Archive for Dianne Maroney

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, 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)

10 Ideas for Infusing The Imagine Project into your Classroom Consistently

Every teacher wants their students to feel emotionally supported in their classroom–when a child feels emotionally stable, they can take in and learn information. The Imagine Project is a tool that will support a student’s emotional health. At first you might see The Imagine Project as a one time use, but it’s meant to be a forever tool that students lean on for their emotional support as many do with journaling. If our dream is for students in our classrooms to choose to write Imagine stories independently during the times in their lives when they need it most, then it is crucial that they have consistent practice using the tool. In order to provide that practice, planning for the intentional use of The Imagine Project across the curriculum is essential. Rather than every experience with The Imagine Project being emotionally intense, we want to show students that anytime we are exploring different perspectives or emotions an Imagine story can be useful. In this blog we will explore 10 ways The Imagine Project can be used as an intentional instructional tool.  

Once you have taken the first step and experienced the power of The Imagine Project with your students by completing the entire process as a class, it is time to plan for its deliberate use in your general instruction.  

  1. One idea to consider is that an Imagine story can actually be just a quick, single sentence as a way for students to process and share their perspective or feelings on a particular topic either before it is taught as a way to assess or after instruction as a way to reflect.  
  2. Another idea is to use The Feelings Wheel (downloadable on our website) and an imagine statement as a weekly/daily check in with students. 
  3. You can write a class Imagine story outlining the expectations for behavior and learning in your classroom.  By framing it around the idea of “Imagine a class who…” you can use it as an aspirational document to set your intentions for the year together.
  4. At the beginning or ending of a grading period, you can write hopeful Imagine stories that can be turned into actionable goals using the frame of “I am… I can… I will.”  Remember that hope happens when students feel in charge of their future and create flexible plans to achieve their goals. 
  5. Take the 30 Day Imagine Challenge where you end each day writing and sharing three things that you imagine happening in your life, three things you are grateful for in your life, and one act of kindness that you have done or plan to do. They say after 30 days new habits form, and this is a habit that can transform the climate in your classroom.  
  6. Choose an emotion of the week to explore with an Imagine story.  This is a great chance to use The Feelings Wheel and build emotional vocabulary and empathy together.  
  7. Explore problems and their solutions using the design cycle but frame it around an Imagine story where students help others to empathize with the problem they are trying to solve and then show how their solution will improve the world.
  8. Develop a deeper understanding of point of view and perspective by writing Imagine stories from the point of view of fictional or historical characters.  The hopeful turn can be used to predict endings to stories.
  9. The Feelings Wheel can be used to identify emotional character traits in fictional or historical characters and how they change over time. This also helps to build a complex emotional vocabulary. 
  10.  When issues arise in class, planned or unplanned, that lead to taking sides and debate, imagine stories can be written so both sides can express their feelings around a position along with what they hope for in the future.  While empathy will grow as both sides share, it is interesting how commonalities arise in the hopeful turns which can lead to shared understanding and solutions. 

*For more ideas check out the downloadable Powerpoint on our website.

These are only a few ideas for infusing The Imagine Project into your daily classroom planning. If we can get students using this tool on a regular basis, then when unexpected issues arise it will be a natural path forward and you will have a built in tool for emotional regulation that will help your students to be more available to learn. If we can create a habit of writing Imagine stories in our students’ lives, then when students are dealing with the difficulties of life on their own, they will have a tool for exploring and expressing their feelings. The work you do every day in your classroom is the work of saving lives and providing hope for the future.  

Download the Imagine Journals (for FREE) and start today! Thank you and good luck!

Written by Todd Daubert, Educational Consultant and veteran elementary teacher

Thank you so much,
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.

How Can Adults Help Children Who Are Victims of Cyberbullying

We want to shelter our children from all forms of harm or danger. In the age of information, however, this can be a challenge. Many — including adults — lack an understanding of how security works online. Hence, they could end up unprepared to deal with the realities of cyberbullying.

This is more common than we think. Around 59% of American teens have experienced some form of online harassment, including children younger than high school age.

Cyberbullying is available 24 hours a day and has a permanent quality, saved and circulated on the internet. In times like these, it’s important that adults help the victims, but this must be done sensitively and efficiently. Let’s take a closer look below at the different ways adults can help.

Prioritizing mental health

The first step to help should always be assessing the child’s disposition. A child’s mental health is delicate and a traumatizing event like being cyberbullied can have long-lasting effects on their welfare. It’s important to show them that they have your support and guiding them through mental health stress reduction tools such as The Imagine Project can provide an outlet for them to express and process their emotions.
Carefully watch out for symptoms that show they’re not coping well, such as becoming easily agitated or getting sick more often. They may require professional support from a child therapist until the situation and their behavior improves.

Seeking legal support

It’s important to show a child their feelings are valid by taking the proper measures to address the severity of the situation. This helps prevent children from withdrawing into themselves and from society, while teaching them about their rights as well.

Explain to them how cyberbullying is a punishable crime. Take note, however, that properly handling a case requires knowledge in psychology and criminology. Here, specialists like victim advocates play important roles in maintaining the welfare of the victims while seeking accountability from the guilty party. Adults can enlist their support to help guide the child through the process of restorative justice.

Finding justice helps the child find closure and allows them to focus on personal healing afterwards.

Creating a safe space

With the severity of cyberbullying, it’s important that the child’s immediate circles are aware of the situation. School teachers, principals, or counselors, who play crucial roles in a child’s upbringing, can also play a role in helping the child cope with the aftereffects of bullying.

This is especially crucial if the bullying involved another student, and can enable schools to strengthen their anti-bullying policies and procedures. Treating bullying as a community issue provides the victim with a supportive environment where their feelings are validated, and they know that they aren’t alone.

Forming preventive measures

While the case is ongoing, adults should immediately prevent any escalation by encouraging the child to block the bully and not engage any further. It’s enough to keep a copy of the bullying so legal measures can be taken.

When justice has been served, adults can take further means to keep the child safe from similar incidents. Talking with them so that they can rationalize what has happened helps, but avoid cutting them off from technology completely.

Instead, teach them that technology is a tool. It can be harmful, but if they know how to defend themselves, technology can be fun and beneficial. For children of young ages, adults can invest in a parental control software like Bark that monitors social media and text messaging. This then uses advanced technology and AI to prevent cyberbullying from occurring.

It’s our responsibility as adults to guide our children through the dangers of the world, and that means prevention as well as aftercare. That’s why besides providing a means for expressive writing to mentally heal, the Imagine Project also aims to lessen bullying. This is done by creating self-awareness and internal understanding, so that children will no longer be victims of their own experiences.In the digital age, cyberbullying can be a worrying reality. Hence why adults need to stay updated on the latest technology and digital trends so we can protect our children for years to come and access the tools for support when they need it.

Article written by Renee Jessa

Submitted to The Imagine Project

 

How to Help Your Child Cope With a Divorce

Navigating a divorce is no easy venture, especially if children are involved in the mix. If you’re stressed out or visibly affected by any major life change, this may translate to strong emotions within your child as well. Acknowledging how this split will affect them and making a mature plan of action with your co-parent will minimize trauma and help your kids cope. Here are some of our best tips on how to approach this process.

Communicate Effectively

From the initial divorce discussion and beyond, communication is a major step in easing the tension that a child could be feeling. Let them know why you’re splitting up (in a simplified way) and reassure them that it’s not their fault. If possible, make sure that you’re breaking this news with the other parent present. This way, you can both answer questions in the best way possible. 

You’re also going to want to communicate details about living situations, schedules, routines, and more. The way in which you approach these conversations is going to be different depending on the ages of your children. Kids who are under age six may just need reassurance that they’ll be looked after and able to see both parents. If they’re a bit older, they’ll be more emotionally in-tune and able to think more about the circumstances that led to the divorce.

Respect Their Feelings and Listen

Despite how old your children are, it’s important to be there to answer their questions and continue reassuring them that everything is going to be okay. Make sure you’re a good listener and that you can recognize and validate their feelings. Giving them an opportunity to express these feelings and letting them know when there will be changes to their day-to-day will help them adjust in time.

One of the most important things that you can do is to continue showing up for your child. Staying as involved in their life as possible will remind them of your unfaltering love and support. Going to their band concerts, shopping together for school dances, and visiting them at college family weekends, for example, will prove time and again how important they are to you. Make sure that you continue being conscientious of your child’s mental health. If they’re showing signs of emotional imbalance, you may also want to have them speak to a school counselor or therapist so they can consult with an outside point of view.

Keep Things Private

Make sure you avoid dumping bad feelings onto your children about their other parent. They’re dealing with this process in their own way and don’t need second-hand stress knowing how things ended, especially if there’s hostility. This could translate into symptoms of trauma, immense guilt, and anxiety for your children. The right outlet for this is professional help like therapy sessions or divorce groups with parents who have gone through the same thing. Making sure you’re maintaining self-care, eating well, and staying productive is important to personally cope with a divorce as well.

Though the proceedings of a divorce can last months, you may want to keep meetings with your lawyers and the sticky parts of divvying up assets as private as possible. In the meantime, make sure you’re still sticking to a routine with your children. This will provide them with a continued sense of stability, especially as they’re experiencing so many changes.

Give Them Their Own Space

If you’re looking to purchase a home after the divorce proceedings and bring your kids into a new space, consider speeding along the process with a pre approved mortgage. This will reduce the amount of time they spend with uncertainty and create a new sense of belonging and stability sooner, in turn helping your kids cope with the divorce better. After this step, you can try to involve your kids when house hunting and highlight some upsides of a move. Maybe the new home is closer to their friends or school. It may have a great rec center, soccer field, basketball court, or community pool nearby. Any sudden change in environment can feel like the end of the world for a child but reassuring them that you’re keeping their best interests at heart can help during this challenging process.

Since you’ll likely be co-parenting in two separate homes, it’s important to give your children their own space for comfort and happiness. Whether they have their own room in a new house or still share the space with a sibling, you should bring items from their other room so that there’s a level of familiarity. Once you have some of their favorite things, you can start adding some fun new decor and involving them in the decorating process. Asking them to help pick out paint, posters, or bedding can be an engaging activity to do together that ensures you’re crafting a space they’re comfortable in.

Stay Positive

Avoid talking about your ex-spouse in a negative manner and be gracious when you co-parent. Even if it’s a challenge, you must be supportive of the time that your kids are spending with their other parent. Continuing to remain civil during get-togethers, games, graduations, and more goes a long way. There will be times that you have to see your former partner, and it’s much healthier to maintain a positive relationship for the sake of your children.

If you need help developing a Mindful Co-parenting Plan, click here for a program that may be helpful.

There are many proven psychological effects of divorce on children that may result in them externalizing their emotions. This can build up and lead to poor performance in school, anger towards friends and classmates, health problems from stress, and more. Taking steps to minimize stress from divorce is possible with empathy and proper attention. Help your children express their emotions and develop resilience by using The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a transformative journaling process that helps children (and adults—you can use it too) work through their challenging life experiences and even Imagine a positive ending to their difficult story. Working through an incredibly challenging life change like divorce is hard, but in the end it can create resilience and the ability to adapt to life as it comes. Giving a child the opportunity to express themselves will promote self-awareness and improve mental health.

Good luck and take care.

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, is an international speaker, lives outside of Denver, CO, and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

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

It’s back to school time again and most educators are acutely aware of the potential social emotional needs of students. Last school year was a challenging year 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 week 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.

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 Project helps 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!

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.

 

Addressing a Child’s Mental Health is Important

Mental health means having emotional, psychological, and social well-being; when we think, act, and feel from a balanced perspective the majority of the time. Having a balanced and grounded perspective helps us make healthy choices, be kind, express emotion, accept help when we need it, handle stress effectively, feel empathy, laugh, feel joy, and relate to others easily. This are true in every stage of life. As young children grow they develop these skills, and we even continue to develop them throughout adulthood.

Supporting and helping children find emotional wellness is a very important part of parenting. It’s also important for teachers, counselors, extended family, even coaches to spend time addressing emotional wellness as they surround and work with a child or teen. “It takes a village” as the old saying goes, and it’s still true today. We all can contribute to the health and well-being of a child.

But what if a child show signs of a mental or emotional imbalance? Significant mental health challenges can and do occur in young children. Children and teens can develop characteristics of anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, depression, and/or posttraumatic stress disorder at any age. These will depend on life experiences, genetic make-up, parent/family and external support, even school and social experiences. A sensitive child might have a difficult life experience that changes their view of the world dramatically, where another child who is less sensitive will just plow right through it without even a scratch. Moving for example, can be hard on one child, altering their sense of safety and self-awareness. Another child might find it easy and effortless to fit into a new place.

Know that watching a child for signs of mental or emotional imbalances is important. If they become:

  • Quiet or withdrawn
  • Agitated easily
  • Impulsive
  • Overly attached to you or someone/thing
  • Showing signs of obsessive compulsive behavior (always need things in order and having to repeat the same things over and over again)
  • Hyperreactive
  • Lacking empathy
  • Poor emotional control
  • Frequent colds or health issues
  • Anxious, sad, or depressed

Showing one or more of these behaviors could mean your child/student is not coping well with his or her current (or past) situation and could use some extra support.

Spend time with them. Just doing simple things like games, puzzles, cooking, walking or talking will show them they are supported. Ask a few questions when the timing is right (when both of you are relaxed and grounded). Use “How” and “What” questions. Avoid yes, no. or why questions. Get them some outside help either through school or an outside counselor if things doing settle down and their behaviors improve.

Addressing mental health needs in school is critically important too because 1 in 5 children have a diagnosable emotional, behavioral or mental health disorder and 1 in 10 young people have a mental health challenge that is severe enough to impair how they function at home, school, or in the community.

The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome of a child facing some level of stress and/or trauma in their lives. Know that the stress or trauma doesn’t have to be a big thing for some kids, it could be mild but they need to learn healthy coping skills. The earlier they are taught, the less of an impact difficult life experiences will have on them. Life seems to be more and more stressful as time goes on, so give them opportunities to learn good coping skills now.

One very healthy skill is expressive writing. Expressive writing is free writing, where the writer just speaks from their hearts without worrying about grammar, punctuation or spelling. The Imagine Project is one simple, safe, effective, and free way for a child, teen, or adult to express their emotions, process that’s happened, heal their hearts, and imagine a new story in its place—all using the word Imagine… Anyone from anywhere in the world can download the journal and use this process to cope. Check out our website and try it for yourself or download it for someone you love.

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, 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 Expressive Writing Helps Lessen Anxiety for Children and Adults

Most adults and children feel anxiety at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, the incidence of anxiety has increased over the last decade, and dramatically increased since the pandemic began. Anxiety is evoked by a change in life’s normal patterns or new unexpected events, challenging experiences, watching social media, even pressure from work, school, parents, friends, and family. Children may feel more anxiety because of changes in classrooms, life’s developmental challenges, feeling left out, too much pressure from family or school, and/or confusion about how life is supposed to work as they watch social media and new experiences of life unfold around them.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety can be mild or debilitating. When we are anxious we are overly concerned, our thoughts are more often negative, we compare ourselves to others more frequently, we think about failing, our confidence is low, and/or we worry excessively. Symptoms of anxiety in children will look like:

  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Not sleeping well, nightmares
  • Not eating well
  • Quick to show angry, irritability, or emotional outbursts
  • Constant worry or negative thoughts
  • Tense, fidgety
  • Fear of being alone
  • Worrying about loved ones
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, frequents colds or illnesses

Because anxiety can get in the way of being happy, functioning well in the world, doing well at school, making friends, and our overall psychological health, we need tools to cope with and mitigate anxiety. Teaching children tools for coping is imperative to their life long mental, emotional, and physical health. Expressive writing is one simple, effective, and free tool to lessen anxiety and improve emotional wellness.

What is Expressive Writing?

Expressive writing (EW) is free writing without focusing on grammar,  punctuation, or spelling. The writer sits and writes a deep and emotional piece about a personally significant experience, whether it’s is a past or present troubling event, or a topic that is currently concerning for them. The writing can be guided by prompts or simply freely expressing oneself as deeply as possible. Because people typically suppress emotions or focus on the negative they need tools to help with expression. Done correctly, EW can help the writing talk about their feelings and eventually see the positive in the situation.

How does Expressive Writing work?

For years research has shown the expressive writing reduces anxiety in adults and children (it also helps lessen depression). Although it’s not 100% clear how it helps, here are some thoughts about how it works. Expressive writing:

  • Gives an outlet for emotional expression
  • Organizes thoughts
  • Helps distance yourself from the situation
  • Helps gain control over the situation
  • Regulates emotion
  • Clears your mind and provides relief
  • Creates greater self-awareness and understanding about the situation

It also helps with:

  • Increasing feelings of well-being
  • Improving happiness
  • Improving social relationships
  • Increasing self-efficacy
  • Improving mental flexibility and ability to handle stress
  • Can improve sleep and increase memory

Using Expressive Writing

With all these positive factors, why not try it? It’s free too! One simple and easy format to use yourself, with your children, in a group, or in a classroom is called The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a 7-step journaling process that prompts the writer to write about a difficult experience and move into seeing the possibility of that experience, all using the word Imagine to begin every sentence. It’s very simple and set up in a journal format so parents, counselors, nurses, and/or teachers can use it with their children, clients, or students. The journals are downloadable for free at www.theimagineproject.org. There are 4 journals, Kinde, Kids, Teens, and Adults (there are digital versions too). Lessen plans and everything a teacher needs are available on the website www.theimagineproject.org. You can incorporate The Imagine Project into a variety of formats. It can be used once, or over and over again when children/students are faced with difficult life situations that are causing anxiety for them. Teachers benefits from it too when you use it yourself and/or you learn more about your students and give them the opportunity to create camaraderie, empathy, and a sense of community in the classroom. You are also giving them a free and effective lifelong tool to improve their overall emotional wellness.

To get started go to www.theimagineproject.org and download the age appropriate journal for you, your child, client, patient, or students. You will see their outlook on life improve, they will be able to focus better, and their overall emotional wellness will improve.

Good luck and keep 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, 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.

Making New Year’s Resolutions as a Family

The start of the new year signifies a time for new opportunities, goals, and reflection. While people usually treat New Year’s resolutions as an individual initiative, it can also be beneficial to set some goals as a family. Especially if you have younger children, making resolutions together can help your kids start problem solving and identifying things they’d like to work on.

Along with helping your children work on goal setting, making resolutions as a family is a great way to strengthen your connection with each other. This can give you all something to work toward together throughout the year and allows you to hold each other accountable through consistent encouragement and support. If you’re unsure what New Year’s resolutions you should make as a family, here are a few ideas to consider.

Give Back

The holidays are known for giving back and that generous mindset is something that can be valuable year long. Giving back and serving your community is a great resolution to show your children the importance of helping others and being selfless. Volunteering in your community can not only give your family a new sense of purpose, but is also a productive way to spend quality time together.

If volunteering isn’t doable for your family’s schedule, you can also collect items for a homeless shelter or make handmade cards for the elderly or others in your community. However you decide to serve others, these efforts can help teach your children gratitude, compassion, and empathy. These experiences can also encourage them to think about different perspectives and consider other people’s unique circumstances.

Improve Financial Literacy

Especially after holiday spending, improving your finances is a New Year’s resolution that many people have for themselves. However, financial wellness and literacy can and should be a family affair. Family budgeting can be difficult, but creating a plan to improve your finances can help everyone as money has an indirect influence on most aspects of daily life. You don’t want to put any financial stress on your children, but it can be valuable to teach them about healthy financial habits that they can start early on.

For instance, if your kids receive an allowance, you can encourage them to save rather than spend and dedicate a portion toward a more long term goal. You can also gradually start covering simple yet essential topics such as budgeting, debt, loans, and other principles as your children grow up and become young adults. As they mature and start to handle money more often, you can teach them about more advanced financial practices such as how to start investing early, best practices for managing a bank account, or how credit can determine whether you can buy a house, car, or other large purchases. Although these topics may seem premature, teaching your children and teens a basic understanding of financial wellness and education is a valuable skill that can help them later on in life and set them up for financial success. These practices are helpful for adults too!

Exercise as a Family

Exercise is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, and for good reason. Working out and having an active lifestyle is known for reducing stress and boosting your mood which is beneficial for your whole family. While exercise takes many forms, making this goal as a family doesn’t mean you have to do strict workouts together. This could be as simple as going on walks or bike rides after school, going on family hikes, playing catch, or even joining a sports league. Depending on how old your children are, you can set different goals like training for a 5k or simply going on a walk a few times a week. Exercising regularly can help teach your children the importance of making healthy choices and taking care of their mental and physical health. No matter your age, staying active is something the whole family can enjoy and benefit from.

Spend More Quality Time Together

Between work, school, and extracurricular activities, it can be difficult to find quality time to spend together as a family. If you feel distant or lonely with your children or spouse, this is a great goal that can help you all connect. Quality time comes in many forms and can vary depending on your family’s interests and how old your children are. For instance, quality time could simply mean sitting down and having dinner together every night. Or, it could be dedicating time each week to watch a show together or having a game night.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure to unplug from technology during this time to truly be present and cherish the moment. This uninterrupted time can show your children how much you value them and can help improve your family’s overall connection and communication skills. By spending consistent quality time together, you’re giving your children an open outlet to express their emotions which can help lower the risk of behavioral issues as well.

If your children are having trouble sharing their feelings, The Imagine Project journaling tools can give them another creative way to communicate their emotions. This exercise can help children tell their stories and move through any stress or trauma they might have. You can even do these simple writing prompts together as a family as part of your quality time to learn more about each other.

Good luck,

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.

 

Eight Ways to Minimize and Mitigate Stress for Yourself and your Children

I was recently sitting and talking with a dear friend who has successfully beat cancer. As we talked she shared that she was beginning to realize her cancer diagnosis was fueled by childhood and current chronic stress. As a young girl she was pushed hard to be perfect, basically keeping the peace in the family through her successes. A heavy toll to carry for a 7-year-old. She continued in adulthood to care for others more than she cared for herself. She ate well, exercised, worked hard and is very successful, and she has a deep faith—but it’s her emotional health she tended to neglect—something she learned as a child.

The research is clear that stress causes disease. Chronic physical and/or emotional stress will make you sick. Whatever your genetic make-up is for illness, i.e. heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, etc., it will show up if you are stressed for too long. Detrimental hormones are secreted when we are stressed, those hormones break down your immune system so eventually whatever you are genetically prone to will fight its way through and show up on your door step with an unfortunate surprise.

This is true for kids too. If kids are under too much stress, the same hormones will cause frequent illness, emotional instability, inability to do well in school, and as adults they will continue to get sick, maybe even with more serious issues. So we must find ways to help ourselves and our kids minimize stress—and use tools to mitigate it when it’s present.

How can we minimize stress?

  1. First and foremost, be honest with yourself and teach your children to do the same. Ask yourself, is this lifestyle causing too much stress? Do I have at least a couple of hours of downtime 5 days a week (everyday if possible). If you are rushing from here to there, not taking any time to relax and let your body unwind, think about how and what you can change. Give yourself a time frame to change the crazy schedules. In 2 months, if things have not settled down, make some hard decisions as to what can be different. Waiting for years for things to change is not good for anyone’s health.
  2. Schedule downtime if it doesn’t naturally fit into your schedule. Two to four hours a day should be spent chatting, hanging out, going for a casual walk or bike ride, working on puzzles, etc. This is critical to teach your kids—and so very important for their nervous systems! Relaxing is part of healing any stress you/they have been under.
  3. Evaluate your work/play balance. Take a hard look at how you feel about this balance. Does it feed your soul, or wear you out too often? If the latter is true, it’s time to change something somewhere. You don’t want to end up with a diagnosis where you wish you would have thought about these things. Your kids feel your stress too—help them by helping yourself.

Tools for mitigating stress:

The truth is, stress is present in everyone’s life. The hope is it’s only occasional, but in this fast paced world, it can be brutal sometimes. Please do everything you can to minimize stress, and when stress is present, do things to offset it’s ill effects.

  1. Self-care, self-care, self-care. I know, some of you are saying yeah right. Well remember, like my dear friend, if you don’t practice enough self-care—an ugly diagnosis will let you know about it. Schedule it in if you have to. Go for walks, chat with friends or neighbors, read a book, get a massage, meditate, cook/bake if you like to cook, look at the stars, etc. You can find things that feed your soul that do or don’t cost anything. Stress and trauma stir up our flight or fight responses in our bodies—we must offset those by practicing things that relax us—fully relax us. Teaching our kids self-care is also critical to their well-being—and if you do it together—what great memories you will create.
  2. Take a hard look at your ability to relax and destress. If you truly can’t relax then see a chiropractor, massage therapist, or energy worker to help your body shift, there could be a nervous system component that you alone can’t fix. Yoga, exercise, Qigong, and meditation will all help your nervous system calm down.
  3. Talk to someone about your emotions. Those old, deeper emotional issues can cause us to have a difficult time relaxing. Talking with a friend, loved one, or therapist can really help us see ourselves more clearly. Use The Imagine Project Journaling process to help guide you through understanding your situation better. Have your children do it with you. You will find it to be a powerful process and possibly even the key to mitigating your stress.
  4. Play, play, play! Laugh, laugh, laugh! Dance, dance, dance!
  5. Give to others. Find a way to help someone else in your world (or even in another part of life you aren’t familiar with). Helping others not only helps them, but it fills our buckets with love. Teaching this to kids when they are young will only make the world a better place and make them smile at the same time.

It’s time for all of us to look at our stress levels, see how we can minimize them, help mitigate them when we are stressed. Use the tools above and consider downloading The Imagine Project Journals to help you on your journey. They are free and powerful—you and your family will love it!

Take care and good luck,

Dianne

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. She is nurse, speaker, and author of multiple award winning books including The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2017). For more information go to www.theimagineproject.org. Dianne is the Founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children heal from stress and trauma. 

Please think of The Imagine Project during the giving season. Donate Here