Dianne is the founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps children K-12 (and adults) process and heal from difficult life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne has her Masters in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children, has written multiple award winning books, is an international speaker, lives outside of Denver, CO, and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

Image via Pexels

National Mental Health Month: A Story of Healing Through Expressive Writing

Written by Tara Imperatore

Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness. May is a time to raise awareness of the impact trauma can have on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being in order to help reduce the stigma so many experience. This is the story of how one woman harnessed the power of expressive writing to heal her childhood trauma.

Before I went to bed on the night of July 25, 1995, I was a carefree 10-year-old girl. I was an avid reader, gymnast, cheerleader, and straight-A student who loved making people laugh with goofy impressions and aspired to be a Saturday Night Live cast member one day. Growing up in a small suburb of New Jersey with my parents and two sisters, Nichole, 14, and Alyssa, 5, I felt safe and secure, unaware that in an instant, everything was about to change.

My mom rushed into my room around 10pm and shook me awake, the panic in her voice unlike anything I’d experienced before. “Get up! Nichole broke her neck! Pack a bag. Let’s go!” Rushing to the hospital, my parents were scared, but optimistic, expecting a broken neck to be healed with a foam neck brace. The reality we were up against is that my teenage sister, a talented athlete and aspiring chef, would never walk again.

Swimming at our uncle’s pool that night, Nichole dove into the shallow end, hitting the bottom with such force that she broke three vertebrae and damaged her spinal cord. Paralyzed from the neck-down, she was classified a quadriplegic, rendering her wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life, and shattering the dreams my parents had for our family’s future.

At home, the dynamic abruptly shifted. My 10-year-old carefree spirit disappeared among a long list of adult responsibilities. I loved my family so immensely that I took each task seriously and to heart, wanting to please my parents and ease their burdens. Riding bikes and having sleepovers turned into cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and babysitting my little sister; all the while learning how to care for someone in a wheelchair and maintain my own friendships and schoolwork. The space to complain, cry, or be uncooperative no longer existed for me under the constant pressure to always put on a brave face and offer to help. Laying down at night no longer felt safe and secure, but stressful and filled with uncertainty.

This enduring support for my family came at the expense of my mental health. Conditioned to ignore and devalue my needs for years to follow, I lost myself in struggles with depression, anxiety, trichotillomania, panic disorder, and PTSD—diagnoses I wouldn’t come to understand until I sought talk therapy for the first time at the age of 27. As a child, finding time to decompress was rare and I felt my playful, creative side eroding every day. It wasn’t until I found my way to journaling that a sense of freedom and control was regained.

Finally, I could let my mind wander without judgment or explanation. I could play out scenarios and express my anger without fear. I could discover again what brings me joy and makes me who I am. The act of daily journaling led to short story writing, and eventually a college degree in journalism. Now 37, I’ve built a successful career as a professional writer, motivating others to connect with themselves, and those around them, through the power of the written word.

I was introduced to The Imagine Project during a recent therapy session. My doctor told me about their dedication to help people, especially children, process stress and/or trauma through journaling. Their mission to give kids a voice for positive change and empower them to imagine a new story in their lives hit close to home. I was so inspired that I felt compelled to write my own imagine story. Reflecting on the lowest points in my life and seeing how far I’ve come and the growth I’ve achieved was more healing than I could have ever imagined.

Imagine…finding out your sister was in a life-threatening accident

Imagine…learning she will never walk again

Imagine…being only ten years old when your whole life changes

Imagine…growing up way too fast

Imagine…feeling like you can’t act like a kid anymore

Imagine…prioritizing everyone else’s needs over your own

Imagine…a teacher taking notice of your pain and encouraging you to journal

Imagine…exploring your imagination and finding yourself again

Imagine…being brave enough to share your words with the world

Imagine…becoming a professional writer and making a career out of storytelling

Imagine…inspiring others with your stories of perseverance and strength every single day

By: Tara Imperatore, age 37

Thank you so much Tara, we are so grateful to have you share your story with us. To learn more about The Imagine Project and download our FREE journals go to www.theimagineproject.org. Tell friends, family, and educators–help us spread the word. Thank you,

Love,

Dianne

Dianne is the founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps children K-12 (and adults) process and heal from difficult life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne has her Masters in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children, has written multiple award winning books, is an international speaker, lives outside of Denver, CO, and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

 

Is Your Child Stressed and How you Can Help

Is Your Child Stressed?

Caught up in our own challenging day-to-day lives, we often assume our children live a relatively carefree life without stress. But children’s lives can actually contain multiple sources of stress, including the pressures of peer groups, sibling rivalry, highly demanding schedules, and family expectations. It’s also not unusual for kids to experience problems dealing with boyfriends/girlfriends, having too much screen time, and of course, handling social media. Tension and anxiety can often arise from within their own minds too. As children grow, they frequently feel pressure from their own thoughts as they attempt to understand who they are, how the world works, and how they fit into it.

Many children also experience stressors that go above and beyond what’s considered typical and normal. Family life can be extremely stressful, such as when there is marital discord, mental instability, financial worries, abuse, or neglect. If kids hear parents, friends, or family members talk about troubling personal situations or community violence, this can add to their worries. Inappropriate exposure to media reports on crime, war, terrorism, tragedy, or political strife can also heighten a child’s stress levels. And for some children, school is a source of excessive stress. Children may feel overwhelmed when they don’t understand or can’t deal with their workloads. Children can also be stressed by feeling socially or academically inadequate, like they don’t fit in, or are not accepted for their strengths and weaknesses. Being bullied or shunned is extremely stressful.

Stress is a normal, unavoidable part of life. It’s even good for a child to experience small amounts of manageable stress, such as frustration with learning a new skill, dealing with being late to a birthday party due to traffic, or worrying about saying the wrong line in a school play. Unfortunately, when a child experiences frequent, chronic, or overwhelming stress, survival mode becomes the norm instead of an occasional occurrence, and the brain and body stay in a stressed state. These chronic stress patterns can hamper healthy brain development, leading to an imbalance where the limbic system becomes overdeveloped and hyperreactive. This brain imbalance can create significant mental and emotional issues such as agitation, anxiety, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, an inability to focus, lacking empathy, low emotional control, poor decision-making, and weak problem-solving abilities. Chronic stress can also cause a host of minor, and sometimes significant, physical health problems, such as an impaired immune system, slowed growth, aches and pains, and poor digestion.

How can you tell if a child is over-stressed? Look for physical and behavioral symptoms. Physical problems might include stomachaches, frequent headaches, acne, dizziness, bowel problems, bedwetting, change in appetite or food cravings, and frequent or lengthy illnesses. Behavioral symptoms of stress are varied as well: a child might become clingy; the quality of his or her school work might change; new compulsive habits such as hair twirling, nose picking, hand washing, or thumb sucking might develop; sleep patterns might change (too much or too little); mood swings might increase; a child might begin to lie or become quiet or secretive; eating habits might change. If there is any notable regression or worrisome change in a child’s behavior and/or decline in physical health, it is important to step back and consider whether too much stress is the root cause.

How Can You Help a Stressed Child?

  • First and foremost, spend extra time listening. Your careful, quiet listening helps a child feel heard and validated.
  • Hold space for big emotions. This means being a compassionate, nonjudgmental witness while a child expresses him- or herself. Encourage the child to verbalize feelings, draw them, and/or move his/her body.
  • Set limits if needed, such as, “When you’re angry, don’t touch anyone or anything.” Or, “Would it help to run up and down the hall for a few minutes?”
  • Instead of interjecting interpretation or drawing your own conclusions, support the child’s developing ability to analyze and solve problems by reflecting what you’ve heard and asking exploratory questions.
  • Remember, questions that only require a “yes” or “no” answer can stop conversations in their tracks. And “Why” questions can feel pointed or punitive instead of caring.
  • Ask open-ended questions that inspire sharing and reflection, such as, “How are you feeling?” or “What was your day like today?” Or simply invite them to “Tell me more.”
  • Reflect back what you heard, such as, “It sounds like you had a very frustrating time and got hurt by your friends today.”
  • Notice how your child is feeling and reflect on the emotions expressed, “It sounds/looks like you’re really angry (sad, hurt, worried, etc.).”
  • Ask for thoughts about why that happened and ideas for possible solutions. Let them know you can offer help if they want it. Don’t lead their emotions/ideas expecting good or bad stories, just listen, reflect, and love.
  • Help them express themselves by writing about their stress. Use The Imagine Project simple and free journaling process to support them in their expressions. Download the Journal here.

Good luck and take care,

Dianne

Dianne is the founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps children K-12 (and adults) process and heal from difficult life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne has her Masters in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children, has written multiple award winning books, is an international speaker, lives outside of Denver, CO, and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

 

 

 

Addressing a Child’s Mental Health is Important

Mental health means having emotional, psychological, and social well-being; when we think, act, and feel from a balanced perspective the majority of the time. Having a balanced and grounded perspective helps us make healthy choices, be kind, express emotion, accept help when we need it, handle stress effectively, feel empathy, laugh, feel joy, and relate to others easily. This are true in every stage of life. As young children grow they develop these skills, and we even continue to develop them throughout adulthood.

Supporting and helping children find emotional wellness is a very important part of parenting. It’s also important for teachers, counselors, extended family, even coaches to spend time addressing emotional wellness as they surround and work with a child or teen. “It takes a village” as the old saying goes, and it’s still true today. We all can contribute to the health and well-being of a child.

But what if a child show signs of a mental or emotional imbalance? Significant mental health challenges can and do occur in young children. Children and teens can develop characteristics of anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, depression, and/or posttraumatic stress disorder at any age. These will depend on life experiences, genetic make-up, parent/family and external support, even school and social experiences. A sensitive child might have a difficult life experience that changes their view of the world dramatically, where another child who is less sensitive will just plow right through it without even a scratch. Moving for example, can be hard on one child, altering their sense of safety and self-awareness. Another child might find it easy and effortless to fit into a new place.

Know that watching a child for signs of mental or emotional imbalances is important. If they become:

  • Quiet or withdrawn
  • Agitated easily
  • Impulsive
  • Overly attached to you or someone/thing
  • Showing signs of obsessive compulsive behavior (always need things in order and having to repeat the same things over and over again)
  • Hyperreactive
  • Lacking empathy
  • Poor emotional control
  • Frequent colds or health issues
  • Anxious, sad, or depressed

Showing one or more of these behaviors could mean your child/student is not coping well with his or her current (or past) situation and could use some extra support.

Spend time with them. Just doing simple things like games, puzzles, cooking, walking or talking will show them they are supported. Ask a few questions when the timing is right (when both of you are relaxed and grounded). Use “How” and “What” questions. Avoid yes, no. or why questions. Get them some outside help either through school or an outside counselor if things doing settle down and their behaviors improve.

Addressing mental health needs in school is critically important too because 1 in 5 children have a diagnosable emotional, behavioral or mental health disorder and 1 in 10 young people have a mental health challenge that is severe enough to impair how they function at home, school, or in the community.

The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome of a child facing some level of stress and/or trauma in their lives. Know that the stress or trauma doesn’t have to be a big thing for some kids, it could be mild but they need to learn healthy coping skills. The earlier they are taught, the less of an impact difficult life experiences will have on them. Life seems to be more and more stressful as time goes on, so give them opportunities to learn good coping skills now.

One very healthy skill is expressive writing. Expressive writing is free writing, where the writer just speaks from their hearts without worrying about grammar, punctuation or spelling. The Imagine Project is one simple, safe, effective, and free way for a child, teen, or adult to express their emotions, process that’s happened, heal their hearts, and imagine a new story in its place—all using the word Imagine… Anyone from anywhere in the world can download the journal and use this process to cope. Check out our website and try it for yourself or download it for someone you love.

Happy Imagining!

Love,

Dianne

Dianne is the founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps children K-12 (and adults) process and heal from difficult life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne has her Masters in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, has written multiple books, is an international speaker, lives outside of Denver, CO, and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

How Expressive Writing Helps Lessen Anxiety for Children and Adults

Most adults and children feel anxiety at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, the incidence of anxiety has increased over the last decade, and dramatically increased since the pandemic began. Anxiety is evoked by a change in life’s normal patterns or new unexpected events, challenging experiences, watching social media, even pressure from work, school, parents, friends, and family. Children may feel more anxiety because of changes in classrooms, life’s developmental challenges, feeling left out, too much pressure from family or school, and/or confusion about how life is supposed to work as they watch social media and new experiences of life unfold around them.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety can be mild or debilitating. When we are anxious we are overly concerned, our thoughts are more often negative, we compare ourselves to others more frequently, we think about failing, our confidence is low, and/or we worry excessively. Symptoms of anxiety in children will look like:

  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Not sleeping well, nightmares
  • Not eating well
  • Quick to show angry, irritability, or emotional outbursts
  • Constant worry or negative thoughts
  • Tense, fidgety
  • Fear of being alone
  • Worrying about loved ones
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, frequents colds or illnesses

Because anxiety can get in the way of being happy, functioning well in the world, doing well at school, making friends, and our overall psychological health, we need tools to cope with and mitigate anxiety. Teaching children tools for coping is imperative to their life long mental, emotional, and physical health. Expressive writing is one simple, effective, and free tool to lessen anxiety and improve emotional wellness.

What is Expressive Writing?

Expressive writing (EW) is free writing without focusing on grammar,  punctuation, or spelling. The writer sits and writes a deep and emotional piece about a personally significant experience, whether it’s is a past or present troubling event, or a topic that is currently concerning for them. The writing can be guided by prompts or simply freely expressing oneself as deeply as possible. Because people typically suppress emotions or focus on the negative they need tools to help with expression. Done correctly, EW can help the writing talk about their feelings and eventually see the positive in the situation.

How does Expressive Writing work?

For years research has shown the expressive writing reduces anxiety in adults and children (it also helps lessen depression). Although it’s not 100% clear how it helps, here are some thoughts about how it works. Expressive writing:

  • Gives an outlet for emotional expression
  • Organizes thoughts
  • Helps distance yourself from the situation
  • Helps gain control over the situation
  • Regulates emotion
  • Clears your mind and provides relief
  • Creates greater self-awareness and understanding about the situation

It also helps with:

  • Increasing feelings of well-being
  • Improving happiness
  • Improving social relationships
  • Increasing self-efficacy
  • Improving mental flexibility and ability to handle stress
  • Can improve sleep and increase memory

Using Expressive Writing

With all these positive factors, why not try it? It’s free too! One simple and easy format to use yourself, with your children, in a group, or in a classroom is called The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a 7-step journaling process that prompts the writer to write about a difficult experience and move into seeing the possibility of that experience, all using the word Imagine to begin every sentence. It’s very simple and set up in a journal format so parents, counselors, nurses, and/or teachers can use it with their children, clients, or students. The journals are downloadable for free at www.theimagineproject.org. There are 4 journals, Kinde, Kids, Teens, and Adults (there are digital versions too). Lessen plans and everything a teacher needs are available on the website www.theimagineproject.org. You can incorporate The Imagine Project into a variety of formats. It can be used once, or over and over again when children/students are faced with difficult life situations that are causing anxiety for them. Teachers benefits from it too when you use it yourself and/or you learn more about your students and give them the opportunity to create camaraderie, empathy, and a sense of community in the classroom. You are also giving them a free and effective lifelong tool to improve their overall emotional wellness.

To get started go to www.theimagineproject.org and download the age appropriate journal for you, your child, client, patient, or students. You will see their outlook on life improve, they will be able to focus better, and their overall emotional wellness will improve.

Good luck and keep Imagining!

Dianne

Dianne is the founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps children K-12 (and adults) process and heal from difficult life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne has her Masters in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, has written multiple books, is an international speaker, lives outside of Denver, CO, and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

Making New Year’s Resolutions as a Family

The start of the new year signifies a time for new opportunities, goals, and reflection. While people usually treat New Year’s resolutions as an individual initiative, it can also be beneficial to set some goals as a family. Especially if you have younger children, making resolutions together can help your kids start problem solving and identifying things they’d like to work on.

Along with helping your children work on goal setting, making resolutions as a family is a great way to strengthen your connection with each other. This can give you all something to work toward together throughout the year and allows you to hold each other accountable through consistent encouragement and support. If you’re unsure what New Year’s resolutions you should make as a family, here are a few ideas to consider.

Give Back

The holidays are known for giving back and that generous mindset is something that can be valuable year long. Giving back and serving your community is a great resolution to show your children the importance of helping others and being selfless. Volunteering in your community can not only give your family a new sense of purpose, but is also a productive way to spend quality time together.

If volunteering isn’t doable for your family’s schedule, you can also collect items for a homeless shelter or make handmade cards for the elderly or others in your community. However you decide to serve others, these efforts can help teach your children gratitude, compassion, and empathy. These experiences can also encourage them to think about different perspectives and consider other people’s unique circumstances.

Improve Financial Literacy

Especially after holiday spending, improving your finances is a New Year’s resolution that many people have for themselves. However, financial wellness and literacy can and should be a family affair. Family budgeting can be difficult, but creating a plan to improve your finances can help everyone as money has an indirect influence on most aspects of daily life. You don’t want to put any financial stress on your children, but it can be valuable to teach them about healthy financial habits that they can start early on.

For instance, if your kids receive an allowance, you can encourage them to save rather than spend and dedicate a portion toward a more long term goal. You can also gradually start covering simple yet essential topics such as budgeting, debt, loans, and other principles as your children grow up and become young adults. As they mature and start to handle money more often, you can teach them about more advanced financial practices such as how to start investing early, best practices for managing a bank account, or how credit can determine whether you can buy a house, car, or other large purchases. Although these topics may seem premature, teaching your children and teens a basic understanding of financial wellness and education is a valuable skill that can help them later on in life and set them up for financial success. These practices are helpful for adults too!

Exercise as a Family

Exercise is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, and for good reason. Working out and having an active lifestyle is known for reducing stress and boosting your mood which is beneficial for your whole family. While exercise takes many forms, making this goal as a family doesn’t mean you have to do strict workouts together. This could be as simple as going on walks or bike rides after school, going on family hikes, playing catch, or even joining a sports league. Depending on how old your children are, you can set different goals like training for a 5k or simply going on a walk a few times a week. Exercising regularly can help teach your children the importance of making healthy choices and taking care of their mental and physical health. No matter your age, staying active is something the whole family can enjoy and benefit from.

Spend More Quality Time Together

Between work, school, and extracurricular activities, it can be difficult to find quality time to spend together as a family. If you feel distant or lonely with your children or spouse, this is a great goal that can help you all connect. Quality time comes in many forms and can vary depending on your family’s interests and how old your children are. For instance, quality time could simply mean sitting down and having dinner together every night. Or, it could be dedicating time each week to watch a show together or having a game night.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure to unplug from technology during this time to truly be present and cherish the moment. This uninterrupted time can show your children how much you value them and can help improve your family’s overall connection and communication skills. By spending consistent quality time together, you’re giving your children an open outlet to express their emotions which can help lower the risk of behavioral issues as well.

If your children are having trouble sharing their feelings, The Imagine Project journaling tools can give them another creative way to communicate their emotions. This exercise can help children tell their stories and move through any stress or trauma they might have. You can even do these simple writing prompts together as a family as part of your quality time to learn more about each other.

Good luck,

Dianne

Dianne is the founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps children K-12 (and adults) process and heal from difficult life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne has her Masters in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, has written multiple books, is an international speaker, lives outside of Denver, CO, and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.