Archive for helping kids cope

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.

 

National Wellness Month: Self Care for Parents and Kids

We often associate wellness with physical health. However, wellness is described by the Global Wellness Instituteas the “active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” This includes your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. As we step into National Wellness Month, here are a few tips for keeping you and your family focused on wellness and keeping self-care at the forefront of your mind.

How to Understand Your (and Their) Stress

Stress can come in all shapes and sizes, and is going to look different in you than in your children. The way they cope may be totally different from what you’re used to dealing with. In fact, the way that you even coped with your stress as a child may be different from the way you cope now! Understanding your child’s stress is the first step to working through stressors, big and small. You may start to overcome.

Although you as an adult might know when you’re stressed, the signs of stress in a child can have a wider range as they deal with these emotions for the first time. There might be physical signs, such as dizziness, fatigue, or a change in what they’re choosing to eat, the possibilities are endless. However, there can also be behavioral signs. Compulsive habits might take place, or small outbursts might occur. Sometimes these can just be part of growing up, but if repetitive could mean more.

While you can’t expect to solve all of your child’s problems (and in truth, you can’t always solve your own), there are a few coping mechanisms that can help create less stress. The Imagine Journal offers an opportunity for your child to write about anything they’re feeling, even if there may not be any stressors at the time. While you can always offer a safe space, sometimes offering a non-parental option can feel safer. It not only helps create trust for future problems down the road but can help build healthy mechanisms as they get older.

How to Handle Loss

Whether it’s moving to a new house or grieving a loved one, big life changes can affect your child in ways you may not even know. Offering outlets for conversations are key ways to make sure you and your child are adjusting to these life changes.

If a loved one has a progressing condition such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s, sometimes offering time to understand why changes are happening, giving them a chance to ask questions and voice their concerns, and understanding the grief as disease progresses can lead to an easier transition. In cases like this, keeping a routine is vital. In fact, family stability is directly linked to a child’s success. Visiting older grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles can help them realize they’re still a part of their life. While life changes are inevitable, showing love, connection, and that you’re there through these changes can really make a difference.

While you can’t always prepare for the loss of a loved one, you can take steps to help handle these life changes that work for both you, and your children. When it comes to life changes, caring for a loved one who has a rare terminal cancer like mesothelioma, it’s important to provide the right resources for them. These changes can be hard to deal with at any age, and you might not always be able to provide the right coping mechanisms that they need.

Other difficult diseases such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes can be a shock once discovered to adults and children. If this is the case when it comes to life changes, there are caregiver resources available that cover anything from counseling, to support services that allow your kids to be involved in these life changes, as little or as much as they would want.

Offering these options can help your child open up, and can even help you find peace in some of these changes in life. While you can’t expect everything to be smooth sailing, small steps to connect can make a difference.

How Fatigue Shows Itself In Others

Fatigue may show itself due to too much activity. You’ve experienced being tired before, right? But, this can go the other way too and can be present if they’re not getting enough activity. It can also be a sign of stress or an effect of other changes in their life. Fatigue in children can present itself in different ways over time.

Some important things to consider here are if there are huge life changes taking place, or if there are stressors at school, in their extracurriculars, or in their personal life. Are they getting regular exercise? Are they getting plenty of rest? Are there changes happening that even you can’t control? Maintaining stability where you can and creating opportunities to work their mind and bodies can help them stay mentally healthy, along with yourself. After all, these tips work for parents too!

While you can’t expect to be the perfect parent, finding coping mechanisms to focus on self-care for yourself and your children is key to creating a healthy, trusting environment. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be scared to give yourself some credit where credit is due. Even the small things can go a long way.

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.

 

Is Your Child Stressed and How you Can Help

Is Your Child Stressed?

Caught up in our own challenging day-to-day lives, we often assume our children live a relatively carefree life without stress. But children’s lives can actually contain multiple sources of stress, including the pressures of peer groups, sibling rivalry, highly demanding schedules, and family expectations. It’s also not unusual for kids to experience problems dealing with boyfriends/girlfriends, having too much screen time, and of course, handling social media. Tension and anxiety can often arise from within their own minds too. As children grow, they frequently feel pressure from their own thoughts as they attempt to understand who they are, how the world works, and how they fit into it.

Many children also experience stressors that go above and beyond what’s considered typical and normal. Family life can be extremely stressful, such as when there is marital discord, mental instability, financial worries, abuse, or neglect. If kids hear parents, friends, or family members talk about troubling personal situations or community violence, this can add to their worries. Inappropriate exposure to media reports on crime, war, terrorism, tragedy, or political strife can also heighten a child’s stress levels. And for some children, school is a source of excessive stress. Children may feel overwhelmed when they don’t understand or can’t deal with their workloads. Children can also be stressed by feeling socially or academically inadequate, like they don’t fit in, or are not accepted for their strengths and weaknesses. Being bullied or shunned is extremely stressful.

Stress is a normal, unavoidable part of life. It’s even good for a child to experience small amounts of manageable stress, such as frustration with learning a new skill, dealing with being late to a birthday party due to traffic, or worrying about saying the wrong line in a school play. Unfortunately, when a child experiences frequent, chronic, or overwhelming stress, survival mode becomes the norm instead of an occasional occurrence, and the brain and body stay in a stressed state. These chronic stress patterns can hamper healthy brain development, leading to an imbalance where the limbic system becomes overdeveloped and hyperreactive. This brain imbalance can create significant mental and emotional issues such as agitation, anxiety, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, an inability to focus, lacking empathy, low emotional control, poor decision-making, and weak problem-solving abilities. Chronic stress can also cause a host of minor, and sometimes significant, physical health problems, such as an impaired immune system, slowed growth, aches and pains, and poor digestion.

How can you tell if a child is over-stressed? Look for physical and behavioral symptoms. Physical problems might include stomachaches, frequent headaches, acne, dizziness, bowel problems, bedwetting, change in appetite or food cravings, and frequent or lengthy illnesses. Behavioral symptoms of stress are varied as well: a child might become clingy; the quality of his or her school work might change; new compulsive habits such as hair twirling, nose picking, hand washing, or thumb sucking might develop; sleep patterns might change (too much or too little); mood swings might increase; a child might begin to lie or become quiet or secretive; eating habits might change. If there is any notable regression or worrisome change in a child’s behavior and/or decline in physical health, it is important to step back and consider whether too much stress is the root cause.

How Can You Help a Stressed Child?

  • First and foremost, spend extra time listening. Your careful, quiet listening helps a child feel heard and validated.
  • Hold space for big emotions. This means being a compassionate, nonjudgmental witness while a child expresses him- or herself. Encourage the child to verbalize feelings, draw them, and/or move his/her body.
  • Set limits if needed, such as, “When you’re angry, don’t touch anyone or anything.” Or, “Would it help to run up and down the hall for a few minutes?”
  • Instead of interjecting interpretation or drawing your own conclusions, support the child’s developing ability to analyze and solve problems by reflecting what you’ve heard and asking exploratory questions.
  • Remember, questions that only require a “yes” or “no” answer can stop conversations in their tracks. And “Why” questions can feel pointed or punitive instead of caring.
  • Ask open-ended questions that inspire sharing and reflection, such as, “How are you feeling?” or “What was your day like today?” Or simply invite them to “Tell me more.”
  • Reflect back what you heard, such as, “It sounds like you had a very frustrating time and got hurt by your friends today.”
  • Notice how your child is feeling and reflect on the emotions expressed, “It sounds/looks like you’re really angry (sad, hurt, worried, etc.).”
  • Ask for thoughts about why that happened and ideas for possible solutions. Let them know you can offer help if they want it. Don’t lead their emotions/ideas expecting good or bad stories, just listen, reflect, and love.
  • Help them express themselves by writing about their stress. Use The Imagine Project simple and free journaling process to support them in their expressions. Download the Journal here.

Good luck and take care,

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.

 

 

 

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.

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. 

Teaching your Child to Listen to their Intuition

Intuition is not talked about often, but we all have it and we all feel it from time to time. Intuition is important because it’s attuned to your subconscious and can point you in the right direction in any situation, short or long term. Trusting your intuition, and teaching your children to listen to and trust it, can be very valuable in life. When you don’t have enough information about a situation you are in and the resources to learn more about it are unavailable, trusting your gut can help.

I believe I’ve dodged a few potentially dangerous situations because I listened to my gut. I made it a point to teach my kids to listen to their intuition, particularly if they are in situations where they aren’t sure what to do. My middle son loves extreme sports. When he’s headed up to the top of a mountain to ski terrain most skiers won’t even consider, he always reassures me that he’ll follow his gut feeling on where and how to ski down. He’s intelligent and knowledgeable about back country skiing, but he also depends on his intuition. My daughter recently told me that at a gas station, she saw a man who didn’t seem right. Her gut told her to stay in the car; she did and left. Intuition is a key component of life and trusting it is a must to teach your children.

What is intuition? There is a part of us that just knows more than what our conscious minds can evaluate. Recent brain research reveals that intuition can be the result of specific brain activity. Outside of your conscious awareness, your brain constantly takes in vast amounts of information as it scans the environment or a situation and it continually responds by releasing hormones that either maintain your calm or launch you into a stress reaction. So listening to your body/gut can be critical in life—and teach your kids to listen to it too—it’s typically right on the mark!

Listening to your intuition: Listening to your intuition means paying attention not only to what your head thinks, but what your body feels. When you think about doing something and your body feels soft, light, comfortable, or easy, then it’s the right thing to do. In contrast, when thinking about it makes you feel tense, tight, uncomfortable, and unsure, then don’t do it. Why? Because the tension in your body is triggered by your limbic system, which is pumping stress hormones into your blood stream at the prospect of making the wrong move. Your thinking brain or conscious mind may be unaware of the potential, but your body can feel the effects of your brain’s assessment. So tune into how your body feels. Another way of saying this is “listen to your gut,” which is considered to be our “second mind.”

So if you’re detecting a tense reaction in your body when doing something or making a decision, either go the other way or delay the decision until you can think through what you need or want to do. If what you are facing is stressful, really listen to your gut and ask yourself what the next step might be, and if you should keep going with what you are doing. Keep listening and you will figure it out. If at any time you feel clearly uncertain and uncomfortable with a situation, consider moving in the other direction.

Teaching your children about intuition?

The first step is to teach children how to tune into their bodily sensations. (See below for an important cautionary note.) Ask them to imagine something happy and talk about how that feels in the body. Then move to other emotions like excitement, sadness, fear, worry, shame, and anger. Not only does this teach emotional self-awareness, but also gets them in touch with what their gut is telling them about a particular decision, person, or situation. Talk to them about making decisions not only with their minds, but with their gut feelings too. Teach them that when they feel easy and comfortable with a decision to follow it, and when they feel tense and unsure to wait or do something different.

Of course, sometimes we are fooled, such as when we make fearful assumptions about unfamiliar situations or people who look different from us. But it can pay to listen to your intuition, especially when you have persistent or mysterious physical symptoms, or there is a gnawing sense in your gut that “something isn’t right.” In contrast, when you’re feeling effortlessly calm, excited, or happy, you can bet that this sense of ease indicates that you’re on a good path or perhaps in the right place, at the right time, or with the right people.

Please note that it is inadvisable to do body-awareness exercises with children who are suffering from untreated, moderate to severe trauma, as tuning into their hypervigilant, stressed-to-the-max bodies can create an acute crisis. These children first require professional treatment for their trauma. However, for only mildly- to moderately-stressed children, guided body awareness can be safe. Do stay attuned to each child and back off or provide another activity whenever a child doesn’t want to explore or play along with body- awareness exercises.

If you’re child or student is struggling with a difficult life experience, even if it happened in the past, you can help them express their emotions and move through their stress and trauma using The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a simple (free) writing process using the word Imagine to tell their story. It’s easy, powerful, and kids love it! Go to www.theimagineproject.org for more information.

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, 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.

Helping Students Cope with Stress in the 2021 School Year

It’s back to school time 2021 style and it’s just plain stressful for students, teachers, parents, and admin. The reasons are obvious and endless. I feel for all of those dealing with these unique and yet common stressors in schools.

We don’t need research to show us how stressed students are but here’s a few important points. Three quarters (75%) of American high schoolers and half of middle schoolers described themselves as “often or always feeling stressed” by schoolwork. A PEW survey shows that 70% of teens say anxiety and depression are a major problem among their peers. There is very little research regarding stress with elementary school students, but it’s definitely present. Watch the concern in their eyes, notice the increased behaviors of clinginess, unable to sit still, or even extremely quiet and a bit reclusive. Everyone is feeling it, no one is immune.

So how do you/we deal with this overwhelming stress? Beyond the common recommendations of deep breathing, exercise, eating healthy, yoga, laughter, and even a little bit of wine here and there (adults only), I suggest a beautiful, simple, and effective tool you can use yourself, with your students/children, and even as a family or group. It’s even FREE. Just go to www.theimagineproject.org to download the 7-step journal (for free).

The Imagine Project is a writing tool that gently asks kids K-12 (and adults) to write about a stressful event in their life—beginning every sentence using the word Imagine…

Imagine…coming back into a classroom after being gone from your school for over a year.
Imagine…being afraid.
Imagine…not knowing if your friends will be there.
Imagine…wearing a mask and not seeing your friends and teacher smile.
Imagine…being scared you might have to go back to virtual learning.
Imagine…not being able to focus because you’re scared.
Imagine…your teacher being kind and friendly.
Imagine…your friends feeling the same as you.
Imagine…relaxing and having fun in school.
Imagine…hope.

There are 7-steps to The Imagine Project (download the journals to follow each step in the journal format):
1. Write down something you love about your life.
2. Write down something that’s been difficult in your life, recently or in the past.
3. Take the event you wrote down in step 2 (a difficult event) and write a story about it using the word Imagine… to begin every sentence.

After Step 3 you can ask those writing (students in a classroom, participants in a group, or even as a family) to read their stories out loud. This is a powerful part of the process (and completely optional), it helps those reading to own their stories and feel heard by others around them.

4. Now write down how you want that story to end? Or what you learned from it if it’s already ended, all using the word Imagine…

Step 4 is a change in perspective, creating resilience and hope. (Click here to see the last 3 steps)

These steps give students the opportunity to express what’s in their hearts, share it in class if they’d like to, and then move forward beyond their difficult story. Some teachers might fear kids sharing their difficult stories in a classroom setting. It can be hard emotionally, but so powerful in creating comradery and a sense of family among students. With over 350,000 kids reached through The Imagine Project, we have not had any reports of bullying from this process. The opposite happens, compassion and kindness is cultivated.

The Imagine Project can be used once a semester or even once a week. Then when kids are facing a difficult situation in classrooms, at home, in school, or community they have a tool to fall back on to help them cope. Listen to 31-year veteran teacher Todd Daubert talking about using The Imagine Project in his classroom. He used The Imagine Project once a week as a tool for students to process their emotional challenges.

Research on Expressive Writing, and our research shows using The Imagine Project is powerful in decreasing stress and creating resilience. It’s simple and free!

For more information about The Imagine Project and helpful information on using it (videos, lessen plans, books, etc.), go to www.theimagineproject.org. Feel free to email Dianne through the website with any thoughts or questions.

Thank you and happy writing,

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.

3 Tips for Raising Healthy and Caring Children

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

Be Proactive and Healthy with Discipline

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

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

Always Be Consistent

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

Lead By Example

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

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

Take care and thanks for listening,

Dianne

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

Dianne is the founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps children K-12 (and adults) process and heal from difficult life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne has her Masters in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, has written multiple books, is an international speaker, lives outside of Denver, CO, and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

How to Use Emotional Freedom Technique(EFT)/Tapping

Many people are curious about Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), also called Tapping. Tapping is a tool anyone can use to help them deal with difficult emotions in life. All ages can be taught to use tapping, as young as 6 or 7 years old or as old as 100! It’s a simple, yet effective technique that can calm your nerves, relief anxiety, help you move through difficult emotions, and even help relieve physical pain and other ailments.

What is EFT/Tapping?

Tapping is based on the theories of Chinese medicine where they believe that energy runs through certain “meridians” (also might be called pathways) of the body like blood runs through veins and arteries. When the energetic pathways are blocked, illness happens. Energy blocks can be caused by stress and trauma. Inserting needles on those meridian points will release the energy causing the block, creating wellness again. In tapping, the same belief is true except we tap lightly on those points instead of using needles. There are various meridian points on the body that are related to specific emotions. When you tap on those points while talking to your subconscious, emotions are released and you can move into a state of comfort and wellness.

How to begin tapping?

Tapping is easy to learn, it just takes a bit of practice. You can watch these videos at www.theimagineproject.org to begin learning and practicing. Google EFT/tapping to find hundreds more video examples. Some practitioners have altered the pattern some, you can make it your own, but here is the simple overview:

  1. Ask yourself how your feeling. Angry? Sad? Ashamed? Sometime else? Measure how strong that emotion is on a scale of 1-10, 10 being intense. Also, feel where you feel that emotion in your body, maybe in your stomach, chest, throat, head, somewhere else? Just be aware of that physical sense in your body.
  2. Begin by using two fingers from either hand and tap with medium pressure just above your eyebrow to the inside, closer to your nose. Keep tapping as you say, “Even though I feel angry (or whatever emotion they named), I deeply and completely accept myself.”
  3. Now tap on your temple near your eye and say it again, “Even though I feel angry, I deeply and completely accept myself.” Now tap under your eye and say it again, “Even though I feel angry, I deeply and completely accept myself.” Now move to under your nose, tapping and saying, “I’m so angry.” Move to under your bottom lip and repeat. Now tap just under the middle of your collar bone, either side of your chest, continue to state your emotions (you can use more than 1 emotion). Move to under your armpit about two inches down, keep making about your emotions and tapping.
  4. Now move to the crevice or indentation on the top, pinky side of your hand and tap there while saying a profound statement about the emotion you are feeling. “I am really mad!” Stay tapping on that spot on the hand and look up with your eyes, then down. Look to the left and then right (do not move your head, just your eyes), make a circle with your eyes, go back the other way, hum a few notes of any tune you want (or just hum) and then count to five, then hum again. This is a critical part of the process, because it triggers different parts of the brain where emotion is often released.
  5. Now start all over again on the face and continue on all the spots you did the first round (eyebrow, temple, under your eye, under your nose, dimple in your chin, collar bone, below your arm pit, and the pinky side of the hand). Continue with this pattern until you are feeling better. This might take 5 minutes, or it might take 20 minutes (occasionally longer). You might sigh, take a deep breath, get distracted, smile. You can stop and ask yourself where you are emotionally on the scale of 1-10? Hopefully, it will be much lower, even 0! If not, keep going or switch to another emotion—there is often more than one emotion to deal with at a time.
  6. If you become very emotional during this process (this is actually good), don’t stop, keep going. Moving through intense emotion is an important part of the process. If you can’t remember the exact spots to tap on, no worries, just keep going, being exact doesn’t really matter. It’s the process of tapping in general and talking to your subconscious that creates the shift in emotion by releasing the stuck energy connected to the issue/emotion at hand. Keep practicing—you will see the amazing effects in a short time!

Research:

There have been hundreds of research projects looking at the effects of tapping. Overall they have shown that EFT lowers cortisol levels (cortisol is a stress hormone—too high of levels in your body can cause anxiety and numerous acute and long-term health problems), and it can also reprogram neuropathways in the brain. When the brain experiences chronic stress, the neuropathways of your brain are constantly in the stress mode—feeling anxiety, tension, and emotion often, even all the time. EFT/tapping can reprogram your brain to calm down, destress, and feel less negative emotion—and more positive emotion!

Like anything else learning to use tapping takes some time and practice, but keep trying and remember to use it anytime you are upset or just feeling off from life—the shift you will feel can be miraculous. It’s simple, effective, and free! If you’re issue doesn’t shift there might be something more complicated buried underneath that emotion, you may need to seek help from a therapist that uses EFT as part of their practice.

I would encourage you to try writing your Imagine story along with tapping, especially if you are struggling with an event in your life that has really made a negative impact on you emotionally (past or present). You can go to www.theimagineproject.org to download a free journal to get started.

Good luck and happy tapping!

Love,

Dianne