Archive for Child Stress Symptoms

5 Reasons why Teaching Gratitude to Kids is Important


Step 7 of The Imagine Project writing activity is a 30-day Gratitude challenge. We ask students to write down 3 things they are grateful for every day for 30 days. It’s a practice in seeing the positive in their lives and recognizing there is always something to be grateful for, even on the darkest days. Learning to be grateful can mean the difference of staying in a state of sadness and regret to finding love and positivity.

Gratitude is included in the 7-step writing process because learning gratitude practices early can have a wonderful positive impact on brain function and overall mental state, better equipping a child for their journey into adulthood. Here are 5 reasons why gratitude can transform lives:

Improves Brain Health and Sleep

Research has shown that gratitude actually changes the molecular structure of your brain. It keeps grey matter functioning longer, and feeling gratitude floods the brain with dopamine—an important hormone for brain and emotional health. Those with a practice of gratitude journaling before bed, have been shown to sleep longer and more soundly.

Shows Good Manners

Saying ‘thank you’ in general is good manners, and some people believe the art of good manners has been lost on today’s children. While this could be argued, the truth is saying ‘thanks’, whether verbally or through a note, helps build relationships. A friendly ‘thank you’ creates opportunities and reinforces harmony to create connection.

Builds Empathy and Self Esteem

Building empathy reduces aggression and thoughts of revenge as the person begins to see and feel what it’s like in “someone else’s shoes”. When we are looking for and finding the good in life, we discover different points of view. This also means that we better recognize other’s accomplishments, as well as our own, building self-esteem.

Reduces Entitlement

In general, when anyone focuses on the good, or the “blessings” in life, they become happier. Focusing on what there is to be thankful for, banishes entitlement, or the feeling that one needs or deserves more.

Creates Resiliency

Expressing gratitude in the face of self-pity and trauma equips us for better coping and resiliency, asking us to trust a “bigger picture” or to find the positive in a situation. Rather than stress and worry, having an attitude of gratitude helps us overcome the fearful thinking associated with feeling out of control.

Students don’t need Step 7 of the Imagine Project to learn gratitude, but it helps. Along with giving them a voice to express anything that might be difficult in their lives, the Imagine Project writing activity teaches them the habit of gratitude. We can learn to be grateful at any age, but when kids learn gratitude when their young, they receive a gift shifting their thinking from negativity to positivity—pretty amazing gift!

Feeling grateful for all of you

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

How does Emotional Freedom Technique/ EFT/Tapping Support The Imagine Project?

As parents and teachers we often see our kids struggling with issues that challenge their ability to cope. It may be keeping up in school, coping with friendship changes, or the trials of social media. We are always looking for tools to support our precious children (and ourselves). The Imagine Project writing activity is a wonderful tool for allowing kids to express their emotions and work through difficult times. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT, also called Tapping) is another tool that is simple and easy to implement with your kids/students, and even use on yourself. Here is an overview of how EFT/tapping works and how it supports The Imagine Project writing activity. If you’d like more information, see The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2018).

Tapping is based on the principles of Chinese medicine where energy runs through the body via energetic meridians, much like how blood runs through veins and arteries. There are energetic points on the body that are specific to various emotions and physical organ functions. If there is negative energy stuck in or around those points, it can alter our health and wellbeing.

When we experience a difficult emotion, it can often leave a negative energetic imprint in our bodies. If we don’t release it, that negative energy can lead to long-term issues with mental and physical health. In EFT we are taught to tap on specific points on the body and state our emotions out loud as we tap. As we tap we are talking to our subconscious, allowing us to acknowledge our feelings and therefore let go of the negative imprint. Healthy energy then begins to flow freely again and we feel better emotionally and physically.

During Step 3 of The Imagine Project writing process, emotion can often begin bubbling up. It’s very positive to feel emotion, emotions help us process and move forward. Tapping can help us let go of those emotions more quickly as we write and acknowledge how we feel. It’s not necessary to use tapping with the writing, but it can help. I encourage you to give it a try by checking out these resources: The Tapping Solution (website and app), Brad Yates YouTube videos, and Peta Stapleton classes for teachers. You can easily teach yourself or take classes online or in person.

There is a great deal of quality research around the positive effects of tapping for many, many different issues. The research shows improvement in anxiety, depression, chronic pain, as well as many other health issues. If you are interested,  Google research with Emotional Freedom Technique/Tapping and you will find a wealth of information.

Teaching ourselves and our youth to tap so they can have a simple and effective tool to use for support, along with The Imagine Project writing process is powerful for them now and in their futuer. As they move through difficult life circumstances these tools can help them feel more comfortable in school, with friends, even in sports! Use it along with The Imagine Project writing process with your children or students!

Good luck and happy Tapping!

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.

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.

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.