Archive for Dianne Maroney

3 Tips for Raising Healthy and Caring Children

Whether you’re planning a new family or raising children from ages one to eightteen, having great parenting advice can really help you make healthier and better decisions. It’s no cakewalk, either. Parenting can be very challenging, especially parenting with the goal of raising well-adjusted and healthy people. Luckily, there are some amazing resources out there for new or struggling parents. We found our top three pieces of advice for raising children at any age that we’d like to share. Take a look at three picks below, presented by The Imagine Project, Inc.

Be Proactive and Healthy with Discipline

Discipline is a big part of a child’s upbringing. It helps them learn what is socially acceptable or what is safe to do without hurting themselves. However, far too many parents approach discipline the wrong way during the formative years, especially during the Terrible Twos. Toddlers have a tendency to be quite impatient and, as a result, become frustrated when they are unable to do something or have something happen. Because they cannot verbalize their emotions at this stage of development, coping with stress is almost impossible. With this in mind, “punishing” your toddler for having a fit will do nothing short of creating trauma. To discipline a toddler, simply physically remove them from the situation. This isn’t always super simple, but it is the best way to communicate that behavior like this isn’t acceptable while still being empathetic to the fact that they physically cannot cope with stress at this stage.

As your children grow older, it will be challenging in different ways. Some days will be easy and smooth, others will test your nerves and drive you to the brink. Enjoy those easy days, and when the tough ones come along, know nighttime will come. Listen and hear what your child is saying. If you are so frustrated you want to scream, then take a break. Go outside, in the other room, or just sit down and take a few breaths. Hard days are a normal part of parenting and they too shall pass. Don’t beat yourself up, tomorrow is a new day with new possibilities.

Always Be Consistent

Parenting is exhausting. However, it is so important to be consistent in the way that you communicate with and discipline your child through their school-aged years. Preschoolers in particular have a real knack for throwing tantrums that last forever, so many parents will simply give up and let them have their way. (Luckily, they are also very fun and sweet during preschool years as well.) It is key to be consistent in your discipline and “nos” despite your child’s Olympics-level resilience. Just as well, be consistent in how you positively reinforce behaviors and reward your children. Kids between two and four are absorbing a lot about the world around them and formulating their own personalities and opinions. By being consistent in praise and rewards, you’re letting your child know that they are doing their best. The more you listen, stay consistent, and stay positive in the early years, the easier it will be in the teen years.

Lead By Example

Believe it or not, parents are their children’s greatest role models. They will watch you carefully and learn who they should be in life primarily from you. To help them, be kind to others, show gratitude in different areas of your life every day, and be interested in learning yourself. If you are curious and want to learn new things in life, they will too. Eat healthy, go for walks, and take time for yourself so your children know these things are as important as working hard.

This is by no means a complete guide to raising a child — but every little bit can help in the long road. Above everything else, remember to love and listen to your child at every step along their journey toward adulthood. If your child is struggling, having them write their Imagine Story (you can write one with them) will help open up the doors of communication and give your child a voice to speak what’s in their hearts, especially if they aren’t able to express what they are feeling. You both will love the process—something you can do often.

Take care and thanks for listening,

Dianne

(Thank you to Amanda Henderson for your contributions in writing this article.)
Photo Credit: Pixabay.

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, has written multiple 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.

How to Use Emotional Freedom Technique(EFT)/Tapping

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. Now 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. 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 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. 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 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.

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). You can go to www.theimagineproject.org to download a free journal to get started.

Good luck and happy tapping!

Love,

Dianne

Parents Can Cure Nature-Deficit Disorder DIY-Style

Being a parent can be pretty overwhelming at times. Much of the parenting journey is super complicated, but when it comes to nature-deficit disorder, there are cures moms and dads can formulate themselves. We’ve compiled some resources to help you and your family enjoy the great outdoors together.

Time in Nature is Necessary

Being outside is good for all of us. The condition “nature deficit disorder” has been is becoming an epidemic. Every child is different, some love being outdoors and some prefer to be inside. But kids will go outside more if you are out there with them. Walking, playing with your pets, fun nature activities, or sports will encourage more outdoor time. Of course, playing with other kids outdoors offers even more benefits. A UCLA study of two groups of 6th graders at a camp showed that kids who had no electronic exposure for five days showed a significantly higher ability to determine emotions on the faces of subjects they were shown. Kids learn so much about life when they are playing with other kids and exploring the world outdoors.

Here are a few more articles about why spending time in nature is invaluable to your children’s physical and mental health, and how time outdoors can make kids more mindful.

3 Ways Your Kids Can Find Mindfulness Through Nature

10 Reasons Why Being Outside is Important

8 Eye-Opening Ways Kids Benefit from Experiences with Nature

Plan a Playdate in Your Own Backyard

Here are some great outdoor activities you can do right from your backdoor:

11 DIY Backyard Playground Ideas

Simple Picnic Food Ideas for an Impromptu Picnic
The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Camping

18 Ridiculously Awesome Things to Do with a Kiddie Pool

Ensure Learning is Part of the Plan

Kids love to learn when it’s part of playtime. Here are some great ideas to help you incorporate learning into playing outdoors:

Finding STEM in Nature: Low-Cost Outdoor Activities for Kids

Astronomy for Beginners: How to Get Started with Stargazing

Learning About Weather in Your Own Backyard

9 Great Outdoor Learning Activities for Springtime

Being outdoors builds confidence, promotes creativity and imagination, teaches responsibility, provides different stimulation, gets kids moving, makes them think, and reduces stress and fatigue. Research has shown that getting kids outside, moving, playing, and exploring will help them reset psychologically, so they are better able to cope with life.

When it comes to raising happy and healthy children, parenting is complicated in many ways. However, one simple cure is to spend more time outside together. You can shut down the effects of nature-deficit disorder, DIY-style!

The Imagine Project is dedicated to helping children overcome stress and trauma through expressive writing. If your child is struggling with any challenging life circumstances, download The Imagine Project journals and walk them through the healing 7-step process. You can even do it with them. Both of you can write and Imagine story about life that will help them (and you) have clarity, and move forward with any issue. You can do this process in or outdoors if you’d like. And once they Imagine new possibilities you can discover and even act them out during playtime! Click here to download the free journals.

Be well and thanks,

Dianne

(Thanks to Amanda Henderson for contributing this blog)

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, has written multiple 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.

Learning Disabilities and the Benefits of Playing an Instrument

For children with learning disabilities, conventional in-school learning can be difficult, frustrating, and stressful. While developing a holistic curriculum for a child with a learning disability is complex, evidence suggests that playing an instrument is a valuable component of the learning process. The following article, presented by The Imagine Project, explores how playing an instrument can help children with learning disabilities communicate, engage senses, and build confidence.

Do you know a child who is struggling right now? Check out the resources and services offered by The Imagine Project. Email them today for more information.

Getting Started

Each instrument has a different shape, size, and sound and can be used to help your child reflect his/her inner self. When helping your child choose an instrument, consider what challenges and benefits each instrument offers. For example, children who are hard of hearing often find vibration-heavy instruments favorable and opt for instruments such as the drums. For a child who has difficulty sitting for long periods of time, you might consider standing instruments. Your child’s age may also be a factor; larger instruments such as the trombone may be too large and complex for children under a certain age, so consider something smaller like a flute or clarinet.

If you are unsure if learning an instrument is right for your child, consider small, low-cost instruments like the recorder or harmonica. Many musical stores will also allow you to rent an instrument before purchasing it — this gives you and your child time to decide if a particular instrument is right for them. To help narrow down your options, start by conducting some online research. If you want your child to love learning a new instrument, ensure he/she is involved in the instrument selection process.

You can also help your child by getting involved in the learning process itself. If you play clarinet and your child wants to follow in your footsteps, consider teaching them yourself. You may soon discover that you have a love of teaching music to children, which could open up the doors to a whole new world of opportunities.

Communication

If your child has difficulty communicating thoughts and emotions verbally, playing an instrument may provide a valuable alternative for expression. Being able to communicate effectively has been proven to reduce stress and facilitate enhanced learning. Better communication also leads to longer attention spans, stronger concentration, and improved memory. Playing an instrument requires perseverance, which, in turn, helps children self-regulate emotions during times of frustration and anger. Lastly, being able to communicate enhances reasoning skillsassociated with problem-solving. If communication is difficult for your child, consider encouraging non-verbal expression through an instrument.

Engaging the Senses

Playing an instrument engages senses in a way few other activities do. In order to create music, children are required to integrate auditory, visual, and tactile senses. Music also enhances fine motor skills, balance, and reaction time. The rhythmic pattern present in music aids in cognitive development by enhancing children’s skills in logical reasoning, organization, and multitasking. When a child is reading music, he/she has to interpret a symbol and correspond with the appropriate physical action. Engaging all senses through music helps children learn how information is processed and how their body and mind work together.

Builds Confidence

Children with learning disabilities are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and confidence. In the classroom, children may be hesitant to take on a new task, require additional instruction, or take longer to learn certain subjects. As a result, children with learning disabilities may feel inferior to those around them. Learning to play a musical instrument is immensely rewarding and, as a result, improves self-confidence. With each note, scale, and song comes a renewed sense of achievement and confidence. Playing an instrument can also teach children the value of perseverance and patience, thereby encouraging them not to give up when faced with tough assignments and subjects.

The benefits of playing an instrument go far beyond simply learning notes, scales, and songs. For children with learning disabilities, playing an instrument builds confidence while enhancing skills in communication and sensory processing. If you want to enhance your child’s education, start looking into some musical instrument options.

Always remember The Imagine Project is a wonderful way to help all children, especially those with disabilities, to manage and move through stress. Download The Imagine Project Journal and help your child or student with any issues he or she might be having.

Thank you and be well,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

(Thanks to Amanda Henderson for contributing this blog)

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, has written multiple 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.

Understanding Screen Time: How It Effects Children and What You Can Do to Help

The ways that children use technology on a daily basis is changing. More and more, younger generations are spending prolonged periods of time using digital devices. Unfortunately, this extended screen time can have a plethora of adverse effects on children. Read further to learn more about these anticipated challenges and solutions that will help limit these potential dangers.

Mental Effects

Studies show that the average American child between the ages of 8-10 will spend 4-6 hours a day looking at screens. In the wake of the pandemic, it’s likely that these numbers have increased as a result of virtual learning and limited social gatherings. Although digital devices have allowed children to chat with friends online and stay entertained through gaming, movies, or social media, mental health can be negatively impacted as well.

Studies surrounding increased screen time have shown a significantly higher chance of being diagnosed with depression or anxiety. As children spend more time interacting with screens rather than the world around them, they are opening up the door to poorer mental health. Many factors can play into this; they may be less likely to be having genuine interaction with others when clocking in screen time (missing important lessons about themselves and the realities of relationships), and/or it can be used as a distraction from other problems at hand. Since dopamine is released during screen usage, it can become addictive if not controlled.

Additionally, it’s important to note the role that social media plays in the lives of children today, which is something that older generations didn’t have to navigate. Social media can create an environment for cyberbullying and comparing oneself to others. This type of constant interaction online can lead to self-esteem issues and pressure to reach societal standards.

Physical Effects

In addition to some mental health concerns, overuse of digital devices is also known to have certain physical effects on children as well.

One area of concern is the harmful blue light exposure that is a result of extended screen time. Blue light from devices like cell phones or laptops can harm the eyes. Why is this? Blue light wavelengths are a higher energy than other colors on the spectrum, making it harder for eyes to filter out on their own, and as a result increasing damage.

Symptoms of blue light on the eyes include eye fatigue, headaches, and retinal damage. Blue light has the ability to interrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, which is responsible for signaling the body when it’s time to fall asleep. For children, sleep is a critical component of development—affecting their attention span, behavior, and overall health, so interrupting this cycle can be detrimental to their focus, energy levels and productivity during the day.

Although it’s unlikely to completely cut out screen time, especially considering many students are engaging in virtual learning as a result of the pandemic, a pair of blue light glasses can be a good tool for parents to invest in. This type of glasses contains lenses that actively help reduce the negative effects of blue light by filtering out the harmful rays, and they can be worn during homeschool lessons or even while playing video games. Considering visionissues such as depth perception and focus can grow during their youth years, it’s important to take a proactive step against anything that may be hindering their sight in the future, blue light glasses are a step in the right direction. The fun frames and colors these glasses come in make it an easy way to protect your children’s eyesight and help promote better sleeping habits.

Another physical drawback from extended screen time is the link between sedentary activities and major health concerns, like diabetes or obesity. In fact, studies show that increased screen time poses a risk factor for being overweight in children and adolescents. Considering that children are often sitting or lying down when they are engaging with their digital devices, they can develop patterns of inactivity.

How to Limit Screen Time

As previously mentioned, it may not feel like the easiest time to try to limit children’s screen time, but it’s 100% possible. A great place to start is offering other creative outlets for children to express themselves and connect withothers directly. With limited social interactions available to them, giving them other opportunities to release energy can positively impact their physical and mental health.

Focusing on wellness boosting habits can serve as a welcome distraction and teach your child how to enjoy making healthy choices. Encouraging children to spend time outside and participate in adequate amountsof exercise will lead to less time spent on digital devices and form more productive daily habits. Planning activities to do with family and friends can be a good motivator to turn the screens off and connect with others face-to-face.

Expressive writing is also a great way to channel attention into a more valuable hobby than spending countless hours looking at a screen. The Imagine Project is a great form of expressive writing that allows kids and teens to express their frustrations and stress in a healthy manner. Not only does this type of writing build self-esteem and promote better mental health, but it also helps children to develop self-awareness that can be harder to learn during this time while separated from their peers.

In Conclusion

Screens are part of our lives now and children rely on them heavily. As beneficial as they can be it’s important for families to remember a few of the potential dangers that come along with screen time. Creating healthy schedules for using technology and finding different activities outside of screen time can help children flourish amidst a digital age and protect their physical and mental health.

Good luck! Love,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

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, has written multiple 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.

Lessons Learned from The Imagine Project, Inc.

The Imagine Project became a nonprofit a little over 5 years ago. We have grown tremendously in those 5 years, currently reaching over a quarter of a million kids! The journey of starting a nonprofit is always a challenging one with many obstacles and lessons, and we have survived and thrived! The lessons of business are expected, but the powerful lessons of life that the thousands of stories we’ve heard that go far beyond what we had expected. I’d love to share what we’ve learned.

  1. Every child has a story. When I started The Imagine Project, I thought our expressive writing process would primarily help kids who had faced intense stress and trauma. I quickly learned that stress and trauma are far more prevalent in our society than most realize. Kids of all ages and all walks of life (rich, poor, black, brown, white, urban, and rural) go through difficult life experiences. There might be a kindergartener from a well to do neighborhood who writes about not seeing her parents enough, a 3rd grader who writes about moving, or loss of a pet or grandparent, a middle schooler who has a medical condition that is forever challenging for him, a high school who’s best friend committed suicide or had a drug overdose. The list is far too long to write here but each and every story has an impact on that child’s life—often a negative impact. If they don’t have a chance to talk about it, write about it, process what happened—that negative impact can last a lifetime. Hence they need to be given a simple and easy process to express themselves. Because most children don’t have access to counseling resources, The Imagine Project gives them the opportunity to express, process, and heal among their friends, classmates, and a loving teacher.
  2. Children are resilient! Wow, the stories of overcoming adversity we’ve heard are truly inspiring! Sitting in a classroom listening to a child tell a story of loss, or a parent being in prison, or even being bullied by a friend; watching them speak their truth and the other kids running over to hug them after, and seeing the child (and/or teen) stand up and feel heard and loved is remarkable. I remember a classroom of 3rd graders who were writing. One little girl’s mom had a miscarriage just weeks before. The little girl began to cry (she cried hard actually) and the other kids didn’t know what to do at first. But eventually, they rallied around her, showing her their love and support, making her feel like she was going to be okay. By the end of the class, she was beaming. Smiling so big you could feel it across the room—she had been heard!

Or the high schooler who sat in front of his classroom talking about his parent’s divorce when he        was 3, how hard it had been to not see his dad every day. He spoke and his classmates listened with empathy—allowing him to be heard. He was energized and empowered after—just by speaking his truth.

Teachers are also incredibly resilient too. Teachers write the most amazing Imagine stories! Stories of life challenges that pushed them to do the work they do, or stories that made them the compassionate souls they are today. Tears sometimes flow, but it’s okay because those tears are healing tears—emotions are being released, allowing everyone to let go and move forward.

  1. Hope is critical to our well-being! Watching a child’s eyes turn from distress to hope, brings joy to everyone’s heart. When a child (or anyone for that matter) talks/writes about a difficult life circumstance, it’s critical to move them into a mindset of possibility. This is why The Imagine Project works so well, it gives kids (and all) hope. Step 4 in The Imagine Project writing process asks the writer to Imagine how they want their story to end? What did they learn from their story? What story do they want instead? Moving them into a hopeful state, teaching them they don’t have to be defined by their story. Like the 5th grader whose parents just got divorced, he realizes he can still spend quality time with his dad, he can have friends in both places, and his parents get along better when they live apart. Or the high schooler who takes her abuse from her childhood and is determined to work to change the system that didn’t serve her, or even the 8th grader who hears another student’s story about having Type 1 diabetes and says he will never tease him—he never understood how hard it was for his classmate—giving all students in the room hope. Kids who hear their classmate’s stories of challenges learn empathy and often believe if someone help can overcome what they’ve been through, they can overcome too! Hope is powerful and it pushes everyone to do more, see more possibility in their lives, even try harder. A critical life lesson we all can use.

Knowing that every child has a story—that resilience and hope can be taught, and are key to a society of children and teens who are heathy and can contribute positively in this world is what keep us going! We continue to let the world know about The Imagine Project and it’s simple, free, and powerful impact it can have on anyone’s life—young or old. Please join us in spreading the word about The Imagine Project—help us reach our 2021 goal of reaching 1 million kids!! We all know the world needs The Imagine Project right now!

Thank you so much and be well.

Happy holidays and cheers to 2021!

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, has written multiple 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.

Trauma Informed Schools

Transitioning to a Trauma Informed School has become an important movement across the United States, particularly in those schools with a high population of at-risk students. Schools in poorer communities, communities with high crime, even rural areas are seeing the positive effects of applying Trauma Informed principles into their overall curriculum. Even if your school does not have a high-risk student population, it’s important to understand that trauma is in all schools. Yes, it may be higher in certain communities, but as many know, the ACES research showed that 50% of all kids in white, middle class, well-educated communities have at least one traumatic experience before the age of 17. This means every school has students who’ve experienced trauma. Becoming a Trauma Informed School is of utmost importance in helping all children succeed in school, and in life.

What does Trauma Informed mean?

Becoming a Trauma Informed School means training all staff to have a greater understanding of trauma and the impact it can have on a child—both immediate and long-term. Then giving educators the tools to deal with students experiencing trauma (past or present) in the classroom. Staff learn how to:

  • Create safe and supportive school environments
  • Adopt positive and restorative justice practices which include peer and staff support
  • Integrate social emotional learning tools
  • Have better access to mental health for all students (and staff), and knowing when and how to use mental health resources
  • Have ongoing trainings to continue to understand the latest data and research on trauma—how it affects the child, and current tools to implement in the classroom.

Shifting perspectives:

One of the most important ideas/theories that comes from Trauma Informed Classrooms is knowing a child may be acting out or unable to learn because of something that is happening at home or around the student, even if it’s in his or her past. When a student is struggling an educator asks, “What happened to you?” instead of the more traditional, “What is wrong with you?” When an educator asks in their minds, “What may have happened to this student to cause this behavior?” it shifts to a caring mode that becomes supportive of the student instead of condemning, and they can implement tools to support the child to be successful in school.

What does Trauma look like in students?

There are many definitions of trauma, but I like to define a traumatic experience as anything that challenges our coping mechanisms. We learn to cope based on our past experiences and our brain development. One child’s past experiences may have given him or her a different ability to cope with a situation than someone else’s experience. Often times, kids don’t have a lot of life experience to give them the resources to cope. Their brains are still developing and unable to cognitively process an event, so they are more at-risk for not being able to work through certain difficult situations. The inability to sort through and understand an event can wreak havoc on our brain; impairing thinking and comprehension; our nervous systems have a hard time settling, and social capabilities can be impaired. A child’s inner and outer world can become jumbled, confused, hyper-alert, and often overwhelmed. Which means they can’t focus in school, are easily triggered into emotions like anger, anxiety, or depression. Acting out in school, or shutting down and not being able to interact are obvious signs of trauma in a child or teen.  The traumatic experience can include many different events including (but not limited to):

  • Moving
  • Harsh statements from a teacher, parent, or peer
  • Bullying
  • Deportation or migration
  • Discrimination
  • Medical trauma
  • Loss
  • Witnessing or being a victim of violence.

Know that trauma comes in many forms and is different for each child—you can’t always see the effects of trauma, and the spectrum of what can cause it is broad. Which is why becoming a Trauma Informed School is critical to the success of many, many students.

Getting to know your student’s story:

One important tool that can help educators understand a child’s experience is called The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a simple 7-step writing tool for students K-12. The journals are free to download from www.theimagineproject.org. There are 4 journals; Kinde, Kids, Teens, and Adult. The 7-steps help guide the student through a process of writing their story using the word Imagine… to begin every sentence. Using the word Imagine makes the process unique and different from other story telling methods as it makes the writer feel safe and asks others to Imagine what that experience was like for them. After writing about the difficult experience, the writer is asked to Imagine the positive way that story might end, or what story they want instead—giving the student the ability to move through the stress or trauma and change their perspective of that experience. The Imagine Project also gives the teacher the ability to understand the student’s life and behavior. Please explore the website, watch the videos, see our research, etc. so you can understand the process and how you can implement it as part of your Trauma Informed Classrooms.

Becoming a Trauma Informed School

There are a variety of trainings to become a Trauma Informed School, classroom, and educator. An excellent training that is individual or school wide is through Heather Forbes and the Beyond Consequences Institute. Check out their website and see if this program works for you. You can also get more information about working with stress and trauma from The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2018).

Becoming a Trauma Informed School is important work. Research has shown adapting Trauma Informed techniques will improve student test scores, decrease dropout rates, lessen the need for discipline, and just make your classroom/school a much nicer place to work. Good luck and get started now by downloading The Imagine Project Journals.

Take care and be well,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

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, has written multiple 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.

 

Should I Send my Child Back to School?

Parents, teachers, admin, even grandparents are struggling with the difficult decision of; “Should I send my child back to the classroom setting?” Some believe kids should be back in school, some believe they should stay home, some feel a hybrid choice is the best option. The reality is there isn’t one set answer for all. Many factors need to be taken into account when the final decision is made and administration is doing the best they can to balance the situation at hand.

As parents, teachers, admin, and grandparents, what can we do to better help make this decision? Here are some thoughts that might help:

1. Fully educate yourself. Listen to a variety of news sources to get all the accurate information. Be sure to check your sources to make sure they are legitimate and not coming from someone just trying to alter your beliefs. Attend school district meetings and talk to other parents and teachers to hear their input and wisdom.

2. Make the traditional list of “why” and “why not” columns—put your thoughts in each column—this helps so much in sorting through hard decisions. See how they add up.

3. Listen to your gut. If something in your heart is telling you that one choice is better than another—pay attention to that thought or feeling. Listening to your gut means thinking about an idea and really feeling whether or not your body feels at ease with it. Or maybe it feels like that is not a good choice—in that case and your body might feel tight or uncomfortable. Following your gut means when you feel relaxed and comfortable making an idea happen—it’s the right choice. Otherwise, give it some time and don’t do it!

4. If you are having a hard time processing all the information, listening to your gut, and/or you just don’t know what to do, sit down and write an Imagine story about your thoughts and feelings. Use The Imagine Project simple 7-step journaling process to help you sort through your thoughts. It’s a powerful tool to help you understand what’s in your heart and listen to your gut. Have your kids and/or spouse do it with you too—it’s a wonderful tool for families to do together. You will feel relief and everyone will smile a bit more after they write.

These are unprecedented times we live in. Hopefully, things will get easier soon. Until then, remember The Imagine Project writing process, it’s simple and free—and made for individuals, families, groups, or classrooms. Download a journal now and give it a try, you will be glad you did.

May this decision be clear and your children thrive in whatever environment they are in.

Take care and be well,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

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, has written multiple 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.

Important Tools to Help Children Build Resilience Through Stressful Times

Stress is everywhere. You can almost feel it in the air. Our community, our state, our country, and the world are facing a difficult time—a global Coronavirus pandemic. Who would have thought a year ago we would be here, living in the new normal—unable to leave our homes, no school, no sports, and no playtime with friends (for kids and adults). With this new (temporary) normal we can find ourselves feeling a gamut of emotions—fear, stress, overwhelm, anger, terror, confusion, relief, even joy—we can feel all of these in a matter of minutes! If we are feeling these emotions, our kids are too.

It’s important to give your kids tools to build their resilience. Tools to support their inner resilience so they know they will be okay—an important lesson of life really—tools kids and adults can use forever. When we are stressed, particular overly stressed, we can’t just hope it will go away, or someone will fix it for us. We must dig down deep—pull up the bootstraps as they say—and find the strength to cope, move forward, and thrive. How can we help ourselves, and our kids stay positive, and build a strong sense of self in these challenging times? Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Expressing how we feel: Coping with stress begins with emotional expression. Conversations with our children asking questions that begin with the words, “How…” or “What…” for example, “How are you feeling about hearing that from your friends?” “What are you feeling about that idea?” This begins the conversation so you can explore both your own feelings, and your child’s. Another wonderful tool to help children (and adults) express emotion is The Imagine Project writing tool. The Imagine Project writing tool is a 7-step writing process that asks specific questions so the writer can express their feelings (using the word “Imagine”) and even Imagine new possibilities of how their personal story might end. It’s a simple, yet powerful tool that is FREE to download from theimagineproject.org.
  2. Releasing negative emotion: Many believe (including myself) that we hold onto negative emotion in our bodies as energy. When we hold on to this negative energy it can create immediate or long-term health problems such as aches and pains or worse—major issues like high blood pressure or cancer. One of the ways we can release the pent up negative energy is through exercise and movement. So move! Dance, jump, play, exercise, play hide-n-seek—whatever gets you and your children moving!  It’s best if you move for 20 minutes or more and get your heart rate up, but do what you can. Another amazing tool is called Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping. Tapping is a form of energy releasing by using your fingers to gently tap on acupuncture points on the body while making simple statements. You can watch videos on this website to learn more about tapping or you can go to another website/app that is very helpful in learning how to tap, especially with kids, thetappingsolution.com. I highly recommend you check it out!
  3. Mindfulness: Mindfulness is powerful in calming our nervous systems. Stress speeds up our nervous systems. Being “sped up” all the time is not good for our health—it releases hormones that can negatively impact our body—creating illness. It’s particularly bad for kids to be stressed and sped up constantly as their neuropathways are developing and will stay in fast mode for life, creating anxiety and other issues. So we need to slow our nervous systems down—actively making our minds and bodies take it easy and relax. Mindfulness is a good way to slow our minds and bodies down—and it’s easier than you think. Sitting and doing a puzzle, cooking, humming (humming is very good for your nervous system), going for walks, or reading together are all mindfulness techniques. Think of the relaxing things you like to do with your kids—and make it a habit to do them everyday, more than once a day. With the stress so intense right now, it’s extremely important to actively practice mindfulness as much as possible. If you want to learn more, you can Google mindfulness or go on YouTube to listen to mindfulness meditations. If you have elementary school age children go to gonoodle.com for great quick mindfulness videos that kids love (it’s free).

These are important times to find extra support for ourselves and our children—the stress around us is intense. Set your intentions around what positive things you want to get from this period of time, ask your kids to set some intentions too. Learning to relax, spending more time together, connecting with old friends, the world coming together again, are a few that come to mind. There is always good that comes from life’s challenges.

We can all make it through this—and be even better on the other side. Try some of these suggestions today. Download The Imagine Project journals and write your imagines together as a family. If you are a teacher have your students to it—it will be amazing! Teach your children they can be resilient and overcome any challenge—it may take a little extra work, but of course it’s important for them to learn that too.

Good luck and stay well,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

The Imagine Project, Inc., is 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.

 

Supporting the Emotional Needs of Foster Kids with the Imagine Project

Numerous studies have been conducted that reveal just how much stress today’s kids are under. Sadly, we see it every day revealed in bullying, anxiety, depression, chemical abuse, and even suicide. Youth are suffering with stress and trauma, and those labeled as “at risk”, such as foster kids, have more to overcome than the average student. One of the ways we are able to support them is through the Imagine Project, a seven step journal exercise designed to heal trauma in a way that allows for empathy, understanding, and positivity.

Using a process that includes the simple prompt of “imagine”, students begin to share something they have had to deal with, as well as how it has turned around. Here’s an excerpt as an example from a recent classroom experience:

Imagine… having gone to eleven schools by the time you’ve entered the 9th grade.

Imagine… moving so often that you’re numb to the feeling of packing everything you own in trash bags.

Imagine… knowing the term “at-risk” at such a young age that you didn’t yet know the definition of “success.”

Imagine… falling asleep much too early at a friend’s sleepover because it’s the 1st time in a long time that you slept in a bed—not on the floor.

The story continues, but begins moving to the positive…

Imagine… breaking through the circumstances you were given and getting a college scholarship to go to college.

In a classroom setting, students can choose to share their stories with others, or not. Those who do share are often met with compassion and caring, which builds empathy and understanding for both those who read their stories, and those who are simply participating by listening. The process builds emotional wellness with a tool that helps them tap into their feelings, express them in a safe written format, and reveal to them their own resiliency.

Why Foster Kids?

Statistics show that in 2017, more than 690 thousand youth in the United States spent some time in foster care. Of these, the majority were youth of color, and stayed in care an average of 1-2 years. While many lived with extended family, an equal number are in non-family care or group homes. Just over 50% are reunited with their families, but many, who enter the system on average at the age of 8, will exit at age 18 without ever having a stable home.

Foster kids specifically are more likely to get involved with high risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, sexual activity (often resulting in teen pregnancy), and are at greater risk for homelessness and incarceration as adults. Further, they:

  • have often been victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect
  • may have been inappropriately medicated and/or institutionalized
  • have disrupted family connections due to incarceration of a parent or long periods of separation from key family members
  • have experienced homelessness and/or domestic violence

The Imagine Project creates a positive format for self-expression and a supportive community environment by demonstrating compassion to and from peers and caring adults. It helps students build their own problem-solving and self-regulation skills by learning to take responsibility for their feelings and choices. Using this tool with all students, but particularly those who have gone through tremendous trauma, such as those in the foster system, is especially important and valuable.

To get your FREE copies of The Imagine Project Journal and sample lesson plans, visit: https://theimagineproject.org/the-7-step-journals/

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

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