Archive for helping students cope with stress

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.

 

 

 

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.

Teaching Gratitude to Children

Gratitude is so simple, yet most people overlook its amazing benefits. Dr. David Hamilton, author of Why Kindness is Good for You, writes, “Gratitude is a mark of being kind to life by being aware of all that is around us, and when we are grateful, we acknowledge the people and situations in our life and express thanks for them.” We teach our children to say “thank you,” but it’s also important to model and teach them to see gratitude as a key philosophy of life. Seeing and feeling gratitude every day is one key to being resilient and successful.

There is quite a bit of research on gratitude and the positive effects. These positive effects make sense, because when you think about what you feel grateful for, you can’t help but feel relaxed, fulfilled, and blessed.

The Benefits of Gratitude

  1. Greater sense of well-being
  2. Improved physical health
  3. Improved self-esteem, resilience, and empathy
  4. Decreased aggression
  5. Increased optimism
  6. Improved sleep

Gratitude even improves relationships. Research shows that saying thank you to someone helps to create a more positive relationship. When a child feels gratitude from his or her parents for being helpful or for just being a good kid, the child feels safer and more empowered to say something when they are upset and need to talk.
It is fairly easy to teach kids to practice a life philosophy of gratitude. Using the 30-day Imagine, Gratitude, and Kindness Challenge (Step 7 in My Imagine Journal) is a good place to start. Kids can have fun creating a family gratitude board or a gratitude box where everyone can write, keep, and even share what they feel grateful for. In our family, we play The Gratitude Game in the car or at mealtime. Particularly if someone has had a bad day, this can help them boost their spirits and feel better.

The Gratitude Game:

Each person takes a turn saying what they are grateful for, beginning with, “I am grateful for…”. You can also use, “I love…” saying what you love about each person or life in general.

Everyone takes at least three turns. If someone is unhappy about something, it may help to first clear the air by letting them talk about what’s upsetting them, while others listen with compassion. After they’ve had their say, feel more relaxed, and are ready to change perspective, switch it to gratitude, and watch moods brighten.

If someone wants to remain cranky, it might feel like pulling teeth to get them to join the game, but be patient and gently invite them to join when they feel ready. They may be content to listen—and benefit from it—especially if they know it’s not being done to manipulate their mood. Even if they continue to resist, simply let them be, and honor their desire to come around in their own time, on their own terms.

If a child, teen, or adult is struggling to express their emotions and move forward into gratitude, they might need a tool to talk about how they’re feeling. The Imagine Project journaling tool will give them an opportunity to say what has happened and even express how it’s made them feel. It’s a simple, powerful, and free process you can download from anywhere in the world. Please click here to download the journal and learn more about The Imagine Project.

I’m grateful for 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.

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.

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.

How to Use Emotional Freedom Technique(EFT)/Tapping

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

What is EFT/Tapping?

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

How to begin tapping?

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

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

Research:

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

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

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

Good luck and happy tapping!

Love,

Dianne

Parents Can Cure Nature-Deficit Disorder DIY-Style

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

Time in Nature is Necessary

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

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

3 Ways Your Kids Can Find Mindfulness Through Nature

10 Reasons Why Being Outside is Important

8 Eye-Opening Ways Kids Benefit from Experiences with Nature

Plan a Playdate in Your Own Backyard

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

11 DIY Backyard Playground Ideas

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

18 Ridiculously Awesome Things to Do with a Kiddie Pool

Ensure Learning is Part of the Plan

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

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

Astronomy for Beginners: How to Get Started with Stargazing

Learning About Weather in Your Own Backyard

9 Great Outdoor Learning Activities for Springtime

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

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

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

Be well and thanks,

Dianne

(Thanks to Amanda Henderson for contributing this blog)

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

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

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

Mental Effects

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

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

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

Physical Effects

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

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

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

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

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

How to Limit Screen Time

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

Good luck! Love,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

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

Teach Your Child How to Enjoy Making Healthy Choices

Written by: Amanda Henderson

Showing your children how to make healthy, safe decisions is one of the most important lessons a parent can teachtheir child. It’s easy to help them make these decisions when you are right there by their side — but it’s those intimidating moments when you’re not around that you want to feel confident they are making good choices.

Unfortunately, you won’t always be there physically to support your child when they are offered alcohol, reach for their phone while driving, or sit on the couch all day playing video games. However, you can make the most of the times that you are there — in ways that will impact their decision-making for the rest of their lives. Here’s how:

Saying No to Drugs and Alcohol

Your child will be faced with the temptation to try tobacco, alcohol, and drugs at a much earlier age than you probably realize. In fact, studies show that many kids try their first sip of alcohol between 11 and 13 years old. On average, exposure to marijuana happens just a few years later. Since your child’s brain is still developing until the age of 25, it’s important they learn how to confidently say no to peer pressure. Plus, some of these habits, like smoking tobacco, may seem harmless at first, but can quickly turn into a lifelong habit with serious health consequences. Teach them to turn away from temptation by:

  • Using an excuse like “I have to be up early in the morning” or “I’ve tried it before and that stuff makes me sick.”
  • Encouraging your child to participate in team sports or school activities where both coaches and teammates create a drug-free support system.
  • Empowering your child to speak truthfully to peer pressure by practicing phrases like: “Do you know what that stuff does to your body? No, thanks!” or “Go ahead and destroy your mind. I’m good.”

Staying Safe on the Road

When your child starts to drive, you may not always be there to remind them of good habits. In fact, there might even be others there trying to pressure them into bad habits. Teach your teen road safety by:

  • Putting away phones while driving. Never, ever text and drive — not even at a stop light.
  • Monitoring and celebrating responsible driving by using a safe driving app.
  • Keeping a two-second cushion (about two car spaces) between their car and the car in front.
  • Calling you to come get them if they are overtired or distracted.
  • Using high beams when driving on country roads where wildlife is prevalent.
  • Slowing down and breaking earlier in weather where roads may be icy or snowy.

Searching for Balance

We all have days where we want to veg out on the couch, watch TV and eat macaroni and cheese — regardless of age. And days like that are okay, as long as they are infrequent. Teach your child how to be healthy now and in the future by showing them how to strike a balance between vegging out and exercise, healthy meals and sweet snacks, and playing on the tablet and reading a book. You can give them the tools to make lifelong good choices by:

  • Giving them occasional structured “veg out time” where they can choose which activity — like video games, TV or tablet — they want to do. Of course, make sure you have the right tech (whatever technology you need, you can find affordable options) and an internet connection that can keep up with everything!
  • Following up “veg out time” with something productive and social, like going for a walk, riding a bike or playing a board game with the family.
  • Allowing them to help you in the kitchen, making decisions together about meals and exploring healthy ingredients and recipes.

Encourage Them to Journal

Journaling helps everyone work through emotions so we aren’t bogged down by difficult life experiences that can preoccupy our minds. Children can enjoy these benefits too–especially those who have suffered stress and trauma. Giving children an avenue to express themselves can be a powerful tool to support their mental health by processing and letting go of negative or overwhelming thoughts so they can make better decisions. For a simple and effective form of journaling, download a free journal from the and encourage your child to write down their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Using The Imagine Project writing process can relieve short-term stress, ease depression and anxiety, and improve their academic performance.

Teaching is Doing

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Monkey see, monkey do.” In the 20th century, childhood psychologists proved that it wasn’t just a game — it’s how children learn and decide which behaviors are right and wrong. By showing your children which behaviors are appropriate, you set them up for success into adulthood. When you demonstrate all of the above behaviors your child will watch and learn. You can even take online classes yourself or together if you share a common interest—teaching them a good work ethic and commitment.

There is no manual for good parenting. There are, however, a lot of studies, theories and common-sense information that can help guide you along the way. As long as you are coming from a place of love and respect, you are well on your way to teaching your child resilience and self-reliance in any situation.

Thank you Amanda for writing this blog. Stay safe out there!

Love,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

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

 

Lessons Learned from The Imagine Project, Inc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much and be well.

Happy holidays and cheers to 2021!

Dianne

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