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Tips to Help your Student through Emotional Times

Kids of any age have emotional times at school. As teachers, it’s important to know how to support students through these difficult times. The Imagine Project is one tool teachers can use to help students talk about, process, and heal from difficult life experiences that are causing troubling emotions. While using The Imagine Project, or just in every day life at school, teachers (or parents) may not feel comfortable handling their student/child’s emotions. Here are a few tips to help you support your student/child during emotional times.

How to help a student who’s feeling emotional:

  1. Calm yourself first: Take a few deep breaths, feel your feet on the ground, do whatever you use typically use to calm yourself down. Know this isn’t about you, but the best thing you can do is first spread your own calmness to the child so they can work through their feelings more easily.
  2. Help them feel safe: Sit next to them, get on their level, gently put your hand on their backs where their heart is and let them feel your caring presence.
  3. Restate what they are feeling: “Your parents got divorced.” “You lost your favorite puppy dog.” “Your friends are ignoring you.” Saying these things with similar emotional emphasis as they are feeling will help them feel heard.
  4. Empathize and acknowledge their emotion: “This must be so hard for you.” “You must be very sad/mad/hurt.” “I see you are very upset.” If you aren’t sure, you can ask how the event made them feel.
  5. Most importantly, make sure they feel heard. When you look at them with compassionate eyes and use a calm, caring voice, they will feel validated and heard. You can even say, “It’s okay to feel how you feel”. Always thank them for sharing with you. Once they have shared and feel better, giving them a hug is almost always helpful if you are comfortable doing so.

What not to sayto a child who is struggling:

Remember there are a few things you shouldn’t say to a child who is upset. According to Melanie Smithson, LPC and author of Stress Free in 30 Seconds, here are some tips on what not to saywhen a child is struggling.

  1. “Calm down!” (Show them calm instead of telling them to be calm.)
  2. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
  3. “You should be over this by now.”
  4. “You shouldn’t feel this way.”
  5. “You’re too sensitive.”

None of these statements will be helpful for a child when they are emotional. Try to avoid them at all costs!

The Imagine Project will bring up emotion.

The Imagine Project is meant to bring up emotion—it’s part of the healing process. In step 3, the student is asked to write an Imagine story about a difficult time in their lives. After their writing is complete, they are given the opportunity to share their stories. The younger kids love sharing, the older (middle and high school) not as much. When the stories are shared there is vulnerability, compassion, and love in the room. Trust this process, know this is important part of healing for kids (all of us really)—talking about emotions and sharing with others when kids need help and support. Let them move through this stage and do your best to love them through it. Many teachers tell the other students who are listening, “Wrap them in love as they read” so the students listening know how to treat their fellow students. Share your story too—they will LOVE you for sharing!

Make sure you move them into Step 4 in the Imagine Project Journal where they get to write what the positive experience that came from the hard one (there always is at least one). If they are still in the middle of the difficult story in real life, let them dream about a positive ending. This helps them let go and more forward. Trust the process, it works!

Resilience is created by facing difficult times, processing those experiences, working through emotion, learning from an experience, and moving forward. Much of how we learn resilience begins when we are children. A great way to teach a child they can persevere is by writing, sharing, and see how well they made it through! When emotion comes up through the process, it’s okay. You can love and support them and watch them grow!

Happy writing,

Dianne

The Imagine Project, Inc., 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, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

Mindful Summertime Fun Tips for Parents

As a parent, we are often looking for things to do with our children during the long summer months when they are out of school and home. Our days can be filled with trips to visit loved ones, to explore new areas, or to relax as a family. We may stay close to home and take time to bond with a trip to the zoo or museum, take a cooking class together, hit a library or take in a movie.

We can find so many fun, educational or relaxing things to do with our kids, that are important for our growth as a family and as individuals. Being in the moment with our kids is truly a gift to us and to them. Here are a few more ways to incorporate mindfulness into your summer routine:

Turn off electronics.Consider making time weekly for a no-electronics night. Play a game, talk about your day and listen attentively, or go on a walk together. To get conversation going, consider using The Imagine Project Journal, available for free here: https://theimagineproject.org/the-7-step-journals/

Do it yourself first.Mindfulness can be role-modeled to help your kids really understand it. Have your kids lay beside you during a morning meditation, or have them do a quiet yoga session with you. An online search of images for “kid theme yoga practice” is sure to fill you with ideas, and make the practice interesting and educational.

Create downtime.Sometimes we try to stay super busy, but we all need some down time. Consider creating a corner of pillows in the living room, or other space, where you can lay back and relax, read, listen to soft music, draw or journal. Create a space where you, and the kids, either together or individually can practice quiet down time during the day.

Overall, mindfulness helps improve mental health and social-emotional growth. Journaling and sharing your stories and feelings with each other can help decrease suicide rates, increase empathy and coping skills (which can lessen the potential for school shootings), and improve resiliency. To learn more about using mindfulness techniques and The Imagine Project journals with kids, visit: theimagineproject.org

Have fun this summer!

Love,

Dianne

The Imagine Project, Inc., 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, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

Using the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)/Tapping to Help Kids Process Stress and Trauma.

Are you looking for tools to help kids/students with stress and trauma? Unfortunately, stress and trauma are common issues kids and teens must deal with everyday. In the last decade, anxiety and depression has increased dramatically in children. Social media, peer pressure, parental pressure, and sadly in the US, the horrible fear of a school shooting. Although many things contribute to stress in our kids, few tools are given to them that support emotional balance—until now! This photo shows kids before an athletic event using a technique called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) also called tapping—a great tool to help kids manage stress and trauma, in and outside the classroom.

Trauma is all to present in kids as well. The Advanced Childhood Experiences study (also called ACES) was done on over 17,000 participants in the San Diego, CA area which showed that 50% of all kids have at least 1 traumatic event before the age of 17! This study was done on primarily white, middle class, well-educated kids. Add in poverty, crime, even rural areas and the rate goes up to 70-100%. This is a serious health care issue in our society (and the world) because stress and trauma is hard on the body and mind causing long-term issues such as heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, frequent issues, and serious mental health issues including depression and anxiety, etc.

Treating stress and trauma is extremely difficult, particularly when practitioners only focus only on using traditional talk therapy and medication. These tools can be helpful, but not healing. So parents, therapists, even teachers, must find other, more alternative therapies to help kids (and adults) support and heal stress and trauma.

EFT/Tapping is a perfect alternative therapy to teach kids (and use on yourself). It’s is easy to learn/use and research has shown it’s highly effective in treating stress and trauma, even with kids. It’s free if you watch YouTube videos to learn how to use it, or there are plenty of inexpensive books where you can learn to use the process. Here is an overview on how to use tapping with yourself and kids. For more information check out the websites www.thetappingsolution.com, www.tap-easy.com or you will find more information on how to tap with yourself and your kids in The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress(Yampa Valley Publishing, 2017). Watch the YouTube videos on www.theimagineproject.orgor google tapping to visually see the points you tap on the body. Use a medium touch to tap on each point described below:

How to use EFT/Tapping with kids:

  1. First help your child figure out the strongest negative emotion they are feeling at that moment, i.e. anger, sadness, or fear. Let them say it in their own words and tap with them, using their words.
  2. Ask them how bad their emotion is before you begin, using a scale of 1-10, 10 being very bad and 1 being minimal. When you are done tapping you can ask them again; hopefully it will be only at a 0 or 1 when you are done.
  3. Ask them if they can tell where they are storing that emotion in their body—they might feel an ache in their belly, tightness in their neck or chest, a headache, or other pain (they may not be able to answer this question which is fine).
  4. Tell them to do what you do and say what you say. (Note, every practitioner adapts their own version of the tapping sequence, if you see something you like better on YouTube go ahead and use it.)
  5. 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.”
  6. Now tap on your temple near your eye and say it again, “Even though I feel angry, I deeply and completely accept myself.”
  7. Now tap under your eye and say it again, “Even though I feel angry, I deeply and completely accept myself.” (Continue to have your child follow your tapping and say what you say.)
  8. Now move to under your nose, tapping and saying, “I’m so angry.” Show a little emotion so your child can copy you.
  9. Move to under your bottom lip and repeat. You can mix it up and say what your child might be angry at, perhaps school, friends, or confrontations: “I’m so angry that boy did that to me!”
  • Now tap just under the middle of your collar bone (either side of your chest—you can even switch sides of your body and face—it doesn’t matter). Keep making statements that you think your child might feel. “So and so was so mean”, “I am so mad at him!” Ask your child what they want to say and keep tapping.
  • Move to under your armpit about two inches down, keep making statements and tapping. Think about what your child might be feeling and make those statements or let them talk. Keep having them repeat after you.
  • Now 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 your child is 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, count to five out loud, hum a few notes and then count to five again. This is a critical part of the process, because it triggers different parts of the brain where emotion is often released. If your child is feeling more emotional at this point, have them repeat all of the eye movements, humming and counting again a few times, all while tapping on the hand. Do it with them!
  • Now 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 can tell they are feeling better. This might take 5 minutes, or it might take 20 minutes (occasionally longer). They might sigh, take a deep breath, get distracted, smile. You can stop and ask them to give you a number between 1 and 10 naming how emotional they feel now. 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.
  • If they become really emotional during this process, don’t stop, keep going. Tell them it will only last for a minute. If they need it, you can always tap on their bodies for them. Talking and tapping for them works, but it is better to let them participate. With little ones, under about 6 years old, you can tap back and forth on their legs or shoulders and just talk to them about something that is bothering them, it typically helps. You can even try it with babies!
  • One last note. Throughout the process, remind your child to think about the area on their bodies where they are holding the negative emotion (you asked them about this earlier)—it will help them to release the energy/emotion and keep them from feeling too emotional by focusing on their body not their emotions. Keeping them thinking about their bodies helps keep them grounded as well. It might sound complicated, but it’s not. Practice it a few times and you will be able to use it any- time, anywhere. It’s a great tool for many different issues!

A shortened version of EFT is simple yet it’s still ef- fective. It’s what I use in the classroom, or on myself when I don’t want anyone to know I’m tapping. Have kids cross their arms over their hearts and tap back and forth gently on the front of their shoulders, not too hard and not too soft. They can also cross their arms and tap under their arms, or just back and forth on their legs. If a child is upset, you can also tap on them, for them. It’s most beneficial to tap this way for six to seven minutes, until you see them relax and they can refocus on what they are doing.

Finding an EFT therapist should not be too difficult. Google EFT therapists in your area or go to www.thetappingsolution.com to find a therapist. Be sure to ask the therapist how long they have been practicing EFT and their experience with kids. If you want to use EFT for more serious issues such as trauma or depression, make sure they have experience working in those areas as well.

For those of you who have seem me present in person and tap with a group, here are some suggestions as to the statements you can make with kids individually or with small or large groups. Say each statement as you move from point to point on the face and body. Ab lib if you’d like, add more emotions or other statements that come to you. The goal is to think about what others might be feeling (or what you are feeling), make that statement with them. Moving from the painful to the positive. Tell them to do what you do and say what you say.

My story is hard.
My story hurts.
My story makes me feel sad.
My story makes me feel angry.
My story makes me feel ashamed.
I don’t like my story, it’s hard (you can repeat some of these again or try some other emotions you think of)
What is I could write a new story?
What if my story didn’t affect me as much anymore?
What if I could write a new story.
I’m thinking I can write a new story.
A story that I want to have in my life.
A story full of love, fun, and joy.
I deserve a new story.
Because I am amazing.
I’m excited about writing a new story.
Anything is possible.
Because I am,
I can,
And I will!

For more support helping kids with stress and trauma download My Imagine Journals—they are free!

Good luck!

Dianne

The Imagine Project, Inc., 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, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

School Shootings: A Tool that can Help Stop this Horrible Trend

Ugh, yet another school shooting. Our hearts are all breaking once again. When will it ever end? What are the solutions? How can we help? We could debate this subject for days, but staying out of politics, I would like to offer a tool that is at least part of the solution. The Imagine Project is a simple 7-step writing process that can be incorporated into any classroom, group, or done individually with kids K-12. It’s supports social emotional balance and mental health. If also changes the climate and culture of a classroom, school, and even society—by bringing kindness, compassion, healing, and hope to the kids. Which in turn, may keep kids from making the horrendous choice of shooting someone else to ease their own pain.

The day of the latest school shooting, my videographer, Christie Taylor and I were just finishing up hours of interviewing teachers and kids about the impact The Imagine Project had on their school. Walnut Hills Elementary had just finished doing the project with their entire school a few weeks earlier. Every interviewee—teachers and students alike—had endless affirming statements and stories about how the Imagine Project had positively impacted their lives and their classrooms. Kids from 2nd through 5thgrade spoke about how they loved being able to talk about something that was difficult for them—an issue they might not have mentioned otherwise, but what negatively affecting them. Some talked about friend issues, divorce, moving, pet—or even worse, parent losses. These experiences or issues often caused emotions such as sadness, anger, fear, even confusion and anxiety. Over and over they expressed how good it was to write and speak about their feelings. And when their classmates heard their Imagine stories (they often read them out loud), they felt heard, found new friends, learned compassion, and they stopped feeling much of the intense emotions related to the issues—they could move on and create a new Imagine story in their lives.

Teachers couldn’t stop talking about how powerful it was for their kids to have a tool that helps students express emotion, share experiences, see their resilience, and just plain feel better about life! When kids shared their stories, they made new friends, smiled more, felt lighter about heavy issues, and best of all saw possibility in their lives. When asked if The Imagine Project might lessen bullying—without hesitation the teachers answered yes. Why? Because The Imagine Project creates connections between students, understanding of another student’s story, and compassion for another student they may have not even known anything about prior to hearing their Imagine story.

Research shows kids are more stressed than ever. Trauma is also very prevalent among our youth. When kids are stressed and traumatized—and don’t have the proper help—they can find unhealthy ways to cope: Addictions, self-harm, dropping out of school–and even harming someone else.

We must give kids tools to cope with, mitigate, and heal from their stress and trauma. Give them positive, healthy tools and strategies so they don’t make horrific choices like seriously hurting someone else. The Imagine Project is the perfect tool for this. Our research shows it increases a child’s ability to manage stress, makes them open to outside support, and they take more academic risks so they do better in school! Please check out the free journals and download them today. Bring them home to your kids, ask your teachers about them, share it with other teachers, counselors, and admin. The kids will love it and you will love it!

For more information you can refer to my book, The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress. It’s not necessary to do the project, but it may be helpful.

Thank you and take care,

Dianne

The Imagine Project, Inc., 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, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

New research Showing Positive Outcomes after using The Imagine Project!

Little girl writing her Imagine story.

When teachers, counselors, admin, etc. use new curriculum/ideas in their school and classrooms, they like to know what they are using is backed by credible research. We have good news! Phase One of our research on The Imagine Project has come back significantly positive! If you aren’t familiar with The Imagine Project writing process, click here to see the free journals.

Until now The Imagine Project writing activity has been based on the plethora of research that’s been done on expressive writing over the last 25 years. In most of the studies, participants were asked to take 15 to 30 minutes to write about an emotionally challenging, stressful, 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. Study measurements were done months, even years, after the writing exercises and positive results still existed.

Expressive writing research shows it 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.

We wanted to see more specifically how The Imagine Project affects a student who uses it. So we hired a well sought after research company called QREM (Quantitative Research Evaluation and Measurement) in Littleton, CO. QREM then designed extensively researched questionnaires for elementary, middle, and high school students looking at themes that included academic risk taking, outlook toward their future, positive school attitudes, stress management, support, and writing.

The research process took about 5 months to complete. We recruited various schools in Colorado and Washington. Students took a pretest ora posttest to minimize the test-retest effect. So students who took the pretest did not take the posttest and those who took the posttest had not taken the pretest. All did the Imagine Project writing activity steps 1-7 once in their classrooms. We tested 4th, 5th, 8th, and high school (from Alternative High Schools only because those were the students who were available at the time).

Our results were even stronger than we anticipated:

The Imagine Project has a substantial impact on middle school students.Middle school participants made more significant gains on the established constructs than any other age group. Specifically, middle school students made gains in their ability to manage their stress and their perception of support from others (increases of 11.5% and 6.3%, respectively).

Boys were especially receptive towards the Imagine Project.Boys of all age groups made substantial gains in many of the constructs –seeing improved attitudes towards school by 11.6%, their ability to manage stress by 9.8%, and their perceptions of support by 8.0%.

Girls improved with stress management.Middle and high school girls participating in the Imagine Project improved their overall stress management by 9.4%

Elementary School Findings showed gains in skills and comfort with writing. This information is backed by many teachers reporting their student’s love of writing increased after using The Imagine Project writing project. QREM researchers believe we did not see more changes in stress management with elementary school students because they are more difficult to measure due to being easily influenced by life events on a daily basis—and developmentally it can be challenging to measure these types of issues. But, teachers tell us all the time, the Imagine Project makes a huge impact in a student’s self-awareness, ability to cope with stress, improved kindness, and it brings classrooms together in support of each other.

We are very pleased with the results of our Phase One research project. We are now in Phase Two, looking more in-depth at constructs such as compassion, self-awareness, stress management, and love of writing. We understand how critical mental health and education research is to implementation of programs in a classroom/school, and we want to know the best format for applying the Imagine Project writing process. With kids as stressed as they our in our world, they (and you) need tools for support. Go to www.theimagineproject.org to download our free journals!

I hope you find this helpful and spread the word about The Imagine Project!

Thank you,

Dianne

The Imagine Project, Inc., 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, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

7 Tips to Teach Kids/Students to be Resilient

Teaching kids to be resilientA very important question all parents, teachers, counselors, youth leaders, etc. must always be asking is, “How do we teach our kids to be resilient?” Resilience is so important when trying to navigate and succeed in our complicated world. Research shows stress is growing with our younger generations. Social media, faster moving information, pressures from peers, parents, and education is intensifying quickly. Knowing how to teach our kids to cope with life and become resilient is critical to their ability to overcome stress and become resilient in their lives.

Everyone has the ability to be resilient; some kids are naturally more resilient than others based on two factors; their genetic make-up and their environment. Two individuals with the same exact genetic makeup may have two entirely different expressions of their genes, purely because of environmental factors. For example, in studies of identical twins adopted into different homes, researchers found many similarities (personality traits, interests, manner- isms), but also many differences, suggesting that environmental factors can “turn on” certain genes. Genes that make us susceptible to conditions like depression, cancer, and bipolar would “turn on” in one twin and not in the other, due to differing circumstances such as level of parental nurturing, the physical environment, school experiences, individual and family stress.

Even though we are influenced by our genetic makeup, and our environment, coping can be learned which boosts our resilience. A child learns to cope with adversity by encountering difficulty and figuring out how to work through it. This process begins at a very young age—falling over when learning to walk, for example—and trials and errors continue throughout life. To strengthen coping, let your child struggle and make mistakes without jumping to fix it for them. Instead, let them do it. Let them fall, listen with compassion, be a supportive presence, and whenever possible and advisable, let them figure out their own solutions. Your trust in their ability to prevail boosts their resilience, a key feature of emotional wellness.

Here are 7 tipsfor boosting emotional resilience in your child/student (adapted from the American Psychological Association):

  1. Self-care:Many of us have moved have away from embracing self-care for ourselves, and our kids/students—yet if our buckets are empty we are pretty much worthless. Taking care of yourself is making a come back—and it’s critical to teach kids not to over book themselves; play everyday, laugh everyday, take time to be quiet at least once a day (10 minute meditations are perfect), and be mindful of listening to others. (click here for more information on self-care)
  2. Socialization:Children learn through face-to-face interactions with other children (and adults). Give them opportunities after school and on the weekends to just be with others (without a computer or device) so they can learn about themselves and others.
  3. Giving back:Kids learn so much by seeing and helping others in need. It feels good to give to those who need it—it feeds the soul and teaches them so much about life.
  4. Sleep and eating properly: None of us can function well on lots of sugar and lack of sleep. Eating a healthy diet filled with protein, veggies, and fruit will fuel their brains—and their resilience. Sleeping at least 8-9 hours (more for younger ones) will give them clear minds and the ability to think and move.
  5. Talk about feelings:We as a society often don’t like to talk about how we feel; yet processing challenges in life out loud or on paper is imperative to building resilience. Talking or writing about the experience not only helps us understand what we’ve been through, but it gives us a better look at how we’ve already coped (good or bad) and thoughts about what else we might do when facing difficult situations. The Imagine Project journaling is a simple and powerful format for writing about life experiences.
  6. Positivity: There is so much research on the power of positivity. People who live longer are often positive by nature. Teaching kids that there is always something positive in any situation is so important to keeping their brains and bodies healthy and a smile on their face.
  7. Imagining new possibilities: Teach a child to imagine and define their goals, supporting them in achieving their goals, then joining in when they are proud of themselves will build any child’s resilience. Some kids need smaller goals, some bigger, but every child needs to imagine new possibilities in their lives, hope is everything in keeping us resilience.

Resilience is a critical part of emotional wellness for all of us. It’s important to teach kids—no matter what their age—that they can overcome obstacles, imagine new possibilities, and enjoy life no matter what they face. Humans are resilient—I see it every time I step into a classroom and listen to the powerful Imagine stories of all ages. Download The Imagine Project Journal and try it with your child or classroom. There will be ample opportunities to teach and show resilience—I promise.

Good luck and take care,

Dianne

Dianne Maroney is a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing. She is the founder of The Imagine Project, Inc., 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.

Why Play is Important to a Child’s Mental Health

Laughter, running, jumping, being silly, twirling, smiling, creating—all are part of play and having fun! Instinctively, as parents and teachers, we know the importance of play for our kids (and ourselves)—it gives them/us a welcome break from stress and promotes mental health. Yet, we often put play last after homework, sports, jobs, and the constant daily routines of life. The American Academy of Pediatrics promotes play as essential to a child’s development because research shows that it improves learning, cognitive awareness, physical, social, and emotional wellbeing. Fortunately, play is making a comeback because we are remembering how critical it is to healthy brain and body development. Play gives kids tremendous learning opportunities, including how to work with others, manage feelings, think, plan, make decisions, and read other people’s emotions. Play also promotes physical fitness, creativity, self-expression, self-regulation, and healthy boundaries—basically physical and emotional wellness and mental health!

Global Play Labs

There are organizations all over the world embracing the forgotten benefits of play. In Bangladesh, they have created play labs for kids in poorer communities who aren’t exposed to the benefits of preschool and early learning. The World Bank is watching and adding billions of dollars to these resources to help bring a play curriculum to underprivileged kids all over the world. Research has shown that investing in a child early will promote brain development and improve their abilities later in life.

Global School Play Day

There is even a Global School Play Day on February 5th each year where kids take an entire day off school and just play! Teachers do not guide the play, the students do—only rules for safety and that’s it—just play! Imagine how important these days are for stress relief, interpersonal interaction, and just understanding life.

Therapeutic Play

Play can also be very therapeutic for children struggling with difficult life experiences. Doing something completely different, getting away from a difficult situation, or giving a child the opportunity to process the scenario that’s been difficult by acting it out in play will support a child’s mental health. A friend who had a hospitalized premature infant said her girls often played “hospital,” because having their sister hospitalized was so difficult for them. If your kids are stressed or acting out their trauma in play, don’t try to fix it or guide it in a certain direction, let them play it out (as long as they are safe)— eventually they will master or resolve the issues they are working on. If you have concerns about them or what you see, talk to your pediatrician or consult a therapist.

Teaching your child (or yourself) to play

Many of us didn’t grow up understanding how to play so it can be hard to teach and encourage your child to play. But the cool thing is that children naturally know how to play, and you can follow their lead and have fun doing it! The first step is to find out what your child likes to do. This may change over time, so be flexible. Some kids might like cool science experiments, some only want to do something physical and outdoors, others may have music interests, want to cook with you, draw or create—the list is endless, but try to avoid video games—more can be learned without a screen! Instead provide the raw materials your child needs to pursue their interests, explore their imaginations, experience the world around them, or express their creativity.

Ideas for Play

Here are some suggestions for games to play with students/kids. They will help with physical and emotional wellness.

• Chase bubbles.
• Have a picnic (indoors or out).
• Play hide-n-seek.
• Card or board games.
• Puzzles
• Decorate cookies together.
• Guess the mystery food.
• Have a pillow fight.
• Cut snowflakes out of paper.
• “I see something in Grandma’s grocery store and
it starts with the letter ___.”
• “I spy with my little eye, something that is (name
a color). Guess what it is!”
• Play music, dance, and freeze—see how silly
everyone looks!

If you or your child is struggling with stress or an event in their life that has been difficult, play can be a perfect outlet. Sometimes they may need to talk or write about their feelings before they can let go and play. Using The Imagine Journals will help them process what is making them feel down, sad, mad, etc. Try doing The Imagine Project with your classroom or in your family to help support their mental health and bring them back to a place they can run, jump, and laugh again. For more information on stress and trauma in kids you can read The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to rise above Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2018) You can download the free journals at www.theimagineproject.org)
Thank you and happy playing!
Dianne

When Trauma Happens in a Classroom or School

Unfortunately, we live in a world where trauma happens. It might be a school shooting, a natural disaster, or a significant loss of a student, teacher, or admin, but it happens more often that we’d like. I recently sat in with a classroom of 4thgraders who lost a fellow schoolmate to a fatal disease—a significant school trauma. Their journey in understanding what happened is complicated, but I was grateful to be there to help them through it using The Imagine Project.

Drew Rushton is described as a fun-loving, kind, silly, Dennis the Menace type kid who was a ray of sunshine in the eyes of those who had the honor of knowing and loving him. He knew no enemies and was gracious to everyone—which means he had a lot of friends who will miss him. With the loss of Drew comes great sadness to many, particularly his friends and classmates. I was asked by a 4thgrade teacher to come in and help start The Imagine Project process just about 2 weeks after Drew’s passing. Drew was not in this particular classroom, but he was the same age and many of the kids were friends or had known him from previous classes.

The second step of The Imagine Project asks the kids to write a down something that has been difficult for them in their lives. Yes, even young kids have experienced tough times, the most common are moving, loss of pets or grandparents, injuries, or parents divorcing. Sadly, in the class there were more than a handful of kids who wrote down, “Drew”, just “Drew”. For a few of the students, it was all they could write. They couldn’t add any more details, just “Drew”.

Step 3 asks each student to write an Imagine story—telling in more detail the story of their difficult experience—each sentence begins with the word Imagine…  Ann Henderson, their teacher (who was wonderful BTW), and I walked around the classroom helping them with ideas, spelling, how to write, etc. There were a few kids who were able to write their feelings about Drew, even though it was hard, they found the words. But there were a few more that had a hard time saying what was in their hearts and minds. They wanted to write, but it was too hard for them, they didn’t want to cry, and they knew they would. It’s painful to talk about a loss that still hurts. We encouraged them, but they just couldn’t. So we honored their feelings and after some time writing, we brought everyone together in a circle. Bravely, one little boy read his story about Drew out loud to the other kids.

Imagine having a friend who was incredible.

Imagine that friend becoming very sick.

Imagine thinking that friend would be okay even though he had been through a lot.

Imagine that friend dying.

Imagine seeing his body and signing the casket.

Imagine going to his celebration of life and hearing stuff about him you never knew.

Imagine knowing he’s in a better place.

Gavin, 4thgrade

As Gavin read his story I watched the other kids, particularly the ones who struggled writing their stories. They were fighting back the tears, hearing and feeling similar emotions. After they read their stories (those that wanted to) we talked a bit about how hard it was to not have Drew there anymore. I was even able to do a group round of tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique—see below) with the kids which really helped them let go of some of their sadness and move into the comfort of knowing Drew is in a better place.

There is such comfort knowing others feel the same as you do when you’re hurting. It doesn’t necessarily take the pain away, but it helps. I’m told over and over again by teachers and counselors that The Imagine Project brings out buried feelings and opens up avenues of compassion and empathy for kids (and adults). A child writing about a difficult time is powerful, hopeful, and healing—and they love it! They want to share how they feel and many of them just don’t know how—it’s not a skill we always teach to kids, but it’s so important.

Giving a classroom, school, or community the opportunity to work through a traumatic time is critical for healing and bringing kids and adults together in a comradery they may never have experienced before. They grow together in healing, love, trust, and empathy because they understand each other and themselves a little bit better.

If your school, classroom, group, or community has experienced any sort of traumatic experience, it’s helpful to have those involved write their Imagine stories together. By writing and sharing, there is a deeper understanding of our own hearts and minds, and those around us. What a great way to bring people together and embrace the amazing human resilience. We are all resilient, it’s just easier when you have others who understand and maybe even feel similar.

Ms. Henderson had this to say after doing The Imagine Project with her class:

My overall takeaway is that the project gave the students permission and encouragement to write and talk about their feelings in an open and safe forum. A very few students have had some counseling before and sharing in this way has been normalized, but many students have had less exposure to the idea that they can/should get their feelings out and learn how to process them. With a common trauma, I think this is especially important because the kids know that other peers are finding this difficult time too, and that it’s ok to feel upset and ungrounded at the moment.”

She added the next day that the kids were overall calmer too. Does The Imagine Project help with childhood trauma—absolutely. Is it easy to implement—yes! Will it bring up emotion for everyone, probably, but you can always try using Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) with yourself and the kids to help. If you want to learn more about EFT (also called tapping) you can google it and watch a few YouTube videos or I explain how to use it in my book: The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress. The Imagine Project Journals can be downloaded for free here.

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or Tapping)

Wording I used for group tapping in this classroom—the kids repeated after me and tapped where I tapped:

“Even though I’m sad Drew is gone, I love and accept myself” (above the eyebrow)

“Even though it’s hard not to have Drew around anymore, I love and accept myself” (under the eye)

“Even though I’m sad Drew is gone, I love an accept myself” (under the nose)

“It’s hard to lose someone you love” (chin)

“I miss Drew a lot” (collar bone)

“I wish I could see him again” (under the arm)

“My heart is sad” (top of the head)

“I hope I feel better soon” (eyebrow)

“It helps to know my friends feel the same way I do” (under the eye)

“I know my feelings will get better” (nose)

“It helps to know he’s in a better place” (chin)

“He’s probably watching over us right now” (collar bone)

“I bet he’s smiling and playing and laughing” (under the arm)

“It makes me smile to think of him smiling” (top of the head)

“He’s happy and that makes me feel better” (eyebrow)

**The trick to tapping is using the points that are typical in tapping and saying what the other person/student might be feeling. You may not know exactly what they are feeling, but you will have a sense and you can try a few different emotions/thoughts to get to their general thoughts. After acknowledging their painful emotions it’s important to bring them around to positive thoughts, gently.

Thank you and happy Imagining!

Love,

Dianne

Child Stress Symptoms

Stress is a normal, unavoidable part of life. It’s actually good for a child to experience small amounts of manageable stress, such as frustration with learning a new skill, dealing with being late to a birthday party due to traffic, or worrying about saying the wrong line in a school play. Learning to deal with the minors stressors of life as a child, when a parent is around to teach them healthy coping skills, will support them as they grow and face more difficult life challenges.

Unfortunately however, when a child experiences frequent, chronic, or overwhelming stress, survival mode becomes the norm and the brain and body learn to stay in a stressed state. These chronic stress patterns can hamper healthy brain development, leading to a brain imbalance where the emotional part of the brain becomes overdeveloped and the thinking part of the brain remains underdeveloped. This brain imbalance can create significant mental and emotional issues such as agitation, anxiety, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, an inability to focus, lacking empathy, low emotional control, poor decision-making, and weak problem-solving abilities. Chronic stress can also cause a host of minor, and sometimes significant, physical health problems, such as an impaired immune system, slowed growth, aches and pains, and poor digestion.

How can you tell if a child is over-stressed? Look for these physical and emotional child stress symptoms:

Physical Child Stress Symptoms:

  • Stomachaches
  • Frequent headaches
  • Acne
  • Dizziness
  • Bowel problems
  • Bedwetting
  • Change in appetite or food cravings
  • Frequent or lengthy illnesses

Emotional Child Stress Symptoms:

  • Clingy
  • Change in quality of school work
  • New compulsive habits such as hair twirling, nose picking, hand washing, or thumb sucking
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Mood swings
  • They begin lying or become quiet or secretive
  • Change in eating habits
  • Angry or aggressive behavior

If there is any notable regression or worrisome change in a child’s behavior and/or decline in physical health, it is important to step back and consider whether too much stress is the root cause.

How Can You Help a Stressed Child?

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

Your listening and caring reflection can encourage children to move through stress reactions and painful emotions, maybe not immediately, but much more quickly than if they don’t feel heard and cared for. By listening to them, asking them what they need, what they want to happen, what they see as solutions, and whether they want your help, you are also providing a supportive connection, teaching children how to manage stress, and promoting healthy brain development.

Sometimes all a child needs is a hug, your compassionate eyes, and/or a verbal acknowledgement that he/ she is experiencing a stressful moment or challenging times. If you or your child/student are really struggling and can’t seem to get on top of the stress, you may need to find a counselor who can help. Having a child write their Imagine story will support them immensely, and it can be a tool to use for a lifetime (you can write one too). Giving a child tools to support their mental health is equally as important as watching over their physical health. A healthy mind, heart, and body will bring joy and positivity to them, you, and the world.

To learn more about stress and trauma in kids and teens you can read The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2017)

Love,

Dianne

Dianne Maroney is a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing. She is the founder of The Imagine Project, Inc., 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, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

 

 

Tips to Help your Kids Cope with Daily Stress

Let’s face it—kids may not always show it, but they are stressed. They may seem happy go lucky on the outside, but in their hearts and minds they can be struggling with common stressors such as pressures at school (or home), feeling pushed internally or externally to do their best (or better), handling the drama with friends, worrying about social media, and sadly, hearing about the negative events of the world. Research has shown the in the last 6 years there has been a giant spike in the amount of anxiety and depression in kids—these mental health imbalances can be a direct result of chronic or intense stress (The Self-Driven Child, Stixrud, PhD).

An important aspect of keeping stress at bay is setting a foundation to offset stress first thing in the morning. Most of us can benefit from using techniques that help to put us in a positive mindset so we can handle the inevitable stress of each day, yet many of us don’t take the time to take care of ourselves (or teach our kids the importance of self-care).  What if you tried a few simple and easy techniques in the morning? Simple ideas that only require about 10 minutes. What if you shared these with your kids/students, teaching them that self-care is critical to a healthy mindset in life? What techniques will help us bring a positive and grounded mindset to our day and how can we help our kids and students? Here are 5 simple tips that will help:

In the morning:

  1. Begin with a 5-10-minute mediation before you get up in the morning. Just follow your breathing in and out. If your mind gets distracted, just bring it back to your breathing, keep trying—you will benefit even if it’s only for a few minutes. If your kids are young, cuddle with them for 10 minutes encouraging them to follow their breathing too. Teachers you can do a 3-minute meditation or mindfulness technique in the classroom before class begins.
  2. When kids (and adults) are getting ready for school and things are getting hectic, try using a singing bowl for a minute or two, it will calm things down and make everyone more mindful of what’s happening. If you don’t have a singing bowl, there is an app you can use on your phone or just play calming music in the background.
  3. Play the gratitude game. Everyone takes turns saying something they are grateful for—do 3 rounds of gratitude each if you can!
  4. Play the Imagine game! Everyone takes turns saying what they want to imagine for the day (or for life). The gratitude and imagine games can be done during breakfast or in the car.
  5. Give yourselves enough time in the morning that you aren’t rushed—get up 10 minutes earlier if needed. Being rushed starts the day off already geared up for stress. If you can’t get your child out of bed, try making mornings more relaxed. Many kids, especially if they are more sensitive will resist and avoid anything that is stressful.

Have conversations about stress:

Talk to your kids/students about stress. What does it feel like? When does it happen? What causes stressful thoughts and feelings? Asking “What…” and “How…” questions will bring deeper answers and more reflections of thoughts about the issue at hand. Help them process the real issue and find solutions to the problems they are facing. Helping them strategize possible solutions will give them ideas for coping in the future—great tools we all need throughout life.

Give them a break—some time to regroup, have fun, and fill up their buckets during and after school. Make sure evenings and weekends have some fun in them. Spend at least an hour every night just hanging out, playing games, talking about life, telling stories, or even cooking a fun meal. This is precious time for all of you and it will help everyone relax and sleep better—resourcing for the next day.

Helping your kids understand, process and offset stress gives them a mental understanding of life and it’s ups and downs. Teaching them to take care of themselves, starting every morning with techniques to support mental health, is a life-long, critical tool for showing children that they can handle whatever life brings them. It’s important to take care of ourselves—a new idea for many of us, but a powerful one to grab on to!

For more information on helping children and students handle stress you can read The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2018). If you need a tool for helping kids to talk about stress try having them write their Imagine story using My Imagine Journal—a powerful tool that you all will love!

Good luck and take care,

Dianne

The Imagine Project, Inc., 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, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.