Archive for Blog

How Exercise Can Support a Child’s Emotional Health

Exercise and emotional health are more interrelated than many people realize. Just as emotional wellness promotes good physical health, keeping our bodies healthy can help prevent, even heal, emotional issues. Exercise is important because it helps improve mood, self-esteem, self-image, quality of sleep, attention, academic performance, interpersonal skills, and coordination, while creating a strong healthy body. All of these are important when coping with stress and trauma.

Here are some ideas to help you and your child stay physically and emotionally healthy using exercise.


Today’s kids just don’t move enough—they spend way more time in front of a screen than previous generations did. So helping your child learn to weave daily exercise into a healthy lifestyle is an important part of a parent’s job. Children typically follow the example of their parents, extended family, or friends, so modeling this habit yourself can make a big impression.

Some kids love to exercise, some don’t. If they love to exercise it will be easy for you to get them to go outside and spontaneously move their bodies. There is a fine balance between letting them determine what they want to do and directing them. The best is to try many activities and sports and see what they like the most. A child who learns how their body moves will build body awareness as well as self-awareness. Gymnastics, dance, yoga, and martial arts are particularly good for teaching body awareness. These skills can help them listen to their bodies, and in turn, help them avoid injuries in other sports and activities.

For kids who don’t like to participate in sports, be creative in getting them to move. Dance around the house, chase them (in fun), play tag, be silly, jump on a trampoline (or bed ), do a quick clean-up game that includes running around. The younger you get them to move, the more inclined they are to continue as they get older, even into adulthood, which will prevent obesity and other serious health problems, now and in the future. Remember that FUN is the keyword for encouraging kids to move their bodies!


Some see yoga as a class of stretching. It is about stretching, but it’s so much more. Yoga is also about mindfulness, breath control, body awareness, meditation, and it can also be very physically challenging, depending upon the class. Beyond the physical gains from yoga, there are many emotional benefits from it too. Yoga helps the body relax and move from a sympathetic state to a parasympathetic state, relieving stress and tension. The brain releases calming hormones instead of stress hormones, and it’s an avenue for self-expression and awareness. Yoga also helps improve immune function and digestion. I love yoga but I was resistant for years. My excuse was, “I can’t do yoga, I am the most unlimber person in the world!” When I finally tried it, I realized that our bodies can become more limber with practice. It was hard at first but I started slow with a video in my basement and then moved to a class. Now I love it and can’t go a week without it. Oh how I wish I would have done it with my kids when they were young! A neighbor recently told me that when he began doing yoga daily, within 10 months he’d lost 40 pounds, and was able to stop taking medication for both physical and emotional issues, saving him hundreds of dollars per year.

Begin yoga wherever you feel comfortable. You can start by trying free videos on YouTube or picking some up from the library. When your kids see other kids doing yoga on the video, they will be more encouraged to do it themselves. Going to a class together will create experiences and memories you both will cherish.

Movement and exercise are also keys to longevity. Research has shown those who live into their 90’s and even 100 move every day. Helping yourself and teaching your child these lifelong tools will benefit everyone. If you are feeling resistance, you can always download The Imagine Project journal to help you move through your resistance. Good luck and enjoy!

Take care,


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 and 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

The Crucial Role of a Child’s Mental Health

Children are the future, and ensuring their well-being goes beyond physical health. Mental health plays a pivotal role in shaping a child’s overall development and future success. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of children’s mental health, highlighting the need for nurturing environments that foster emotional well-being. In this blog, we will explore the significance of children’s mental health and ways to promote a positive mental outlook in our young ones.

The Landscape of Children’s Mental Health:

Childhood is a crucial period for brain development and the establishment of emotional well-being. Mental health in children encompasses their emotional, psychological, and social well-being, impacting how they think, feel, and behave. Various factors contribute to children’s mental health, including genetics, environment, and early experiences. Issues such as trauma, abuse, neglect, and family dynamics can significantly affect a child’s mental well-being, potentially leading to long-term consequences.

The Importance of Early Intervention:

Recognizing and addressing mental health concerns in children at an early stage is crucial for their overall development. Early intervention can prevent the escalation of issues, providing children with the tools to navigate challenges effectively. Parents, caregivers, and educators play a pivotal role in identifying signs of mental health issues in children, including changes in behavior, mood swings, academic struggles, or withdrawal from social activities.

Building Resilience in Children:

Resilience is a key factor in promoting children’s mental health. It involves developing the ability to bounce back from adversity and cope with life’s challenges. Parents and caregivers can foster resilience by creating a supportive and nurturing environment that encourages open communication. Teaching problem-solving skills, promoting a positive self-image, and fostering a sense of belonging can contribute to a child’s resilience.

The Role of Schools and Communities:

Schools and communities are integral in promoting children’s mental health. Educational institutions can create a positive and inclusive environment that supports emotional well-being. Implementing mental health education programs, providing access to counseling services, and fostering a culture of empathy and understanding can contribute to a child’s overall mental health. Additionally, community initiatives, such as support groups and mental health awareness campaigns, can help create a network of resources for children and their families.

Balancing Screen Time and Physical Activity:

In the digital age, children are exposed to screens from a young age. Excessive screen time, coupled with limited physical activity, can have adverse effects on mental health. It is essential for parents and caregivers to strike a balance between screen time and outdoor activities. Physical exercise has been linked to improved mood and cognitive function, making it a vital component of children’s mental health.

Encouraging Emotional Expression:

Children may struggle to articulate their emotions, making it crucial for parents and caregivers to encourage emotional expression. Creating a safe space where children feel comfortable discussing their feelings can foster a healthy emotional outlet. Art, play, and journaling are effective tools for allowing children to express themselves creatively, promoting emotional well-being. The Imagine Project, Inc. is a beautiful expressive writing tool where kids are prompted via a simple 7-step process to write about their experiences and emotions by using the word Imagine to begin every sentence. It empowers children K-12 (and adults) to realize they don’t have to be defined by an experience or story in their lives. Instead, they can write their own ending to any story/experience. To learn more go to and download a free journal today. The Imagine Project supports a child’s mental health by encouraging emotional expression, building resilience, and finding compassion for themselves and others.


Investing in children’s mental health is an investment in the future. By prioritizing emotional well-being, we can equip children with the tools they need to navigate life’s challenges successfully. Through early intervention, building resilience, and creating supportive environments in homes, schools, and communities, we can contribute to a brighter and more mentally healthy future for the next generation. As a society, it is our collective responsibility to nurture the minds of our children and empower them to thrive emotionally and mentally.



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 and 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

Nurturing Minds: The Crucial Role of Imagination in a Child’s Mental Health

In the bustling world of technology and structured education, the value of imagination often takes a backseat. However, fostering a child’s imagination is not just about encouraging creativity; it plays a pivotal role in their mental health development. Imagination is the magical doorway through which children explore emotions, problem-solving, and self-expression, laying the foundation for robust mental well-being.

  1. Building Emotional Intelligence:

Imagination serves as a powerful tool for children to understand and navigate their emotions. Through imaginative play, they can embody different roles, experimenting with various feelings and responses. Whether it’s a tea party with imaginary friends or a grand adventure in a make-believe world, children learn to identify and manage their emotions, fostering emotional intelligence. This emotional awareness becomes a crucial asset as they grow, helping them navigate relationships and cope with life’s challenges.

Developing Problem-Solving Skills:

Imagination is the birthplace of creativity, and creativity is closely tied to problem-solving. When children engage in imaginative play, they encounter scenarios that require quick thinking and inventive solutions. Whether it’s building a fort with cushions or creating a story with unexpected twists, their minds are constantly at work, honing problem-solving skills that will prove invaluable in academic and real-life situations.

Cultivating Resilience:

Life is full of uncertainties, and cultivating resilience is essential for a child’s mental health. Imagination allows them to explore different outcomes and possibilities, teaching them to adapt and bounce back from setbacks. Through role-playing and storytelling, children develop the resilience needed to cope with disappointment and challenges, fostering a positive attitude towards life.

Stimulating Brain Development:

The brain is like a muscle that needs regular exercise, and imagination is the perfect workout. When children engage in imaginative activities, various regions of their brain are activated, contributing to cognitive development. This stimulation not only enhances creativity but also improves memory, attention span, and language skills. A well-developed brain is better equipped to handle stress and maintain mental well-being throughout life.

Encouraging Self-Expression:

Imagination provides a safe space for children to express themselves freely. In a world where societal expectations and norms often prevail, imaginative play allows them to explore their thoughts, feelings, and identities without judgment. This uninhibited self-expression is crucial for building a strong sense of self and confidence, laying the groundwork for positive mental health.

Promoting Social Skills:

Imagination is a social activity. Whether playing house with friends or creating an imaginary world together, children learn important social skills through imaginative play. Cooperation, communication, and empathy are all developed as they navigate the shared landscapes of their imagination. These social skills are not only vital for healthy relationships but also contribute to a child’s overall mental well-being.

The Imagine Project

The Imagine Project is an expressive writing program that allows a child (or adult) to write about a difficult story that has happened in their life. Once they write about the story by beginning each sentence using the word Imagine.., they are prompted to Imagine a new hopeful, positive ending to that story. This gives the writer the ability to use their imagination to see that they don’t have to be defined by their negative story, instead, they can create a new story in their lives. To download a FREE journal from The Imagine Project go to


In the fast-paced and technologically driven world we live in, it’s essential not to overlook the importance of nurturing a child’s imagination. Imagination is not just a whimsical escape; it is the cornerstone of mental health development. Through imaginative play, children build emotional intelligence, develop problem-solving skills, cultivate resilience, stimulate brain development, encourage self-expression, and promote social skills. As parents, educators, and caregivers, it is our responsibility to create an environment that values and encourages the boundless possibilities of a child’s imagination, recognizing its profound impact on their mental well-being both now and in the future. So, let’s celebrate the world of make-believe and ensure that every child has the space and freedom to let their imaginations soar.

Happy Imagining!



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 and 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

How Audiobooks Can Help Improve Children’s Literacy and SEL

In the digital age, audiobooks have emerged as a powerful educational tool, especially as an increasing number of studies have revealed a burgeoning literacy crisis in the United States. According to the Urban Institute’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, for instance, about two-thirds of US children are unable to read with proficiency, with 40% considered to be nonreaders.

This article explores the evidence-based role of audiobooks in enhancing children’s literacy skills and promoting social and emotional learning, shedding light on the multifaceted benefits that extend beyond the written word.

Audiobooks and their various impacts on literacy development

Research consistently highlights the positive impact of audiobooks on children’s literacy development. A study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that incorporating audiobooks into a classroom setting significantly improved students’ word recognition, comprehension, and overall reading achievement. Listening to well-narrated stories enhances vocabulary, language comprehension, and pronunciation, providing a valuable supplement to traditional reading methods. Below are a few more ways that audiobooks are aiding literacy development.

Accessible for all learners

One of the key strengths of audiobooks lies in their accessibility. The digital library Everand has revolutionized the availability of audiobooks and ebooks for children. Through a monthly subscription model, parents gain access to an extensive catalog of stories for children without needing to constantly purchase individual works. On Everand, young readers can be exposed to a wide range of genres, from classics like A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh to more recent books like Jasmine Warga’s Other Words for Home. Alternatively, parents can make it a habit to pay a visit to their local public library, where children can instead borrow books and audiobooks for free.

In addition to this, audiobooks accommodate various learning styles, making them inclusive for children with different abilities, including those with reading difficulties or learning disabilities. By presenting information through both auditory and visual channels, audiobooks cater to the diverse needs of students, fostering a more equitable learning environment.

Fostering a love for literature

Audiobooks have the potential to ignite a passion for literature in children. In an AOL article, former language arts teacher Jordan Lloyd Bookey noted that any medium that promotes a positive relationship with reading is a good thing. Audiobooks, in particular, captivate young minds and encourage a positive attitude toward reading as they reformat stories to become more engaging and dynamic. This emotional connection to literature can be a driving force in cultivating a lifelong love for books, contributing to sustained literacy development throughout a child’s academic journey.

Enhancing comprehension and critical thinking

Listening to audiobooks engages children in a different dimension of storytelling, allowing them to focus on comprehension and critical thinking skills. Following the narrative through auditory cues encourages children to visualize scenes, infer meanings, and predict outcomes. This multisensory experience enhances cognitive development and promotes higher-order thinking skills crucial for academic success.

Social and emotional learning through audiobooks

Beyond literacy, audiobooks play a significant role in nurturing social-emotional skills in children. Well-crafted narratives often explore complex themes, emotions, and character relationships. Exposure to diverse perspectives through storytelling fosters empathy, emotional intelligence, and an understanding of various social dynamics, which can then be channeled into resilience-building activities such as The Imagine Project journals.

On the Imagine Project website, parents and educators can also download a free writing tool that aims to empower children to express their feelings to better cope with stress and other challenges, further enhancing children’s social-emotional awareness.

Listening to audiobooks also requires children to develop strong listening skills and patience. Following a story through audio cues necessitates sustained attention and concentration, skills that are transferrable to various aspects of academic and social life. This practice contributes to the cultivation of essential skills for effective communication and interpersonal relationships.

The role of audiobooks extends far beyond being a convenient alternative to traditional reading. Evidence supports the positive impact of audiobooks on literacy development, catering to diverse learning styles and fostering a love for literature. Moreover, audiobooks contribute substantially to social-emotional learning, enhancing empathy, critical thinking, and essential life skills. As technology continues to shape the future of education, audiobooks stand as a valuable resource for nurturing well-rounded, literate, and emotionally intelligent individuals.

Using Mindfulness with Kids During Stressful Times

Stress tends to be higher during the holidays. More to do, plan, and get done before a deadline. Even if life is fun during the holidays, people around you might be stressed and you can feel it–and so can your kids no matter what their ages. Taking extra time to practice Mindfullness is important for ourselves and our families. Mindfulness can be a great tool to keep us stay grounded so that our stress doesn’t get the best of us. The Imagine Project is a form of Mindfullness, it helps with processing how we feel, as well as centering ourselves.

But what does mindfulness really look like? Mindfulness is the conscious decision to be present in the moment, paying attention to how you feel in your body, mind, and emotionally– as well as how your kids are feeling. The trick is to do listen, watch, feel from a nonjudgmental place—a place of noticing and letting go of anything that doesn’t serve you. It actually really works! Research even shows that noticing—just noticing what’s happening in your mind, head, and heart, without trying to fix or change it, just watching and noticing it—allows it to move through and move on. Noticing and acknowledging anything your children, spouse, etc. might be feeling will help them feel heard and let go of anything that might not be helpful for them. Research also shows that mindfulness helps improve immune function (fewer illnesses), increases concentration, strengthens resilience, as well as many other positive effects.

So how do we do this? Experiment and practice—with ourselves, and our kids. Noticing your breathing is always a great place to begin. Bring your attention back to your breath, and practice long, slow, mindful breathing. This is key to embracing the moment and restoring or strengthening calm in your brain and body. Try sitting quietly and gently paying attention to your breath, counting slowly as you breathe in and out. The goal is breathing in to a count of about 4 or 5, and breathe out with a count of 6-7. Longer exhales helps your body relax more. You may have to work at going this slow, but just try it at your own pace and work at moving to a slower, deeper breath. Then practice at other times too, in your car, waiting in a doctor’s office, or watching TV. The more you experiment and work at it, the more prepared you’ll be when you really need it to calm yourself in stressful situations!

Practicing mindfulness with kids happens when you create quiet times with them and show them techniques and tools to help them calm down. Here are a few tips to help:

  1. Sit and do the breathing technique together or when you feel your child is stressed—practicing together really helps.
  2. Have a snack or even cook together. Noticing the food: the taste, the smell, the textures.
  3. Go for a walk, notice what’s going on around you in nature; the clouds, the weather, the landscape—look for 4 leaf clovers or dig in the dirt.
  4. Read together, do a puzzle, chase bubbles, draw, or paint.
  5. Share a breathing hug together, take a few soft, slow breaths as you hold each other.
  6. Notice and share how you are feeling, your body sensations and how they match your emotions and thoughts.
  7. Write your Imagine stories together.

Mindfulness combats stress by allowing us to slow down our minds so we can pay attention to what’s happening in our bodies and emotions. Then the emotions can move through our minds and bodies, which will lessen our stress. Sometimes it’s difficult to connect to and understand how we feel, this is where The Imagine Project comes in. Writing your story, each sentence beginning with the word Imagine… helps put our feelings out into the world, helps us process our experiences that are causing stress, move through them, calming our minds and bodies—the goal in combating stress.

Try writing your imagine story with your child and/or your students. The process is free, simple, and prompted by a 7-step journaling process. Go to to learn more about The Imagine Project and download the journals. Give it a try, it will help calm your’s and your child’s stress, while giving the opportunity to Imagine new possibilities in life!

Here is a wonderful website to help you get started with Mindfulness: Mindfulness and Meditation Matters. 

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

The Imagine Project, Inc., is a nonprofit organization that helps kids, teens, and adults overcome challenging life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. Her simple, yet profound 7-step writing tool, now used by schools across the US and internationally, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

Every Tear Matters: Practical Ways to Help Kids Find Strength In Grief

 Grief is a heavy emotion, and when kids experience it, it could make their life more challenging. As adults who love and care for them, we can help them find their strength in the face of loss.

In this article, you will understand what kids go through when they’re grieving and how we can support them. (Written by Michael Vallejo)

The Importance of Helping Kids Deal with Grief

Just like adults, children experience grief in response to loss, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, moving, losing a pet or friend, etc. Grief is a complex experience and children may express this emotion depending on their age, personality, or coping mechanisms. 

Parents, caregivers, and educators need to provide support to help children healthily process their grief. As kids receive support, they can gain valuable coping skills that can help them handle future losses. 

It also allows them to understand that sadness is normal, which makes them feel validated. 

Understanding Grief in Children

The experience of grief in children is different from that of adults since they still lack the emotional maturity to fully understand and express their feelings. 

How Children Perceive Grief

Each child will understand and respond to grief and loss differently. For example, preschool-aged kids might perceive death as temporary and reversible, so they might still look for the person who has died afterward.

While school-aged children might start to understand that death is permanent, and become anxious that other loved ones might also die. They might not want to be separated from their parents and caregivers. 

Teenagers have a good understanding that death is natural and a part of life, and may also take on adult responsibilities around the home. They might also be more interested in the meaning of life and death. 

Common Reactions and Behaviors in Grieving Children

Children grieve differently, and sometimes you might not see it expressed properly. This is because they might not know how to put their feelings into words. 

Other children may also seem strong and resilient one moment and become very distressed the next. They may express a variety of emotions from sadness, anger, confusion, guilt, and anxiety

Here are common reactions and behaviors in grieving children:

  • Sadness, which can be shown by crying one moment and playing the next
  • Anger, such as getting irritable or easily irritated
  • Denial, which can be shown by denying the reality of the loss
  • Anxiety, which leads to worries about their safety and the safety of others
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, or social activities
  • Struggling academically or having difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in eating habits and appetite
  • Regression, or displaying behaviors associated with younger children, such as thumb-sucking or bedwetting
  • Clinginess, or not wanting to be separated from parents and caregivers

The Importance of Every Tear

Many people see crying as a sign of weakness, but it’s okay to let your kids cry when they feel sad, hurt, or angry. Crying can help kids calm themselves, reduce their pain, and improve their mood. It helps them healthily process their grief. 

Significance of Expressing Emotions

Emotions are part of being human, so children need to learn how to identify, understand, and express their feelings. Teaching kids about emotions and encouraging them to express their feelings is important so they can develop healthy coping skills. By doing this, they are more likely to bounce back after strong emotions and avoid developing behavioral problems, such as aggression and acting out.

Grieving is an essential process toward acceptance because it can help kids come to terms with the reality of the loss. Without expressing their emotions, they may struggle to move forward. This can result in unresolved emotional pain that can lead to more problems in the future.

Healthy Part of the Grieving Process

Crying is a healthy part of the grieving process because it allows kids to release and express their intense emotions. It also provides a respite from the pain. 

According to a 2014 study, crying releases endorphins or feel-good chemicals that can help soothe pain.

Crying can also help build a sense of connection between people who are affected by grief, which can lead to empathy and understanding for kids. Lastly, crying can also be a way of honoring the person or object that was lost.

Practical Ways to Help Kids Find Strength in Grief

Helping kids find strength in grief involves providing them with love, support, understanding, and coping strategies that can help them move forward:

Encourage communication

Each child will react differently when they get news about a loss. Encourage your kid to put their thoughts and feelings about the situation into words. Allow them to ask questions and come to you when they are confused with their emotions. 

Remember that grief can often feel isolating, so communication with kids can help them feel less alone. Through open communication, you can let your children feel heard, seen, and understood. 

Normalize grief

It’s important to help kids understand that grief is a normal response to loss. Let them know that it will take time for them to feel better, but things will improve over time. You don’t have to hide your sadness as well, but you can express it in front of your child so they know that they are not alone. 

For example, you might talk about your grief with them to help them understand that what they’re feeling is normal. You can say, “I feel sad for your grandfather’s passing. I miss him very much, and sometimes I cry. Being sad is OK because it means that he was very important to us. When I feel down, I talk to a friend and she listens to me, so I don’t feel that I am alone.”

Teach mental health coping skills

Children might not yet have the right mental health coping skills to deal with negative emotions, so it is important to start teaching them early. These skills can help them keep their feelings under control and prevent them from letting their big emotions disrupt their daily lives.

For example, when they’re feeling sad, you can ask them to think of activities that they might enjoy, such as taking the dog out for a walk. You can also help them neutralize their sadness by asking them to identify things to be grateful for. Plan activities to spend time with friends when they’re feeling lonely.

There are also many ways to cope when they’re feeling angry due to a loss. For instance, you can make them a “calm down kit” full of things they like, such as a stress ball, art supplies, or storybooks. You can also ask them to dance it out together until their emotion dissipates.

Promote self-care

Ensure that your kids are taking care of their physical health as well because grief can be overwhelming and draining. Disrupted sleep and changes in appetite can take a toll on their physical health. Engaging in self-care activities can help reduce these effects. 

The best way to promote self-care is to lead by example. For example, you can set aside time for relaxation by engaging in activities such as yoga or taking a warm bath. For kids, this might involve activities such as drawing, coloring, or journaling.

Don’t forget to encourage your kids to eat healthily, get sufficient rest, and also have regular exercise. 

Seek professional help if needed

Grieving takes time, even for children. But if your child’s grief becomes too overwhelming or persists for an extended period, consider seeking support from a grief counselor, therapist, or mental health professional.

Here are some signs that your child might need professional help:

  • Grief symptoms that worsen with time
  • Extended periods of depression or loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Persistent imitation of the deceased or desire to join the person who died
  • Persistent regression to younger behavior
  • Substance abuse in teens
  • Refusal to go to school or spend time with friends

In a 2021 study, the researchers gathered kids and teens who were dealing with prolonged grief disorder. They were randomly split into two groups, where one group received a Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) program and the other group received supportive counseling. 

Both types of treatment helped the kids, however, CBT showed better results. CBT made a significant difference in alleviating the symptoms associated with prolonged grief disorder. It also helped in easing depression, symptoms linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and internalizing issues.

Support through journaling

Research has shown that journaling (also call expressive writing) can help process difficult emotions because the writer has the opportunity to express and understand their feelings. The Imagine Project is a guided 7-step journaling process for all kids K-12 (and adults). The first 3 steps give the child the opportunity to write their difficult story using the word Imagine to begin every sentence. Step 4 asks them to write a new ending to their story giving the chance to find meaning and possibility in their lives. The Imagine Project is free for anyone to download from Download a journal now and you can write your Imagine stories together to share your own experiences, helping your child to understand he/she isn’t alone. 

Help Your Child Find Strength in Grief Through Your Love and Support

Always remember that the grieving process is different for everyone, and what works for one child may not work for another. So your main goal is to be flexible and patient as you provide support and guidance to your child. 

Also, keep in mind that it’s okay to grieve alongside your child. Take care of yourself as well so you can continue to be a strong support for them. 

Good luck and take care,

Michael Vallejo, LCSW, Child and Family Therapist, and Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN, Executive Director, The Imagine Project, Inc.


How Journaling Helps Kids and Adults Heal

When I go into a classroom or get in front of large groups, I often ask, “How many of you like to write?” On average, about 50% will raise their hands. With children, the younger they are, the more they like to write; the older they are, the more groans I hear.

Unfortunately, many children are given negative ideas about their ability to write. Whether they are told that it needs to be perfect or perfectionism comes from within, they may struggle with vocabulary, grammar, and organizing their thoughts. Many kids are rarely given the chance to simply write from their hearts with- out worrying about spelling and punctuation. Yet, when they begin to write from a perspective of speaking their truth—a story, a challenge, or experience that is sitting in their hearts—something happens. At first it might feel emotional; thinking and writing about a painful event can be difficult to do. But once the flow begins, it can be freeing and empowering.

Expressive writing or journaling also has a healing quality, encouraging writers to process and find meaning from a difficult life circumstance, to let it go, and to create a new story for their lives. This kind of writing also allows the writers to feel seen, heard, and validated. And it feels empowering when they realize how far they’ve come and how resilient they truly are.

The Positive Effects of Journaling

For over 30 years, researchers have been studying the effects of journaling. In most studies, participants are asked to take 15 to 30 minutes to write about an emotionally challenging, even traumatic incident in their lives. Typically, they are asked to do this once a day for three to five days. Even though the time spent writing can be emotional and make the writer feel vulnerable, the long-term benefits are positive. Research has found that expressive writing can:

  • improve grade point average,
  • improve working memory,
  • improve writing skills,
  • decrease school dropout rates,
  • enhance immune function (fewer illnesses and fewer trips to the doctor),
  • decrease blood pressure,
  • promote wound healing after surgery,
  • decrease anxiety and depression,
  • help people feel better about life, and
  • lessen post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptoms.

Study measurements were done months, even years, after the writing exercises and positive results still existed. Pretty good stuff!

How and Why Does Journaling Work?

James Pennebaker, PhD and Joshua Smyth, PhD can be considered the fathers of journaling. Their research has been foundational for understanding how and why expressive writing works. In their latest book, Opening Up and Writing It Down (Guilford Press, 2016), they explore the healing benefits of expressive writing. By writing down what happened (or is happening), we can organize our thoughts and verbalize the stress or trauma we’ve experienced, which allows us to confront, understand, make some sense of it, and gain perspective. We can even find meaning in difficult experiences through the written word, as putting our stories on pa- per can shed light on our problems and release the tension of keeping them in the dark. In contrast, holding in negative experiences and feelings merely creates more stress, anxiety, depression, or self-destructiveness.

We also have a basic need to express ourselves, speak our truth, and make sense of it, so we can move on. You can see this in the Imagine stories in this book. Kids and teens hold so much in their minds and hearts. When troubles are kept under cover, they remain unprocessed, take up too much space, and prevent kids from moving forward. Being “stuck” only perpetuates cycles of dysfunction, such as abuse, addiction, and poverty, generation after generation. Fortunately, expressive writing is an effective tool that can help kids process and let go of their stories so they aren’t defined or limited by them. Journaling inspires them to imagine new possibilities, pursue their goals more effectively, and find a higher calling in their lives.

If you, your child, student, or someone you know is struggling, introduce them to The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a simple (and FREE) journaling process that uses 7 steps to guide the child, teen, or adult through writing and healing. To learn more and download a free journal go to

Thank you and take care,

Dianne and The Imagine Project Team


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

Kids are back in school again and most educators are acutely aware of the potential social emotional needs of students. The past few years have been very challenging 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 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 few weeks 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. It also helps to create a relationship between the teacher and student, and even with other students.

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 Projecthelps 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!

For those who’s child is in college, Click here to read a wonderful blog about Mental Health in College: A Guide for Students and Families.

Thank you,


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

Be Kind To Your Mind: Practicing Self-Compassion

If you’re used to being self-critical, it might be difficult for you to understand what being self-compassionate is like. Self-compassion is defined as treating yourself with kindness and understanding during difficult times or when you feel like you are not good enough. For kids and teens, this is thinking, “It’s okay if I didn’t get an award today. I will do better next time” instead of telling themselves, “I’m such a loser. I can’t do anything right!”

When you’re kind to yourself, you will have an easier time dealing with the difficult situations in your life. Self-compassion naturally leads to better mental well-being, physical health, and relationship with others. Here’s more about the importance of self-compassion and ways to practice it.

The Importance of Self-Compassion for Mental Well-Being

It’s tempting to resort to negative-self talk after you make mistakes or fail self-expectations. But becoming harder on yourself can lead to more stress, depression, or insecurity. 

Self-compassion is linked to a strong resilience or the ability to recover from difficulties in life. Because you treat yourself with kindness and empathy, you can move on from shame and fear to having the motivation to do better in life. 

Components of Self-Compassion

To have compassion is to be aware of others’ suffering, and to have the desire to alleviate that suffering. This not only applies to others but to yourself as well.

Dr. Kristen Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research, says that self-compassion is made up of three elements — self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity. 


Self-kindness is the act of showing care, consideration, and understanding to yourself when you fail, suffer, or feel inadequate. Even when you don’t reach your self-expectations, you choose to be gentle with yourself rather than resort to anger or frustration. 

The reality about life is that you are going to make mistakes. It is inevitable to fail and be imperfect. Accepting this reality with kindness and patience to yourself instead of self-judgment can help you practice self-compassion. 


Self-compassion also involves being mindful of your thoughts and emotions — neither exaggerating them nor dismissing them. This balanced approach allows you to be aware of your negative thoughts and emotions, and treat them with acceptance in a non-judgmental way. This is because you cannot practice self-compassion without observing your thoughts and feelings. 

Mindfulness also requires you to steer away from over-identification, which is the process of dwelling on negative feelings. Reliving your negative experiences repeatedly can make it difficult to practice self-compassion. 

Common Humanity

It’s easy to be hard on yourself if you think that mistakes and painful situations are things that can only happen to you. Realizing that you are not the only one who is imperfect is something that is part of having common humanity. This involves understanding that inadequacy and suffering are all part of being ‘human’ — a shared human experience. 

Rather than feeling isolated, you can practice self-compassion by reminding yourself that other people also feel that they’re not enough at times, and it is a part of life that everyone experiences.

Benefits of Practicing Self-Compassion

The way you treat yourself can affect many aspects of your life. Below are the benefits of practicing self-compassion:

Improved mental health

Practicing self-compassion promotes mental and emotional well-being. According to a 2018 study, compassion for one’s self is linked to lower levels of symptoms of depression. 

In another study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, it was found that self-compassion has a positive effect on happiness, positivity, optimism, wisdom, and others.

Better physical health

People who practice self-compassion are more likely to care for themselves not just emotionally, but also physically. Additionally, self-compassion can help you manage stress better, helping you avoid the physical effects of stress — such as weight gain, sleep problems, digestive issues, and many more. 

According to the research findings published by the researchers of the University of Pittsburgh, middle-aged women who had self-compassion also had lower chances of developing cardiovascular disease. The findings emphasize the importance of practicing self-compassion not just for mental but also for physical health. 

Positive relationships 

The ability to be compassionate to yourself also translates into the way you treat others. Having self-compassion allows you to be aware of others’ pain and challenges and treat them in a gentle way. This is important if you have children because strong and healthy family relationships can help with their performance academically and socially.

Aside from that, the life-enhancing benefits of self-compassion also allow you to approach your relationships with positivity. A study review published in the Australian Psychological Society, suggests that people who have self-compassion are also more likely to have secure attachment relationships.

How to Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion, just like other abilities, requires constant practice. Below are some tips that can help you:

Mindfulness practices

As an important component of self-compassion, it is helpful to give time to mindfulness practice. Tara Brach, a well-known psychologist and teacher of Buddhist mindfulness meditation, developed a tool for mindfulness practice called RAIN.

RAIN is an acronym that stands for the following four steps:

  1. Recognize what is taking place
  2. Allow the experience to take place as it is
  3. Investigate with care and interest
  4. Nurture yourself with compassion

RAIN can be used for meditation or when difficult challenges happen in your life. This allows you to acknowledge what is affecting you, allowing it to be there, investigate it, then nurture yourself with compassion. 

Self-compassion exercises 

Small things can make a huge difference in your life. Start practicing self-compassion through journaling. Notice and jot down the times when you resort to negative self-talk or experience distressing situations. 

Through journaling, you can practice mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. Write about how you felt as the negative thought or event occurred, recognize that it is part of common humanity, and end the entry by being kind to yourself. The practice of journaling can help you organize your thoughts and emotions and cope healthily. 

A wonderful format to use for journaling is called The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a simple, effective, and free journaling that includes 7-steps to prompt your thoughts and feelings, giving the writer an opportunity to organize their emotions and write them in second person using the word Imagine…to begin every sentence. To learn more about The Imagine Project go to and download the free journals

Self-compassion exercises can also be a family activity. For instance, start by teaching children about gratitude. By being grateful for everything you have — even though you are imperfect — you practice self-kindness as well. 

Reframing negative self-talk 

To practice self-compassion, it is helpful to understand the concept of growth mindset vs fixed mindset.

People who practice self-compassion know and accept that they are imperfect, but don’t resort to self-blame or shame. This is because of a growth mindset, which allows them to understand that challenges are a part of life and failures are not the end. This helps them move away from negative self-talk and towards a more positive attitude. 

On the contrary, having a fixed mindset involves the belief that talent and intelligence are fixed. This can lead to negative thinking, such as avoiding challenges because of fear of failure, taking constructive criticism personally, and giving up easily. 

You can adopt a growth mindset by embracing imperfection, viewing criticism as feedback, and being open to possibilities. 

Take Home Message 

Self-compassion allows you to accept painful experiences as they are while remembering that it is all a part of the human experience. As a response, you treat yourself with care and kindness. This can lead to several life-enhancing benefits that affect not just your mental health, but also physical health and relationships. 

Becoming self-compassionate is not an easy task, but consistent practice can get you there. Be kind to yourself and accept that you will make mistakes while being open to learning. 

Thank you Michael Vallejo for contributing this wonderful article to The Imagine Project. 



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

How to use Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT, Tapping) with children.

Many people are curious about Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), also called Tapping. Tapping is a tool anyone can use to help them deal with difficult emotions in life. All ages can be taught to use tapping, as young as 6 or 7 years old or as old as 100! It’s a simple, yet effective technique that can calm your nerves, relief anxiety, help you move through difficult emotions, and even help relieve physical pain and other ailments.

What is EFT/Tapping?

Tapping is based on the theories of Chinese medicine where they believe that energy runs through certain “meridians” (also might be called pathways) of the body like blood runs through veins and arteries. When the energetic pathways are blocked, illness happens. Energy blocks can be caused by stress and trauma. Inserting needles on those meridian points will release the energy causing the block, creating wellness again. In tapping, the same belief is true except we tap lightly on those points instead of using needles. There are various meridian points on the body that are related to specific emotions. When you tap on those points while talking to your subconscious, emotions are released and you can move into a state of comfort and wellness.

How to begin tapping?

Tapping is easy to learn, it just takes a bit of practice. You can watch these videos at to begin learning and practicing. Google EFT/tapping to find hundreds more video examples. Some practitioners have altered the pattern some, you can make it your own, but here is the simple overview:

  1. Ask yourself how your feeling. Angry? Sad? Ashamed? Sometime else? Measure how strong that emotion is on a scale of 1-10, 10 being intense. Also, feel where you feel that emotion in your body, maybe in your stomach, chest, throat, head, somewhere else? Just be aware of that physical sense in your body.
  2. Begin by using two fingers from either hand and tap with medium pressure just above your eyebrow to the inside, closer to your nose. Keep tapping as you say, “Even though I feel angry (or whatever emotion they named), I deeply and completely accept myself.”
  3. Tap on your temple near your eye and say it again, “Even though I feel angry, I deeply and completely accept myself.” Now tap under your eye and say it again, “Even though I feel angry, I deeply and completely accept myself.” Now move to under your nose, tapping and saying, “I’m so angry.” Move to under your bottom lip and repeat. Now tap just under the middle of your collar bone, either side of your chest, continue to state your emotions (you can use more than 1 emotion). Move to under your armpit about two inches down, keep making about your emotions and tapping.
  4. Move to the crevice or indentation on the top, pinky side of your hand and tap there while saying a profound statement about the emotion you are feeling. “I am really mad!” Stay tapping on that spot on the hand and look up with your eyes, then down. Look to the left and then right (do not move your head, just your eyes), make a circle with your eyes, go back the other way, hum a few notes of any tune you want (or just hum) and then count to five, then hum again. This is a critical part of the process, because it triggers different parts of the brain where emotion is often released.
  5. Start all over again on the face and continue on all the spots you did the first round (eyebrow, temple, under your eye, under your nose, dimple in your chin, collar bone, below your arm pit, and the pinky side of the hand). Continue with this pattern until you are feeling better. This might take 5 minutes, or it might take 20 minutes (occasionally longer). You might sigh, take a deep breath, get distracted, smile. You can stop and ask yourself where you are emotionally on the scale of 1-10? Hopefully, it will be much lower, even 0! If not, keep going or switch to another emotion—there is often more than one emotion to deal with at a time.
  6. If you become very emotional during this process (this is actually good), don’t stop, keep going. Moving through intense emotion is an important part of the process. If you can’t remember the exact spots to tap on, no worries, just keep going, being exact doesn’t really matter. It’s the process of tapping in general and talking to your subconscious that creates the shift in emotion by releasing the stuck energy connected to the issue/emotion at hand. Keep practicing—you will see the amazing effects in a short time!


There have been hundreds of research projects looking at the effects of tapping. Overall they have shown that EFT lowers cortisol levels (cortisol is a stress hormone—too high of levels in your body can cause anxiety and numerous acute and long-term health problems), and it can also reprogram neuropathways in the brain. When the brain experiences chronic stress, the neuropathways of your brain are constantly in the stress mode—feeling anxiety, tension, and emotion often, even all the time. EFT/tapping can reprogram your brain to calm down, destress, and feel less negative emotion—and more positive emotion!

Like anything else learning to use tapping takes some time and practice, but keep trying and remember to use it anytime you are upset or just feeling off from life—the shift you will feel can be miraculous. It’s simple, effective, and free! If you’re issue doesn’t shift there might be something more complicated buried underneath that emotion, you may need to seek help from a therapist that uses EFT as part of their practice.

 Watch these videos to help explain tapping.

I would encourage you to try writing your Imagine story along with tapping, especially if you are struggling with an event in your life that has really made a negative impact on you emotionally (past or present). Go to to download a free journal to get started.

Good luck and happy tapping!



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

Join us on June 1st for our annual Gala! Learn more