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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 www.theimagineproject.org. 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 www.theimagineproject.org.

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 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 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

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.

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

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. 

Mindfulness

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 www.theimagineproject.org 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. 

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 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.

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 www.theimagineproject.org 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!

Research:

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 www.theimagineproject.org to download a free journal to get started.

Good luck and happy tapping!

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 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.

Teaching Gratitude and Kindness to Children

Gratitude is so simple, yet most people overlook it’s amazing benefits. Dr. David Hamilton, author of Why Kindness is Good for You, writes, “Gratitude is a mark of being kind to life by being aware of all that is around us, and when we are grateful, we acknowledge the people and situations in our life and express thanks for them.” We teach our children to say “thank you,” but it’s also important to model and teach them to see gratitude as a key philosophy of life. Seeing and feeling gratitude every day is one key to being resilient and successful.

There is quite a bit of research on gratitude and the positive effects. These positive effects make sense, be- cause when you think about what you feel grateful for, you can’t help but feel relaxed, fulfilled, and blessed.

Benefits of Gratitude

  • Greater sense of well-being
  • Improved physical health
  • Improved self-esteem, resilience, and empathy
  • Decreased aggression
  • Increased optimism
  • Improved sleep

Gratitude even improves relationships. Research shows that saying thank you to someone helps to create a more positive relationship. When a child feels gratitude from his or her parents for being helpful or for just being a good kid, the child feels safer and more empowered to say something when they are upset and need to talk.
It is fairly easy to teach kids to practice a life philosophy of gratitude. Using the 30-day Imagine, Gratitude, and Kindness Challenge (Step 7 in My Imagine Journal) is a good place to start. Kids can have fun creating a family gratitude board or a gratitude box where everyone can write, keep, and even share what they feel grateful for. We play The Gratitude Game in the car or at meal- time. Particularly if someone has had a bad day, this can help them put it in perspective and feel better.

Play the Gratitude Game

Each person takes a turn saying what they are grateful for, beginning with, “I am grateful for…”. You can also use, “I love…” saying what you love about each person or life in general!

Everyone takes at least three turns. If someone is unhappy about something, it may help to first clear the air by letting them talk about what’s upsetting them, while others listen with compassion. After they’ve had their say, feel more relaxed, and are ready to change perspective, switch it to gratitude, and watch moods brighten.

If someone wants to remain cranky, it might feel like pulling teeth to get them to join the game but be patient and gently invite them to join when they feel ready. They may be content to listen—and benefit from it—especially if they know it’s not being done to manipulate their mood. Even if they continue to resist, simply let them be, and honor their desire to come around in their own time, on their own terms.

Kindness

It feels good to be kind. It’s in our nature to be kind, but we have to teach and cultivate it in ourselves and our children. Kindness not only benefits others, it has positive effects on our bodies and our minds.

Research has shown that doing acts of kindness:

  • makes us happier,
  • improves immune function,
  • changes chemical balance in the brain to reduce depression,
  • releases oxytocin (a happy hormone!),
  • decreases inflammation in the body, improving our health,
  • helps us feel better about ourselves,
  • Decreases bullying,
  • increases peer acceptance, and
  • is contagious.

Talking to your children about being kind is important, but kids learn what they see, so the more they wit- ness and experience kindness, the more they will practice it themselves. Step 7 in My Imagine Journal encourages one random act of kindness every day for 30 days—a great way to ingrain a kindness philosophy into a child’s life. There are hundreds of simple acts of kindness to show and teach kids, www.kindness.org has great ideas. Here are some to begin with:

  • Write a thank you card.
  • Let someone go ahead of you in line.
  • Carry something for someone who needs help.
  • Tell someone why they are special to you. Talk to someone new at school.
  • Donate food or clothing.
  • At a restaurant or store, tell an employee what a good job they did for you.
  • Pick up litter.
  • Help make dinner.
  • Write a poem for a friend.
  • Talk to a lonely neighbor.
  • Play with a pet (you might even go to an animal shelter and play with the animals there).
  • Give your mom a neck or shoulder massage.

With gratitude,

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.

Nurturing a Child’s Mental Health through Simple Mindfulness Techniques

When we think about healing, many of us focus only on our physical bodies. In reality, there is a great deal of research showing our minds lead the way for our bodies. What we think drives what we do, how we behave, and how we interact. Our thoughts even affect our cellular structure. Scientists used to believe that the body was made up of only physical matter; it functioned in specific ways and was only affected by other matter such as chemical responses (medications), surgery, and other physical modalities. Now we know the body is more than matter—it’s energy, and can be affected by many things, particularly the mind.

In his book, The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton writes, “Thoughts, the mind’s energy, directly influence how the physical brain controls the body’s physiology. Thought ‘energy’ can activate or inhibit the cell’s function…” In other words, thoughts can control the health of both the mind and the body. Using the mind to help handle drama, trauma, and stress is the key to emotional wellness. Here are some useful tools to help your children’s/students’ minds cope with life.

Mindfulness

As summer arrives, it’s a great time to create new health habits with our kids. Mindfulness is a great habit that will support our emotional and mental health (for life). Mindfulness is about being fully aware of what is happening in the present moment, both internally and externally. It’s a conscious decision to pay attention to your body, mind, emotions, and external circumstances, and to do so from a nonjudgmental place—a place of noticing and letting go of anything that doesn’t serve you. This may sound challenging, and it can be at times, but the more you practice the easier it gets. For kids, the earlier they learn these habits, the greater the impact.

According to research on mindfulness with adults and with children, mindfulness improves immune function (fewer illnesses), increases concentration, and decreases stress. There is a long list of positive effects on children who practice mindfulness.

Many who teach mindfulness advocate that it begins with paying attention to your breath. In calm moments, or in times of distress, 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. In her book, Rising Strong, Brené Brown writes about her “calm practice” in which “breathing is central to practicing mindful- ness.” You can try it by sitting quietly and gently paying attention to your breath, counting slowly as you breathe in and out. The goal is breathing into a count of about 3-5 and breathe out with a longer exhale. The longer exhale triggers your nervous system to relax physically as well as mentally. 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 and Teens

Practicing mindfulness with kids can begin during the early weeks of a pregnancy, which is an important time of brain growth. Sitting quietly for a time each day, perhaps reading or listening to music, can program your unborn baby’s biology, and reduce susceptibility to emotional problems early in life. With newborns, take time to just sit and rock, sing, read, and enjoy your baby. Be very present and not distracted by other things around you. As your babies grow into children, continue with quiet times—no phone, no TV, no distractions, just you and your children experiencing and talking about life.

You may need to be creative to help your growing child with mindfulness. Here are some ideas:

  • Sit together and have a snack. Talk about the snack and its characteristics, your favorite flavor, its texture, its temperature. Really noticing what you’re eating helps you be in the moment instead of worrying about anything else. To be playful, make funny faces to show your opinion of a food, or come up with creative ideas for weird meals.
  • Do a puzzle together.
  • Go for a walk and talk about the trees, birds, bugs, or grass.
  • Read a book together. Talk about the book and what you both thought about the story and characters.
  • Ask your child about the weather inside their hearts—sunny, cloudy, bright, rainy, or stormy. Be curious about their day and its highs and lows.
  • Write your Imagine stories together.
  • Play a game, anything from peek-a-boo and hide-and-go-seek to card games or board games.
  • Cook together.
  • Chase bubbles.
  • Look at the clouds and find formations in them.
  • Pick a country on the world map and research it.
  • Draw, color, create together.
  • Tell a story at bedtime, real or fictional.

Any one of these activities needs to be your full focus for at least 15 minutes, even longer can be better; no distractions, just one-on-one attention while you are being mindful of the present moment. The above suggestions are forms of mindfulness you can do together. What a great way to do something together that is peaceful and helpful.

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, 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.

Advice for Teaching Children Kindness and Optimism

We all understand that kids learn by watching their parents and other adults in their lives. If those guiding adults are kind and optimistic, then they will watch and learn. But sometimes we get busy and forget these important behaviors ourselves. Or our kids need extra help learning how to be kind and optimistic. Kindness and optimism are so important in our world and high on the list for making sure our kids practice them.

Kindness

It feels good to be kind. It’s in our nature to be kind, but we have to teach and cultivate it in ourselves and our children. Kindness not only benefits others, it has positive effects on our bodies and our minds.

Research has shown that doing acts of kindness will:

  • make us happier,
  • improve immune function,
  • change chemical balance in the brain to reduce depression,
  • release oxytocin (a happy hormone!),
  • decrease inflammation in the body, improving our health,
  • helps us feel better about ourselves,
  • decrease bullying,
  • increase peer acceptance, and
  • is contagious!

Talking to your children about being kind is important, but kids learn what they see, so the more they wit- ness and experience kindness, the more they will practice it themselves. Step 7 in My Imagine Journal encourages one random act of kindness every day for 30 days—a great way to ingrain a kindness philosophy into a child’s life. There are hundreds of simple acts of kindness to show and teach kids, www.kindness.org has great ideas. Here are some to begin with:

  • Write a thank you card.
  • Let someone go ahead of you in line.
  • Carry something for someone who needs help.
  • Talk to someone new at school.
  • Donate food or clothing.
  • At a restaurant or store, tell an employee what a good job they did for you.
  • Pick up litter.
  • Help make dinner.
  • Write a poem for a friend.
  • Talk to a lonely neighbor.
  • Play with a pet (you might even go to an animal shelter and play with the animals there).
  • Give your mom a neck or shoulder massage :).
  • Tell someone why they are special to you.

Optimism

Optimism is a mindset. Optimistic people see the positive side of things. It’s not always easy to be optimistic, and it may not always be possible, but it’s important to be mindful around practicing optimism. Some people are naturally optimistic—they are just born that way—but it’s also some- thing kids learn through experiences and watching those around them. Regardless of how negative someone is, they can learn to be more optimistic.

Optimistic people are more successful, resilient, less stressed, and actually live longer. Here are a few tips to help kids be more optimistic:

  • Recognize when they are successful and remark about it; refrain from negative remarks about times when they are not successful.
  • Help them be successful by having them do things you know they will succeed in. Set them up for success by giving them the tools and teaching them the skills they need.
  • When things go wrong, acknowledge their feelings; once they’ve moved through the disappointment, talk about the good that might have come out of the situation.
  • Help them reframe failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Ward off pessimistic thinking habits by encouraging positive thinking habits. For example, instead of “Something is wrong with me,” say, “That was a difficult task. I need more help/a new set of skills/better tools.” Instead of, “I’ll never succeed,” say, “I will be better prepared and try harder next time.” Instead of, “All tests are hard,” say, “That test was hard.” Instead of, “I never pass tests,” say, “I didn’t pass the test yesterday.”
  • Don’t label kids negatively—give them positive labels. For example, say, “energetic” not “hyperactive;” “sensitive” not “moody;” or “bright, inquisitive, and enthusiastic” not “troublemaker.”
  • Watch your own words—keep them as positive as possible.
  • Be optimistic yourself—you know the old saying “Fake it until you make it.” Do your best to be realistically positive.

My son, Frank, has a silly game he uses to stay positive called, “The Opposite of That”. When he has a sore throat he will call me and say, “Mom, my throat feels awesome, but the opposite of that!” or when he’s running out of money he will say, “I have so much money in my account, but the opposite of that!” Try it sometime, it’s kind of fun, especially with kids, and it feels much better than just stating the negative truth.

Kindness and Optimism take practice, but they are so important for our children to learn and they make a positive impact in the world. You can begin by using The Imagine Project journals to support your process of emotional health, kindness and optimism. Download the journal here—it’s free and a great writing project for all.

Happy 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, 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.

4 Ways to Encourage Children to Journal with the Imagine Project

Journaling is a great way to help children record their thoughts and feelings. It allows kids to explore their interests and express themselves, especially if they’re reluctant to write or talk. Insider.com adds that writing a journal can also yield numerous mental health benefits — such as calming anxiety and coping with trauma — by using writing to help you unravel and confront fears that cause negative feelings. This is true for children, too, especially if they struggle to articulate their emotions.

If you want to nurture a habit of journaling among children, here are some tips that can help.

Create a conducive working area

An uncomfortable space might distract kids, breaking their focus and leading to an unpleasant time that puts them off journaling. Since you want to foster interest in the hobby, you must provide an area conducive to working.

One of the best ways to do this is by making the space comfortable. PainFreeWorking.com finds that using ergonomic chairs can encourage proper posture, reduce pain, promote productivity, and enhance one’s overall health and wellness. To put your kid in the right mood to journal, you can also consider having them work in spaces full of natural light while their favorite music plays. Indoor plants can also enhance their concentration: WebMD.com notes they’re proven to help children perform better in class. A comfortable environment like this makes children feel relaxed, so they look forward to each writing session.

Provide loose prompts

Since children may have little prior experience journaling, they might approach the activity in a one-dimensional or limited way. One way to stimulate their minds is by providing loose prompts that allow their thoughts to get rolling. By providing writing ideas, you teach kids to expand their minds and challenge what they think should or shouldn’t be done when journaling.

Find prompts that interest the kids you’re working with and ensure that it’s loose enough to yield creative answers. These could be questions like, “If I had a superpower, it would be…” or “If I could spend time with anyone in history, I would choose…”. The key is leaving space for kids to interpret the prompt. By fostering engaging journaling sessions, you nurture their interest in the activity. If you’re wondering how to get started, our team at ImagineProject.org provides journals that you easily download for your kids to use. These are specially designed to foster creativity by providing prompts that encourage kids to have free reign over their imagination.

Allow children to have creative control

To foster excitement for journaling, allow kids to have creative control over what they do with your prompts. Although writing is an excellent way to express oneself, some children may prefer to draw or articulate their thoughts in another way. Encouraging them to do so can be empowering since it allows them freedom over their decisions.

Try this with your own kids by letting them choose the notebook and writing implements they use. Equip them with crayons and other coloring materials, as well. You can also have them decorate their stickers to maximize their enjoyment. Doing this helps them feel they have control over how they express themselves.

Give children privacy

One of the most important ways to encourage journaling is by reassuring kids that they can maintain their privacy. Some children may have trouble opening up or expressing themselves, and placing their thoughts somewhere others can see may make them feel vulnerable. VeryWellFamily.com thus points out that kids can only use journaling as an effective outlet when they feel secure in the fact that their journals are only for their eyes.

Allow children to choose where they hide their journals. If you need to keep it with you, reassure them you will not invade their privacy and stick to that promise. Most importantly, don’t peek into their journals — even if you’re tempted to. If they feel safe journaling, they’re more likely to take comfort in it.

Journaling helps children process their emotions and thoughts. By doing what you can encourage the habit, they can develop healthy ways to understand and express themselves. You can get started right away by going to TheImagineProject.org and downloading a journal for your child.

Article written by Renee Jessa exclusively for The Imagine Project, Inc. 

Thank you Renee! Happy journaling,

Dianne

Imagine Hope!

In my fifth grade classroom during the peak COVID era—a hugless year of masks, social distancing and hand sanitizer, I had a student named Chloe (watch her video here) who ended every one of her imagine stories with the same two words, “Imagine Hope!”  At the time I found those words catchy and inspiring–and so did my class.  In fact, eventually everyone ended their Imagine stories with “Imagine Hope!”, and it became our class motto. Quite fitting for that specific year.

Why is hope important:

Hope is a word that gets used a lot but may not be understood as well as it needs to be.

I love this quote from Brene’ Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (I also really love this entire book)!

“Hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process. Emotions play a supporting role, but hope is really a thought process made up of… a trilogy of goals, pathways, and agency.  In very simple terms, hope happens when…

We have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go).

We are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes (I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again).

We believe in ourselves (I can do this!).”

This explains why Chloe’s intuitive “Imagine Hope!” was so inspirational to my students.  Hope leads to action.  In The Imagine Project writing process, the writer is asked to write about a difficult time in life to help with emotional expression and processing—using the word Imagine to begin every sentence. Then in step 4, the writer is asked to write how they would like their story to end (also using the word Imagine), encouraging the writer to take a hopeful turn.

To better understand what hope is, let’s first understand what hope isn’t:

Hope isn’t positive thinking. Too often positive thinking is used to avoid the uncomfortable emotions in life and can be wielded like a weapon by people who just want to avoid discomfort.  Comments like, “Look on the bright side!” or “Just think positive!” can lead to the suppression of genuine emotions that need to be expressed.  The Imagine Project leads with acknowledging the discomfort of life so that people can feel, see, and hear right where they are.  Instead of only positive thinking, the writer is asked to imagine their story taking a hopeful turn, it invites the writer and the listener to imagine a different future for themselves, and then to take steps forward to move toward that hopeful future while accepting the difficult present.

Psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonoir wrote about the health benefits of hope in an article for Psychology Today,  In it she writes We feel less helpless and less uncertain about the future (and helplessness and uncertainty both increase our stress, in ways that can be detrimental to our health over time). Increased hope also gives us a buffer in order to sustain some setbacks: it can help with our resilience when there are bumps in the road, helping us have the energy to continue on the path that we are on before giving up.”

In addition, Laura King, a researcher from the University of Missouri Department of Psychological Sciences, did a study on the health benefits of writing about life goals, and she discovered that, “Five months after writing, a significant interaction emerged such that writing about trauma, one’s best possible self, or both were associated with decreased illness compared with controls. Examining the most hopeful aspects of our lives through writing—our best imagined futures, our “most cherished self-wishes” (Allport, 1961)—might also bestow on us the benefits of writing that have been long assumed to be tied only to our traumatic histories.”

We encourage you to write your imagine story (click here for the free journal), when you get to the end of your imagine story, try framing the ending around a “hopeful turn.” Sometimes people really struggle coming up with ideas for a hopeful ending to their imagine stories, especially students.  To assist with this, we have been given generous permission by Bret Stein, the creator of The Feelings Wheel (download it here). It is an integral part of the Center for Nonviolent Communication and now we are using it to help people identify feelings that can help drive their imagine stories.

Here is how it works:

The wheel is divided into twelve core emotions, six of which we feel when our needs are not being met, and six of which we feel when our needs are being met. The feelings are organized by color with opposites directly across from each other.  After writing your imagine story focused on the feelings you have when your needs are not being met, find the “hopeful turn” by identifying the opposite emotion you hope to feel directly across the wheel and then write what you imagine happening to experience that feeling.

It is my hope that you and your students will experience the power of The Imagine Project and the “hopeful turn” and that it will lead to goal setting, resiliency, and agency. Download the free journals here to get started!

Imagine Hope!

Written by Todd Daubert, Educational Consultant, The Imagine Project, Inc.

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