I’ve been working with children with mental health issues for over 15 years. The past 3 years have been spent working in classrooms with children of all ages and from all walks of life. It doesn’t matter what socio-economic class a child is in, they are still stressed—more stressed than you think. The stress grows and compounds in more at-risk communities—those where poverty, crime, and high levels of trauma are more prevalent, but there are difficult life challenges everywhere. Every child—no matter who there parents are, where they live, or what their life style is—needs tools to cope with stress and trauma. If they don’t have the tools and resources to cope with life, they find other ways to express pain and sadly, one of those is with violence.
I’d like to suggest a wonderful resource for all parents, teachers, counselors, students, youth leaders, etc. The Imagine Project is a tool that helps children deal with stress and difficult life circumstances. A tool that is simple, powerful, and effective in supporting the mental health of kids (and adults). It’s a 7-step expressive writing process that uses the word Imagine… to begin every sentence. Expressive writing research shows that writing about our feelings helps us release bottled up emotions, understand our circumstances better, and shift our perspective to a positive viewpoint. Using the word Imagine… amplifies this process because it allows the writer to be creative and detach slightly from their story as they write, which expedites the healing process.
As I’ve traveled across the country working with all types of children ages K-12. I’ve heard stories about bullying, kids feeling like they aren’t good enough, moving, loss, illness (themselves or loved ones), suicide ideation, parents who have left them or are in prison, witnessing murder, and/or being molested. It’s mind-blowing to hear what children can tolerate and bounce back from. These stories come from every classroom! The stress and trauma of our kids is real—in every walk of life.
An Imagine story from a local, middle class school comes to mind. As I stood in the library listening to 5th graders read their story, one boy, who was typically very quiet bravely stood up and read his story to the entire 5th grade.
Imagine…your dad leaving when you were little.
Imagine…not having a place to live.
Imagine…going to 6 different schools in 3 years.
Imagine…not having any friends.
Imagine…being made fun of.
Imagine…wanting a best friend.
Imagine…always hoping you will fit in.
Now you may worry that this child would be made fun of after reading his story out loud—the opposite happened. It was remarkable how much compassion the other students felt for this little boy after listening to his story. Their teacher told me that after the other 5th graders heard his story they played with him and made sure he was included. This didn’t just last for a couple of days, it lasted the entire school year—and hopefully a lifetime. I see this compassion in every classroom, kids care about other kids, and they feel better about themselves when they know that they aren’t the only one feeling sad, angry, worried, overwhelmed, etc.
We know that the shooter at Stoneman Douglas High School in the Parkland, FL was troubled. He’s had a very difficult life filled with turmoil and loss. What if someone had listened, included him, and helped him express his feelings? Did someone try—I don’t know, if they did, it wasn’t enough.
I do wonder about the 5th grader above—what if he wasn’t able to write about, express his feelings, and then feel included? What would his life have become? Would he have wanted to express his anger through addiction, self-harm, or violence? Thankfully, we will never know the answer to that question. I do know The Imagine Project helped him, along with thousands of other students who have experienced it.
Every child has a story—a story that is aching to be told. Given the chance to tell it, a child feels better, and then they are given the opportunity to Imagine new possibilities in it’s place. When we speak our truth—when a child speaks their truth—their hearts feel heard and healing happens.
Please consider using The Imagine Project with your child, in your school or group. It’s simple and can be part of your writing curriculum or a fun home project—and it’s FREE! Go to the www.theimagineproject.org to find out more.
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.