Archive for Dianne Maroney

The Crucial Role of a Child’s Mental Health

Children are the future, and ensuring their well-being goes beyond physical health. Mental health plays a pivotal role in shaping a child’s overall development and future success. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of children’s mental health, highlighting the need for nurturing environments that foster emotional well-being. In this blog, we will explore the significance of children’s mental health and ways to promote a positive mental outlook in our young ones.

The Landscape of Children’s Mental Health:

Childhood is a crucial period for brain development and the establishment of emotional well-being. Mental health in children encompasses their emotional, psychological, and social well-being, impacting how they think, feel, and behave. Various factors contribute to children’s mental health, including genetics, environment, and early experiences. Issues such as trauma, abuse, neglect, and family dynamics can significantly affect a child’s mental well-being, potentially leading to long-term consequences.

The Importance of Early Intervention:

Recognizing and addressing mental health concerns in children at an early stage is crucial for their overall development. Early intervention can prevent the escalation of issues, providing children with the tools to navigate challenges effectively. Parents, caregivers, and educators play a pivotal role in identifying signs of mental health issues in children, including changes in behavior, mood swings, academic struggles, or withdrawal from social activities.

Building Resilience in Children:

Resilience is a key factor in promoting children’s mental health. It involves developing the ability to bounce back from adversity and cope with life’s challenges. Parents and caregivers can foster resilience by creating a supportive and nurturing environment that encourages open communication. Teaching problem-solving skills, promoting a positive self-image, and fostering a sense of belonging can contribute to a child’s resilience.

The Role of Schools and Communities:

Schools and communities are integral in promoting children’s mental health. Educational institutions can create a positive and inclusive environment that supports emotional well-being. Implementing mental health education programs, providing access to counseling services, and fostering a culture of empathy and understanding can contribute to a child’s overall mental health. Additionally, community initiatives, such as support groups and mental health awareness campaigns, can help create a network of resources for children and their families.

Balancing Screen Time and Physical Activity:

In the digital age, children are exposed to screens from a young age. Excessive screen time, coupled with limited physical activity, can have adverse effects on mental health. It is essential for parents and caregivers to strike a balance between screen time and outdoor activities. Physical exercise has been linked to improved mood and cognitive function, making it a vital component of children’s mental health.

Encouraging Emotional Expression:

Children may struggle to articulate their emotions, making it crucial for parents and caregivers to encourage emotional expression. Creating a safe space where children feel comfortable discussing their feelings can foster a healthy emotional outlet. Art, play, and journaling are effective tools for allowing children to express themselves creatively, promoting emotional well-being. The Imagine Project, Inc. is a beautiful expressive writing tool where kids are prompted via a simple 7-step process to write about their experiences and emotions by using the word Imagine to begin every sentence. It empowers children K-12 (and adults) to realize they don’t have to be defined by an experience or story in their lives. Instead, they can write their own ending to any story/experience. To learn more go to www.theimagineproject.org and download a free journal today. The Imagine Project supports a child’s mental health by encouraging emotional expression, building resilience, and finding compassion for themselves and others.

Conclusion:

Investing in children’s mental health is an investment in the future. By prioritizing emotional well-being, we can equip children with the tools they need to navigate life’s challenges successfully. Through early intervention, building resilience, and creating supportive environments in homes, schools, and communities, we can contribute to a brighter and more mentally healthy future for the next generation. As a society, it is our collective responsibility to nurture the minds of our children and empower them to thrive emotionally and mentally.

Love,

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, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children and has written multiple award-winning books including The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress. She is an international speaker, lives in Colorado and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

Nurturing Minds: The Crucial Role of Imagination in a Child’s Mental Health

In the bustling world of technology and structured education, the value of imagination often takes a backseat. However, fostering a child’s imagination is not just about encouraging creativity; it plays a pivotal role in their mental health development. Imagination is the magical doorway through which children explore emotions, problem-solving, and self-expression, laying the foundation for robust mental well-being.

  1. Building Emotional Intelligence:

Imagination serves as a powerful tool for children to understand and navigate their emotions. Through imaginative play, they can embody different roles, experimenting with various feelings and responses. Whether it’s a tea party with imaginary friends or a grand adventure in a make-believe world, children learn to identify and manage their emotions, fostering emotional intelligence. This emotional awareness becomes a crucial asset as they grow, helping them navigate relationships and cope with life’s challenges.

Developing Problem-Solving Skills:

Imagination is the birthplace of creativity, and creativity is closely tied to problem-solving. When children engage in imaginative play, they encounter scenarios that require quick thinking and inventive solutions. Whether it’s building a fort with cushions or creating a story with unexpected twists, their minds are constantly at work, honing problem-solving skills that will prove invaluable in academic and real-life situations.

Cultivating Resilience:

Life is full of uncertainties, and cultivating resilience is essential for a child’s mental health. Imagination allows them to explore different outcomes and possibilities, teaching them to adapt and bounce back from setbacks. Through role-playing and storytelling, children develop the resilience needed to cope with disappointment and challenges, fostering a positive attitude towards life.

Stimulating Brain Development:

The brain is like a muscle that needs regular exercise, and imagination is the perfect workout. When children engage in imaginative activities, various regions of their brain are activated, contributing to cognitive development. This stimulation not only enhances creativity but also improves memory, attention span, and language skills. A well-developed brain is better equipped to handle stress and maintain mental well-being throughout life.

Encouraging Self-Expression:

Imagination provides a safe space for children to express themselves freely. In a world where societal expectations and norms often prevail, imaginative play allows them to explore their thoughts, feelings, and identities without judgment. This uninhibited self-expression is crucial for building a strong sense of self and confidence, laying the groundwork for positive mental health.

Promoting Social Skills:

Imagination is a social activity. Whether playing house with friends or creating an imaginary world together, children learn important social skills through imaginative play. Cooperation, communication, and empathy are all developed as they navigate the shared landscapes of their imagination. These social skills are not only vital for healthy relationships but also contribute to a child’s overall mental well-being.

The Imagine Project

The Imagine Project is an expressive writing program that allows a child (or adult) to write about a difficult story that has happened in their life. Once they write about the story by beginning each sentence using the word Imagine.., they are prompted to Imagine a new hopeful, positive ending to that story. This gives the writer the ability to use their imagination to see that they don’t have to be defined by their negative story, instead, they can create a new story in their lives. To download a FREE journal from The Imagine Project go to www.theimagineproject.org.

Conclusion

In the fast-paced and technologically driven world we live in, it’s essential not to overlook the importance of nurturing a child’s imagination. Imagination is not just a whimsical escape; it is the cornerstone of mental health development. Through imaginative play, children build emotional intelligence, develop problem-solving skills, cultivate resilience, stimulate brain development, encourage self-expression, and promote social skills. As parents, educators, and caregivers, it is our responsibility to create an environment that values and encourages the boundless possibilities of a child’s imagination, recognizing its profound impact on their mental well-being both now and in the future. So, let’s celebrate the world of make-believe and ensure that every child has the space and freedom to let their imaginations soar.

Happy Imagining!

Love,

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, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children and has written multiple award-winning books including The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress. She is an international speaker, lives in Colorado and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

Using Mindfulness with Kids During Stressful Times

Stress tends to be higher during the holidays. More to do, plan, and get done before a deadline. Even if life is fun during the holidays, people around you might be stressed and you can feel it–and so can your kids no matter what their ages. Taking extra time to practice Mindfullness is important for ourselves and our families. Mindfulness can be a great tool to keep us stay grounded so that our stress doesn’t get the best of us. The Imagine Project is a form of Mindfullness, it helps with processing how we feel, as well as centering ourselves.

But what does mindfulness really look like? Mindfulness is the conscious decision to be present in the moment, paying attention to how you feel in your body, mind, and emotionally– as well as how your kids are feeling. The trick is to do listen, watch, feel from a nonjudgmental place—a place of noticing and letting go of anything that doesn’t serve you. It actually really works! Research even shows that noticing—just noticing what’s happening in your mind, head, and heart, without trying to fix or change it, just watching and noticing it—allows it to move through and move on. Noticing and acknowledging anything your children, spouse, etc. might be feeling will help them feel heard and let go of anything that might not be helpful for them. Research also shows that mindfulness helps improve immune function (fewer illnesses), increases concentration, strengthens resilience, as well as many other positive effects.

So how do we do this? Experiment and practice—with ourselves, and our kids. Noticing your breathing is always a great place to begin. Bring your attention back to your breath, and practice long, slow, mindful breathing. This is key to embracing the moment and restoring or strengthening calm in your brain and body. Try sitting quietly and gently paying attention to your breath, counting slowly as you breathe in and out. The goal is breathing in to a count of about 4 or 5, and breathe out with a count of 6-7. Longer exhales helps your body relax more. You may have to work at going this slow, but just try it at your own pace and work at moving to a slower, deeper breath. Then practice at other times too, in your car, waiting in a doctor’s office, or watching TV. The more you experiment and work at it, the more prepared you’ll be when you really need it to calm yourself in stressful situations!

Practicing mindfulness with kids happens when you create quiet times with them and show them techniques and tools to help them calm down. Here are a few tips to help:

  1. Sit and do the breathing technique together or when you feel your child is stressed—practicing together really helps.
  2. Have a snack or even cook together. Noticing the food: the taste, the smell, the textures.
  3. Go for a walk, notice what’s going on around you in nature; the clouds, the weather, the landscape—look for 4 leaf clovers or dig in the dirt.
  4. Read together, do a puzzle, chase bubbles, draw, or paint.
  5. Share a breathing hug together, take a few soft, slow breaths as you hold each other.
  6. Notice and share how you are feeling, your body sensations and how they match your emotions and thoughts.
  7. Write your Imagine stories together.

Mindfulness combats stress by allowing us to slow down our minds so we can pay attention to what’s happening in our bodies and emotions. Then the emotions can move through our minds and bodies, which will lessen our stress. Sometimes it’s difficult to connect to and understand how we feel, this is where The Imagine Project comes in. Writing your story, each sentence beginning with the word Imagine… helps put our feelings out into the world, helps us process our experiences that are causing stress, move through them, calming our minds and bodies—the goal in combating stress.

Try writing your imagine story with your child and/or your students. The process is free, simple, and prompted by a 7-step journaling process. Go to www.theimagineproject.org to learn more about The Imagine Project and download the journals. Give it a try, it will help calm your’s and your child’s stress, while giving the opportunity to Imagine new possibilities in life!

Here is a wonderful website to help you get started with Mindfulness: Mindfulness and Meditation Matters. 

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.

Successful Back to School—Social-Emotional Support to Help Students Thrive

Kids are back in school again and most educators are acutely aware of the potential social emotional needs of students. The past few years have been very challenging for many teachers. Anxiety, social insecurities, inability to focus, distractions coming from many angles were worse than prepandenmic times. How can teachers give students the opportunity to stay present, grounded, feel accepted, and focus on learning? One simple and free way is by using The Imagine Project.

Emotional support through writing

The Imagine Project is a writing tool that gives kids an opportunity to talk about issues that are bothering them; a difficult life event or a stressful situations they’ve experienced recently or in the past. This is done by having students K-12 write their story using Imagine to begin every sentence. They follow a 7-step simple writing process that’s in a journal format. The journals can be downloaded (for free) at www.theimagineproject.org. The beautiful part of this writing process is in Step 4 where the writer is asked to Imagine a new, more positive version of their story—helping them shift to a positive mindset, giving them the social emotional support to move forward and learn.

How to begin

Students can begin the first few weeks of school by writing a story about coming back to school—their worries, hopes, and dreams. They can keep an Imagine journal and write it in often, on their own or together in the classroom; particularly when there is an emotional event in their lives, classroom, school, or in the world. Using this process often teaches students a tool they can use whenever needed as difficult life circumstances occur. It also helps to create a relationship between the teacher and student, and even with other students.

Social Emotional support in the classroom

When classrooms do The Imagine Project together and read their stories out loud to each other, empathy and camaraderie are created. Kids hear that they aren’t alone in their experiences and they feel a sense of relief in telling their story, and a sense that they’ve been heard. It’s a remarkable and beautiful process to watch students in a classroom come together and support one another. Relationships are critical for our social emotional health, as is self-expression. The Imagine Projecthelps promote both of these. Watch here to teachers and students talking about using The Imagine Project in their classrooms.

Student Stress

When a student is experiencing stress (past or present) it’s difficult for them to make friends, focus, and learn in school. Giving them a simple process (that meets many core standards and can be incorporated into many lessons plans) will support their social emotional needs and growth–something students need now more than ever. To learn more and get started go to The Imagine Project Getting Started page. If you recognize the value of social emotional support for students as students go back to school and throughout the school year, you will love The Imagine Project!

For those who’s child is in college, Click here to read a wonderful blog about Mental Health in College: A Guide for Students and Families.

Thank you,

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, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children, has written multiple award winning books including The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress. She is an international speaker, lives in Colorado and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

Be Kind To Your Mind: Practicing Self-Compassion

If you’re used to being self-critical, it might be difficult for you to understand what being self-compassionate is like. Self-compassion is defined as treating yourself with kindness and understanding during difficult times or when you feel like you are not good enough. For kids and teens, this is thinking, “It’s okay if I didn’t get an award today. I will do better next time” instead of telling themselves, “I’m such a loser. I can’t do anything right!”

When you’re kind to yourself, you will have an easier time dealing with the difficult situations in your life. Self-compassion naturally leads to better mental well-being, physical health, and relationship with others. Here’s more about the importance of self-compassion and ways to practice it.

The Importance of Self-Compassion for Mental Well-Being

It’s tempting to resort to negative-self talk after you make mistakes or fail self-expectations. But becoming harder on yourself can lead to more stress, depression, or insecurity. 

Self-compassion is linked to a strong resilience or the ability to recover from difficulties in life. Because you treat yourself with kindness and empathy, you can move on from shame and fear to having the motivation to do better in life. 

Components of Self-Compassion

To have compassion is to be aware of others’ suffering, and to have the desire to alleviate that suffering. This not only applies to others but to yourself as well.

Dr. Kristen Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research, says that self-compassion is made up of three elements — self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity. 

Self-Kindness

Self-kindness is the act of showing care, consideration, and understanding to yourself when you fail, suffer, or feel inadequate. Even when you don’t reach your self-expectations, you choose to be gentle with yourself rather than resort to anger or frustration. 

The reality about life is that you are going to make mistakes. It is inevitable to fail and be imperfect. Accepting this reality with kindness and patience to yourself instead of self-judgment can help you practice self-compassion. 

Mindfulness

Self-compassion also involves being mindful of your thoughts and emotions — neither exaggerating them nor dismissing them. This balanced approach allows you to be aware of your negative thoughts and emotions, and treat them with acceptance in a non-judgmental way. This is because you cannot practice self-compassion without observing your thoughts and feelings. 

Mindfulness also requires you to steer away from over-identification, which is the process of dwelling on negative feelings. Reliving your negative experiences repeatedly can make it difficult to practice self-compassion. 

Common Humanity

It’s easy to be hard on yourself if you think that mistakes and painful situations are things that can only happen to you. Realizing that you are not the only one who is imperfect is something that is part of having common humanity. This involves understanding that inadequacy and suffering are all part of being ‘human’ — a shared human experience. 

Rather than feeling isolated, you can practice self-compassion by reminding yourself that other people also feel that they’re not enough at times, and it is a part of life that everyone experiences.

Benefits of Practicing Self-Compassion

The way you treat yourself can affect many aspects of your life. Below are the benefits of practicing self-compassion:

Improved mental health

Practicing self-compassion promotes mental and emotional well-being. According to a 2018 study, compassion for one’s self is linked to lower levels of symptoms of depression. 

In another study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, it was found that self-compassion has a positive effect on happiness, positivity, optimism, wisdom, and others.

Better physical health

People who practice self-compassion are more likely to care for themselves not just emotionally, but also physically. Additionally, self-compassion can help you manage stress better, helping you avoid the physical effects of stress — such as weight gain, sleep problems, digestive issues, and many more. 

According to the research findings published by the researchers of the University of Pittsburgh, middle-aged women who had self-compassion also had lower chances of developing cardiovascular disease. The findings emphasize the importance of practicing self-compassion not just for mental but also for physical health. 

Positive relationships 

The ability to be compassionate to yourself also translates into the way you treat others. Having self-compassion allows you to be aware of others’ pain and challenges and treat them in a gentle way. This is important if you have children because strong and healthy family relationships can help with their performance academically and socially.

Aside from that, the life-enhancing benefits of self-compassion also allow you to approach your relationships with positivity. A study review published in the Australian Psychological Society, suggests that people who have self-compassion are also more likely to have secure attachment relationships.

How to Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion, just like other abilities, requires constant practice. Below are some tips that can help you:

Mindfulness practices

As an important component of self-compassion, it is helpful to give time to mindfulness practice. Tara Brach, a well-known psychologist and teacher of Buddhist mindfulness meditation, developed a tool for mindfulness practice called RAIN.

RAIN is an acronym that stands for the following four steps:

  1. Recognize what is taking place
  2. Allow the experience to take place as it is
  3. Investigate with care and interest
  4. Nurture yourself with compassion

RAIN can be used for meditation or when difficult challenges happen in your life. This allows you to acknowledge what is affecting you, allowing it to be there, investigate it, then nurture yourself with compassion. 

Self-compassion exercises 

Small things can make a huge difference in your life. Start practicing self-compassion through journaling. Notice and jot down the times when you resort to negative self-talk or experience distressing situations. 

Through journaling, you can practice mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. Write about how you felt as the negative thought or event occurred, recognize that it is part of common humanity, and end the entry by being kind to yourself. The practice of journaling can help you organize your thoughts and emotions and cope healthily. 

A wonderful format to use for journaling is called The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a simple, effective, and free journaling that includes 7-steps to prompt your thoughts and feelings, giving the writer an opportunity to organize their emotions and write them in second person using the word Imagine…to begin every sentence. To learn more about The Imagine Project go to www.theimagineproject.org and download the free journals

Self-compassion exercises can also be a family activity. For instance, start by teaching children about gratitude. By being grateful for everything you have — even though you are imperfect — you practice self-kindness as well. 

Reframing negative self-talk 

To practice self-compassion, it is helpful to understand the concept of growth mindset vs fixed mindset.

People who practice self-compassion know and accept that they are imperfect, but don’t resort to self-blame or shame. This is because of a growth mindset, which allows them to understand that challenges are a part of life and failures are not the end. This helps them move away from negative self-talk and towards a more positive attitude. 

On the contrary, having a fixed mindset involves the belief that talent and intelligence are fixed. This can lead to negative thinking, such as avoiding challenges because of fear of failure, taking constructive criticism personally, and giving up easily. 

You can adopt a growth mindset by embracing imperfection, viewing criticism as feedback, and being open to possibilities. 

Take Home Message 

Self-compassion allows you to accept painful experiences as they are while remembering that it is all a part of the human experience. As a response, you treat yourself with care and kindness. This can lead to several life-enhancing benefits that affect not just your mental health, but also physical health and relationships. 

Becoming self-compassionate is not an easy task, but consistent practice can get you there. Be kind to yourself and accept that you will make mistakes while being open to learning. 

Thank you Michael Vallejo for contributing this wonderful article to The Imagine Project. 

Love,

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, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children, has written multiple award winning books including The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress. She is an international speaker, lives in Colorado and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

Nurturing a Child’s Mental Health through Simple Mindfulness Techniques

When we think about healing, many of us focus only on our physical bodies. In reality, there is a great deal of research showing our minds lead the way for our bodies. What we think drives what we do, how we behave, and how we interact. Our thoughts even affect our cellular structure. Scientists used to believe that the body was made up of only physical matter; it functioned in specific ways and was only affected by other matter such as chemical responses (medications), surgery, and other physical modalities. Now we know the body is more than matter—it’s energy, and can be affected by many things, particularly the mind.

In his book, The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton writes, “Thoughts, the mind’s energy, directly influence how the physical brain controls the body’s physiology. Thought ‘energy’ can activate or inhibit the cell’s function…” In other words, thoughts can control the health of both the mind and the body. Using the mind to help handle drama, trauma, and stress is the key to emotional wellness. Here are some useful tools to help your children’s/students’ minds cope with life.

Mindfulness

As summer arrives, it’s a great time to create new health habits with our kids. Mindfulness is a great habit that will support our emotional and mental health (for life). Mindfulness is about being fully aware of what is happening in the present moment, both internally and externally. It’s a conscious decision to pay attention to your body, mind, emotions, and external circumstances, and to do so from a nonjudgmental place—a place of noticing and letting go of anything that doesn’t serve you. This may sound challenging, and it can be at times, but the more you practice the easier it gets. For kids, the earlier they learn these habits, the greater the impact.

According to research on mindfulness with adults and with children, mindfulness improves immune function (fewer illnesses), increases concentration, and decreases stress. There is a long list of positive effects on children who practice mindfulness.

Many who teach mindfulness advocate that it begins with paying attention to your breath. In calm moments, or in times of distress, bring your attention back to your breath, and practice long, slow, mindful breathing. This is key to embracing the moment and restoring or strengthening calm in your brain and body. In her book, Rising Strong, Brené Brown writes about her “calm practice” in which “breathing is central to practicing mindful- ness.” You can try it by sitting quietly and gently paying attention to your breath, counting slowly as you breathe in and out. The goal is breathing into a count of about 3-5 and breathe out with a longer exhale. The longer exhale triggers your nervous system to relax physically as well as mentally. You may have to work at going this slow, but just try it at your own pace and work at moving to a slower, deeper breath. Then practice at other times too, in your car, waiting in a doctor’s office, or watching TV. The more you experiment and work at it, the more prepared you’ll be when you really need it to calm yourself in stressful situations!

Practicing Mindfulness with Kids and Teens

Practicing mindfulness with kids can begin during the early weeks of a pregnancy, which is an important time of brain growth. Sitting quietly for a time each day, perhaps reading or listening to music, can program your unborn baby’s biology, and reduce susceptibility to emotional problems early in life. With newborns, take time to just sit and rock, sing, read, and enjoy your baby. Be very present and not distracted by other things around you. As your babies grow into children, continue with quiet times—no phone, no TV, no distractions, just you and your children experiencing and talking about life.

You may need to be creative to help your growing child with mindfulness. Here are some ideas:

  • Sit together and have a snack. Talk about the snack and its characteristics, your favorite flavor, its texture, its temperature. Really noticing what you’re eating helps you be in the moment instead of worrying about anything else. To be playful, make funny faces to show your opinion of a food, or come up with creative ideas for weird meals.
  • Do a puzzle together.
  • Go for a walk and talk about the trees, birds, bugs, or grass.
  • Read a book together. Talk about the book and what you both thought about the story and characters.
  • Ask your child about the weather inside their hearts—sunny, cloudy, bright, rainy, or stormy. Be curious about their day and its highs and lows.
  • Write your Imagine stories together.
  • Play a game, anything from peek-a-boo and hide-and-go-seek to card games or board games.
  • Cook together.
  • Chase bubbles.
  • Look at the clouds and find formations in them.
  • Pick a country on the world map and research it.
  • Draw, color, create together.
  • Tell a story at bedtime, real or fictional.

Any one of these activities needs to be your full focus for at least 15 minutes, even longer can be better; no distractions, just one-on-one attention while you are being mindful of the present moment. The above suggestions are forms of mindfulness you can do together. What a great way to do something together that is peaceful and helpful.

Happy Imagining!

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, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children, has written multiple award winning books including The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress. She is an international speaker, lives in Colorado and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

Advice for Teaching Children Kindness and Optimism

We all understand that kids learn by watching their parents and other adults in their lives. If those guiding adults are kind and optimistic, then they will watch and learn. But sometimes we get busy and forget these important behaviors ourselves. Or our kids need extra help learning how to be kind and optimistic. Kindness and optimism are so important in our world and high on the list for making sure our kids practice them.

Kindness

It feels good to be kind. It’s in our nature to be kind, but we have to teach and cultivate it in ourselves and our children. Kindness not only benefits others, it has positive effects on our bodies and our minds.

Research has shown that doing acts of kindness will:

  • make us happier,
  • improve immune function,
  • change chemical balance in the brain to reduce depression,
  • release oxytocin (a happy hormone!),
  • decrease inflammation in the body, improving our health,
  • helps us feel better about ourselves,
  • decrease bullying,
  • increase peer acceptance, and
  • is contagious!

Talking to your children about being kind is important, but kids learn what they see, so the more they wit- ness and experience kindness, the more they will practice it themselves. Step 7 in My Imagine Journal encourages one random act of kindness every day for 30 days—a great way to ingrain a kindness philosophy into a child’s life. There are hundreds of simple acts of kindness to show and teach kids, www.kindness.org has great ideas. Here are some to begin with:

  • Write a thank you card.
  • Let someone go ahead of you in line.
  • Carry something for someone who needs help.
  • Talk to someone new at school.
  • Donate food or clothing.
  • At a restaurant or store, tell an employee what a good job they did for you.
  • Pick up litter.
  • Help make dinner.
  • Write a poem for a friend.
  • Talk to a lonely neighbor.
  • Play with a pet (you might even go to an animal shelter and play with the animals there).
  • Give your mom a neck or shoulder massage :).
  • Tell someone why they are special to you.

Optimism

Optimism is a mindset. Optimistic people see the positive side of things. It’s not always easy to be optimistic, and it may not always be possible, but it’s important to be mindful around practicing optimism. Some people are naturally optimistic—they are just born that way—but it’s also some- thing kids learn through experiences and watching those around them. Regardless of how negative someone is, they can learn to be more optimistic.

Optimistic people are more successful, resilient, less stressed, and actually live longer. Here are a few tips to help kids be more optimistic:

  • Recognize when they are successful and remark about it; refrain from negative remarks about times when they are not successful.
  • Help them be successful by having them do things you know they will succeed in. Set them up for success by giving them the tools and teaching them the skills they need.
  • When things go wrong, acknowledge their feelings; once they’ve moved through the disappointment, talk about the good that might have come out of the situation.
  • Help them reframe failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Ward off pessimistic thinking habits by encouraging positive thinking habits. For example, instead of “Something is wrong with me,” say, “That was a difficult task. I need more help/a new set of skills/better tools.” Instead of, “I’ll never succeed,” say, “I will be better prepared and try harder next time.” Instead of, “All tests are hard,” say, “That test was hard.” Instead of, “I never pass tests,” say, “I didn’t pass the test yesterday.”
  • Don’t label kids negatively—give them positive labels. For example, say, “energetic” not “hyperactive;” “sensitive” not “moody;” or “bright, inquisitive, and enthusiastic” not “troublemaker.”
  • Watch your own words—keep them as positive as possible.
  • Be optimistic yourself—you know the old saying “Fake it until you make it.” Do your best to be realistically positive.

My son, Frank, has a silly game he uses to stay positive called, “The Opposite of That”. When he has a sore throat he will call me and say, “Mom, my throat feels awesome, but the opposite of that!” or when he’s running out of money he will say, “I have so much money in my account, but the opposite of that!” Try it sometime, it’s kind of fun, especially with kids, and it feels much better than just stating the negative truth.

Kindness and Optimism take practice, but they are so important for our children to learn and they make a positive impact in the world. You can begin by using The Imagine Project journals to support your process of emotional health, kindness and optimism. Download the journal here—it’s free and a great writing project for all.

Happy Imagining,

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, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children, has written multiple award winning 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.

Imagine Hope!

In my fifth grade classroom during the peak COVID era—a hugless year of masks, social distancing and hand sanitizer, I had a student named Chloe (watch her video here) who ended every one of her imagine stories with the same two words, “Imagine Hope!”  At the time I found those words catchy and inspiring–and so did my class.  In fact, eventually everyone ended their Imagine stories with “Imagine Hope!”, and it became our class motto. Quite fitting for that specific year.

Why is hope important:

Hope is a word that gets used a lot but may not be understood as well as it needs to be.

I love this quote from Brene’ Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (I also really love this entire book)!

“Hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process. Emotions play a supporting role, but hope is really a thought process made up of… a trilogy of goals, pathways, and agency.  In very simple terms, hope happens when…

We have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go).

We are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes (I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again).

We believe in ourselves (I can do this!).”

This explains why Chloe’s intuitive “Imagine Hope!” was so inspirational to my students.  Hope leads to action.  In The Imagine Project writing process, the writer is asked to write about a difficult time in life to help with emotional expression and processing—using the word Imagine to begin every sentence. Then in step 4, the writer is asked to write how they would like their story to end (also using the word Imagine), encouraging the writer to take a hopeful turn.

To better understand what hope is, let’s first understand what hope isn’t:

Hope isn’t positive thinking. Too often positive thinking is used to avoid the uncomfortable emotions in life and can be wielded like a weapon by people who just want to avoid discomfort.  Comments like, “Look on the bright side!” or “Just think positive!” can lead to the suppression of genuine emotions that need to be expressed.  The Imagine Project leads with acknowledging the discomfort of life so that people can feel, see, and hear right where they are.  Instead of only positive thinking, the writer is asked to imagine their story taking a hopeful turn, it invites the writer and the listener to imagine a different future for themselves, and then to take steps forward to move toward that hopeful future while accepting the difficult present.

Psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonoir wrote about the health benefits of hope in an article for Psychology Today,  In it she writes We feel less helpless and less uncertain about the future (and helplessness and uncertainty both increase our stress, in ways that can be detrimental to our health over time). Increased hope also gives us a buffer in order to sustain some setbacks: it can help with our resilience when there are bumps in the road, helping us have the energy to continue on the path that we are on before giving up.”

In addition, Laura King, a researcher from the University of Missouri Department of Psychological Sciences, did a study on the health benefits of writing about life goals, and she discovered that, “Five months after writing, a significant interaction emerged such that writing about trauma, one’s best possible self, or both were associated with decreased illness compared with controls. Examining the most hopeful aspects of our lives through writing—our best imagined futures, our “most cherished self-wishes” (Allport, 1961)—might also bestow on us the benefits of writing that have been long assumed to be tied only to our traumatic histories.”

We encourage you to write your imagine story (click here for the free journal), when you get to the end of your imagine story, try framing the ending around a “hopeful turn.” Sometimes people really struggle coming up with ideas for a hopeful ending to their imagine stories, especially students.  To assist with this, we have been given generous permission by Bret Stein, the creator of The Feelings Wheel (download it here). It is an integral part of the Center for Nonviolent Communication and now we are using it to help people identify feelings that can help drive their imagine stories.

Here is how it works:

The wheel is divided into twelve core emotions, six of which we feel when our needs are not being met, and six of which we feel when our needs are being met. The feelings are organized by color with opposites directly across from each other.  After writing your imagine story focused on the feelings you have when your needs are not being met, find the “hopeful turn” by identifying the opposite emotion you hope to feel directly across the wheel and then write what you imagine happening to experience that feeling.

It is my hope that you and your students will experience the power of The Imagine Project and the “hopeful turn” and that it will lead to goal setting, resiliency, and agency. Download the free journals here to get started!

Imagine Hope!

Written by Todd Daubert, Educational Consultant, The Imagine Project, Inc.

Woodland Elementary Expands Their Use of The Imagine Project!

The Imagine Project (TIP) is currently working with the incredible staff at Woodland Elementary in Cherry Creek Schools in Colorado to make Imagine story writing a foundational piece of their school culture in order to support the social emotional wellness of their students. When you walk in the door, their school’s just cause is proudly framed as an Imagine story.

Imagine feeling a sense of belonging where you are valued, seen, and heard.

Imagine taking action in equity, celebrating diversity, and empowering others.

Imagine believing all children can learn.

Imagine engaging in an inclusive, dynamic, and resilient culture.

Imagine creating a brave space that sparks joy, wonder, and a passion for learning.

The teachers at Woodland first experienced The Imagine Project for themselves during work week in August. The next step was to utilize their students’ imagine stories for a school-wide cultural identity project that involved their entire community. An essential part of the success the teachers at Woodland are experiencing can be attributed to partnering with their students’ families from the outset.  

The first Imagine story that the teachers wrote with their students was focused on the feelings students had starting a new school year.  This was particularly important because Woodland is a brand new school, but it is a topic that all teachers, students, and families have a variety of feelings about.  They used the stories to get to know their students’ past school experiences as well as their hopes for the upcoming year.  They then sent the stories home and invited their students’ families to write a story of their own as a way to communicate past experiences, concerns, fears, and hopes with their child’s teacher.  The letter they sent home can be found on The Imagine Project’s website here. As you can see, not only does the letter explain the purpose and power of writing an Imagine story, it also provides a guided tool for writing one.  From here, every family was informed and invited to participate in Imagining Woodland.

Over the first few weeks of school, teachers have used The Imagine Project in their classrooms to allow their students to talk about any challenges they might be experiencing in their lives, past or present. This gives the students the opportunity to learn the technique and flow of The Imagine Project, as well as creating a safe space for emotional expression, compassion and camaraderie in the classroom. Now, the teachers are moving toward purposefully planning for the use of The Imagine Project throughout their curriculum. Here are some of their ideas:

  • In kindergarten they will be writing/drawing/telling stories focused on identifying different feelings in picture books in order to build empathy and perspective taking skills.
  • In first grade they will be writing/drawing Imagine stories to go with their study of biographies where students will use everything they have learned about their inspirational person to help others understand that person’s life experience.
  • In second grade they plan to write Imagine stories from the perspective of changing landforms (volcanoes, earthquakes, etc.) as a summative assessment where students will show their understanding of the scientific processes involved while personifying their chosen landform.
  • In third grade students will be focusing their Imagine stories on the social studies topic of human migration as they demonstrate a deeper understanding of why people move from place to place and then connect it to their family’s story.
  • In fourth grade students will be studying different perspectives on the important events during Colorado’s history and expressing them through Imagine stories.
  • In fifth grade imagine stories will be used to help navigate the emotions that arise with the transition to middle school.

All the grades are planning to use The Feelings Wheel (download it here) as a tool for conversation and conflict resolution in their classrooms as issues arise interpersonally (friendship issues) and collectively (playground issues).  We have been given generous permission from its creator, Bret Stein, to share The Feelings Wheel with you. It is an integral part of the Center for Nonviolent Communication, and now we are using it to help people identify feelings that can help drive their Imagine stories. Look for future blog posts about how this tool can be used to write Imagine stories. 

It is very exciting to see a school so committed to understanding that addressing the individual barriers to learning, practicing empathy, expressing emotions, and holding space for each other’s story are essential to educating the whole child. If you are interested in helping your school experience and incorporate The Imagine Project into its culture please contact Dianne (dianne@theimagineproject.com) and we will be happy to help. You can begin by downloading The Imagine Project journal for your classroom here (it’s free). 

Happy Imagining! Thank you,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

Thank you to Todd Daubert for contributing this blog to The Imagine Project!

Small Changes That Make a Big Difference in Your Child’s Happiness

Children deserve to grow up happy, loved, and supported no matter their environment. According to an article on child development, various factors contribute to children’s happiness and wellbeing. Beyond economic stability and educational access, it’s important that children have strong and healthy relationships with their families. Children with supportive family members perform well academically and socially, while also reporting higher levels of overall life satisfaction.

The journey towards improving your child’s happiness and quality of life can start with transforming habits and behaviors at home. These may be small changes, but they ultimately make a significant difference in how children think and feel about themselves and the world around them.

Make time to communicate

Despite the busyness of daily life, it helps to communicate with your children. Whether it’s about motivating them at the start of the day or asking them how their day at school went, talking to your children sends them a message that you value their needs, feelings, and experiences. Furthermore, a study about parent-child communication published in Frontiers Psychology emphasizes the quality, and not just the frequency, of conversations. This contributes to the child’s positive self-concept, self-esteem, and confidence.

The quality of the conversations can be improved by ensuring your child isn’t always relegated to being the listener or receiver of information. Allow your child to take the lead in the conversation while encouraging them through nonverbal affirmations like nodding your head and maintaining eye contact.

Seek professional help

There are instances where a child may develop signs of poor mental health, such as withdrawal from social interactions or disruptions in their sleeping patterns. While it’s still our responsibility as parents to address potential or existing stressors, seeking professional help from licensed health professionals allows us to access more tools and resources related to mental health. Despite the shortage of mental health professionals across the country, you can find excellent online therapists to help. Everyday Health has an extensive list of providers, as well as Forbes lists online therapy providers that either charge per session or per weekly/monthly subscription. Most of the services allow you to choose a therapist that best matches your child’s situation.

With the advent of telemedicine, there are now remote nurse practitioners who can also address specific health needs. Remote mental health nurse practitioners across states are making up for the shortfall to provide all-around care and support starting from initial consultations to follow-up visits and medication plans. Their focus on child and family health can help alleviate common barriers like the availability and affordability of care. These remote services mainly benefit children who are more comfortable receiving counseling in the comfort of their own homes or children whose health conditions or special needs make it difficult to access care services at fixed facilities.

Minimize screen time

Regardless of your child’s age, it’s vital to set reasonable limits for their screen time and use of social media. As much as the increasingly digital world allows them to expand their knowledge and communicate with others despite the distance, nothing beats the organic experience of unstructured and unplugged playtime. Included in our list of ways to mitigate parents’ and children’s stress was scheduling two to four hours of downtime each day. This can come in the form of going for a short walk outside, biking to the park, doing puzzles, singing, and dancing. Not only do these activities let them relax and get in touch with the world around them, but your emotional bond and connection also improve when you make sure you play together!

Have regular family meals

This last change may seem the simplest of all, but parents sometimes overlook the importance of having regular family meals. No matter how busy your respective schedules get, an article on The Hill says family meals are a great way to reduce stress, strengthen connections, and boost the self-esteem of your children. When you mainly serve healthy and hearty dishes for mealtime, your children can find stability and consistency in their eating habits. You can further elevate this bonding experience by preparing the food together, especially on weekends or special occasions.

Overall, quality time together with fun and supportive conversations will support your child’s happiness now and for their lifetime. To help your child communicate emotions they may have difficultly talking about, you can also write your Imagine stories together. It’s fun, easy, and free. Download a journal today at www.theimagineproject.org.

Thank you,

The Imagine Project Team

Article written by Renee Jessa (Submitted to The Imagine Project)

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