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