Archive for helping students cope with trauma

New research Showing Positive Outcomes after using The Imagine Project!

Little girl writing her Imagine story.

When teachers, counselors, admin, etc. use new curriculum/ideas in their school and classrooms, they like to know what they are using is backed by credible research. We have good news! Phase One of our research on The Imagine Project has come back significantly positive! If you aren’t familiar with The Imagine Project writing process, click here to see the free journals.

Until now The Imagine Project writing activity has been based on the plethora of research that’s been done on expressive writing over the last 25 years. In most of the studies, participants were asked to take 15 to 30 minutes to write about an emotionally challenging, stressful, even traumatic incident in their lives. Typically, they are asked to do this once a day for three to five days. Even though the time spent writing can be emotional and make the writer feel vulnerable, the long-term benefits are positive. Study measurements were done months, even years, after the writing exercises and positive results still existed.

Expressive writing research shows it can:

  • improve grade point average,
  • improve working memory,
  • improve writing skills,
  • decrease school dropout rates,
  • enhance immune function (fewer illnesses and fewer trips to the doctor),
  • decrease blood pressure,
  • promote wound healing after surgery,
  • decrease anxiety and depression,
  • help people feel better about life, and
  • lessen post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptoms.

We wanted to see more specifically how The Imagine Project affects a student who uses it. So we hired a well sought after research company called QREM (Quantitative Research Evaluation and Measurement) in Littleton, CO. QREM then designed extensively researched questionnaires for elementary, middle, and high school students looking at themes that included academic risk taking, outlook toward their future, positive school attitudes, stress management, support, and writing.

The research process took about 5 months to complete. We recruited various schools in Colorado and Washington. Students took a pretest ora posttest to minimize the test-retest effect. So students who took the pretest did not take the posttest and those who took the posttest had not taken the pretest. All did the Imagine Project writing activity steps 1-7 once in their classrooms. We tested 4th, 5th, 8th, and high school (from Alternative High Schools only because those were the students who were available at the time).

Our results were even stronger than we anticipated:

The Imagine Project has a substantial impact on middle school students.Middle school participants made more significant gains on the established constructs than any other age group. Specifically, middle school students made gains in their ability to manage their stress and their perception of support from others (increases of 11.5% and 6.3%, respectively).

Boys were especially receptive towards the Imagine Project.Boys of all age groups made substantial gains in many of the constructs –seeing improved attitudes towards school by 11.6%, their ability to manage stress by 9.8%, and their perceptions of support by 8.0%.

Girls improved with stress management.Middle and high school girls participating in the Imagine Project improved their overall stress management by 9.4%

Elementary School Findings showed gains in skills and comfort with writing. This information is backed by many teachers reporting their student’s love of writing increased after using The Imagine Project writing project. QREM researchers believe we did not see more changes in stress management with elementary school students because they are more difficult to measure due to being easily influenced by life events on a daily basis—and developmentally it can be challenging to measure these types of issues. But, teachers tell us all the time, the Imagine Project makes a huge impact in a student’s self-awareness, ability to cope with stress, improved kindness, and it brings classrooms together in support of each other.

We are very pleased with the results of our Phase One research project. We are now in Phase Two, looking more in-depth at constructs such as compassion, self-awareness, stress management, and love of writing. We understand how critical mental health and education research is to implementation of programs in a classroom/school, and we want to know the best format for applying the Imagine Project writing process. With kids as stressed as they our in our world, they (and you) need tools for support. Go to www.theimagineproject.org to download our free journals!

I hope you find this helpful and spread the word about The Imagine Project!

Thank you,

Dianne

The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps kids, teens, and adults overcome challenging life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. Her simple, yet profound 7-step writing tool, now used by schools across the US, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

Why Play is Important to a Child’s Mental Health

Laughter, running, jumping, being silly, twirling, smiling, creating—all are part of play and having fun! Instinctively, as parents and teachers, we know the importance of play for our kids (and ourselves)—it gives them/us a welcome break from stress and promotes mental health. Yet, we often put play last after homework, sports, jobs, and the constant daily routines of life. The American Academy of Pediatrics promotes play as essential to a child’s development because research shows that it improves learning, cognitive awareness, physical, social, and emotional wellbeing. Fortunately, play is making a comeback because we are remembering how critical it is to healthy brain and body development. Play gives kids tremendous learning opportunities, including how to work with others, manage feelings, think, plan, make decisions, and read other people’s emotions. Play also promotes physical fitness, creativity, self-expression, self-regulation, and healthy boundaries—basically physical and emotional wellness and mental health!

Global Play Labs

There are organizations all over the world embracing the forgotten benefits of play. In Bangladesh, they have created play labs for kids in poorer communities who aren’t exposed to the benefits of preschool and early learning. The World Bank is watching and adding billions of dollars to these resources to help bring a play curriculum to underprivileged kids all over the world. Research has shown that investing in a child early will promote brain development and improve their abilities later in life.

Global School Play Day

There is even a Global School Play Day on February 5th each year where kids take an entire day off school and just play! Teachers do not guide the play, the students do—only rules for safety and that’s it—just play! Imagine how important these days are for stress relief, interpersonal interaction, and just understanding life.

Therapeutic Play

Play can also be very therapeutic for children struggling with difficult life experiences. Doing something completely different, getting away from a difficult situation, or giving a child the opportunity to process the scenario that’s been difficult by acting it out in play will support a child’s mental health. A friend who had a hospitalized premature infant said her girls often played “hospital,” because having their sister hospitalized was so difficult for them. If your kids are stressed or acting out their trauma in play, don’t try to fix it or guide it in a certain direction, let them play it out (as long as they are safe)— eventually they will master or resolve the issues they are working on. If you have concerns about them or what you see, talk to your pediatrician or consult a therapist.

Teaching your child (or yourself) to play

Many of us didn’t grow up understanding how to play so it can be hard to teach and encourage your child to play. But the cool thing is that children naturally know how to play, and you can follow their lead and have fun doing it! The first step is to find out what your child likes to do. This may change over time, so be flexible. Some kids might like cool science experiments, some only want to do something physical and outdoors, others may have music interests, want to cook with you, draw or create—the list is endless, but try to avoid video games—more can be learned without a screen! Instead provide the raw materials your child needs to pursue their interests, explore their imaginations, experience the world around them, or express their creativity.

Ideas for Play

Here are some suggestions for games to play with students/kids. They will help with physical and emotional wellness.

• Chase bubbles.
• Have a picnic (indoors or out).
• Play hide-n-seek.
• Card or board games.
• Puzzles
• Decorate cookies together.
• Guess the mystery food.
• Have a pillow fight.
• Cut snowflakes out of paper.
• “I see something in Grandma’s grocery store and
it starts with the letter ___.”
• “I spy with my little eye, something that is (name
a color). Guess what it is!”
• Play music, dance, and freeze—see how silly
everyone looks!

If you or your child is struggling with stress or an event in their life that has been difficult, play can be a perfect outlet. Sometimes they may need to talk or write about their feelings before they can let go and play. Using The Imagine Journals will help them process what is making them feel down, sad, mad, etc. Try doing The Imagine Project with your classroom or in your family to help support their mental health and bring them back to a place they can run, jump, and laugh again. For more information on stress and trauma in kids you can read The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to rise above Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2018) You can download the free journals at www.theimagineproject.org)
Thank you and happy playing!
Dianne

When Trauma Happens in a Classroom or School

Unfortunately, we live in a world where trauma happens. It might be a school shooting, a natural disaster, or a significant loss of a student, teacher, or admin, but it happens more often that we’d like. I recently sat in with a classroom of 4thgraders who lost a fellow schoolmate to a fatal disease—a significant school trauma. Their journey in understanding what happened is complicated, but I was grateful to be there to help them through it using The Imagine Project.

Drew Rushton is described as a fun-loving, kind, silly, Dennis the Menace type kid who was a ray of sunshine in the eyes of those who had the honor of knowing and loving him. He knew no enemies and was gracious to everyone—which means he had a lot of friends who will miss him. With the loss of Drew comes great sadness to many, particularly his friends and classmates. I was asked by a 4thgrade teacher to come in and help start The Imagine Project process just about 2 weeks after Drew’s passing. Drew was not in this particular classroom, but he was the same age and many of the kids were friends or had known him from previous classes.

The second step of The Imagine Project asks the kids to write a down something that has been difficult for them in their lives. Yes, even young kids have experienced tough times, the most common are moving, loss of pets or grandparents, injuries, or parents divorcing. Sadly, in the class there were more than a handful of kids who wrote down, “Drew”, just “Drew”. For a few of the students, it was all they could write. They couldn’t add any more details, just “Drew”.

Step 3 asks each student to write an Imagine story—telling in more detail the story of their difficult experience—each sentence begins with the word Imagine…  Ann Henderson, their teacher (who was wonderful BTW), and I walked around the classroom helping them with ideas, spelling, how to write, etc. There were a few kids who were able to write their feelings about Drew, even though it was hard, they found the words. But there were a few more that had a hard time saying what was in their hearts and minds. They wanted to write, but it was too hard for them, they didn’t want to cry, and they knew they would. It’s painful to talk about a loss that still hurts. We encouraged them, but they just couldn’t. So we honored their feelings and after some time writing, we brought everyone together in a circle. Bravely, one little boy read his story about Drew out loud to the other kids.

Imagine having a friend who was incredible.

Imagine that friend becoming very sick.

Imagine thinking that friend would be okay even though he had been through a lot.

Imagine that friend dying.

Imagine seeing his body and signing the casket.

Imagine going to his celebration of life and hearing stuff about him you never knew.

Imagine knowing he’s in a better place.

Gavin, 4thgrade

As Gavin read his story I watched the other kids, particularly the ones who struggled writing their stories. They were fighting back the tears, hearing and feeling similar emotions. After they read their stories (those that wanted to) we talked a bit about how hard it was to not have Drew there anymore. I was even able to do a group round of tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique—see below) with the kids which really helped them let go of some of their sadness and move into the comfort of knowing Drew is in a better place.

There is such comfort knowing others feel the same as you do when you’re hurting. It doesn’t necessarily take the pain away, but it helps. I’m told over and over again by teachers and counselors that The Imagine Project brings out buried feelings and opens up avenues of compassion and empathy for kids (and adults). A child writing about a difficult time is powerful, hopeful, and healing—and they love it! They want to share how they feel and many of them just don’t know how—it’s not a skill we always teach to kids, but it’s so important.

Giving a classroom, school, or community the opportunity to work through a traumatic time is critical for healing and bringing kids and adults together in a comradery they may never have experienced before. They grow together in healing, love, trust, and empathy because they understand each other and themselves a little bit better.

If your school, classroom, group, or community has experienced any sort of traumatic experience, it’s helpful to have those involved write their Imagine stories together. By writing and sharing, there is a deeper understanding of our own hearts and minds, and those around us. What a great way to bring people together and embrace the amazing human resilience. We are all resilient, it’s just easier when you have others who understand and maybe even feel similar.

Ms. Henderson had this to say after doing The Imagine Project with her class:

My overall takeaway is that the project gave the students permission and encouragement to write and talk about their feelings in an open and safe forum. A very few students have had some counseling before and sharing in this way has been normalized, but many students have had less exposure to the idea that they can/should get their feelings out and learn how to process them. With a common trauma, I think this is especially important because the kids know that other peers are finding this difficult time too, and that it’s ok to feel upset and ungrounded at the moment.”

She added the next day that the kids were overall calmer too. Does The Imagine Project help with childhood trauma—absolutely. Is it easy to implement—yes! Will it bring up emotion for everyone, probably, but you can always try using Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) with yourself and the kids to help. If you want to learn more about EFT (also called tapping) you can google it and watch a few YouTube videos or I explain how to use it in my book: The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress. The Imagine Project Journals can be downloaded for free here.

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or Tapping)

Wording I used for group tapping in this classroom—the kids repeated after me and tapped where I tapped:

“Even though I’m sad Drew is gone, I love and accept myself” (above the eyebrow)

“Even though it’s hard not to have Drew around anymore, I love and accept myself” (under the eye)

“Even though I’m sad Drew is gone, I love an accept myself” (under the nose)

“It’s hard to lose someone you love” (chin)

“I miss Drew a lot” (collar bone)

“I wish I could see him again” (under the arm)

“My heart is sad” (top of the head)

“I hope I feel better soon” (eyebrow)

“It helps to know my friends feel the same way I do” (under the eye)

“I know my feelings will get better” (nose)

“It helps to know he’s in a better place” (chin)

“He’s probably watching over us right now” (collar bone)

“I bet he’s smiling and playing and laughing” (under the arm)

“It makes me smile to think of him smiling” (top of the head)

“He’s happy and that makes me feel better” (eyebrow)

**The trick to tapping is using the points that are typical in tapping and saying what the other person/student might be feeling. You may not know exactly what they are feeling, but you will have a sense and you can try a few different emotions/thoughts to get to their general thoughts. After acknowledging their painful emotions it’s important to bring them around to positive thoughts, gently.

Thank you and happy Imagining!

Love,

Dianne

Using the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)/Tapping to Help Kids Process Stress and Trauma.

Are you looking for tools to help kids/students with stress and trauma? Unfortunately, stress and trauma are common issues kids and teens must deal with everyday. In the last decade, anxiety and depression has increased dramatically in children. Social media, peer pressure, parental pressure, and sadly in the US, the horrible fear of a school shooting. Although many things contribute to stress in our kids, few tools are given to them that support emotional balance—until now! This photo shows kids before an athletic event using a technique called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) also called tapping—a great tool to help kids manage stress and trauma, in and outside the classroom.

Trauma is all to present in kids as well. The Advanced Childhood Experiences study (also called ACES) was done on over 17,000 participants in the San Diego, CA area which showed that 50% of all kids have at least 1 traumatic event before the age of 17! This study was done on primarily white, middle class, well-educated kids. Add in poverty, crime, even rural areas and the rate goes up to 70-100%. This is a serious health care issue in our society (and the world) because stress and trauma is hard on the body and mind causing long-term issues such as heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, frequent issues, and serious mental health issues including depression and anxiety, etc.

Treating stress and trauma is extremely difficult, particularly when practitioners only focus only on using traditional talk therapy and medication. These tools can be helpful, but not healing. So parents, therapists, even teachers, must find other, more alternative therapies to help kids (and adults) support and heal stress and trauma.

EFT/Tapping is a perfect alternative therapy to teach kids (and use on yourself). It’s is easy to learn/use and research has shown it’s highly effective in treating stress and trauma, even with kids. It’s free if you watch YouTube videos to learn how to use it, or there are plenty of inexpensive books where you can learn to use the process. Here is an overview on how to use tapping with yourself and kids. For more information check out the websites www.thetappingsolution.com, www.tap-easy.com or you will find more information on how to tap with yourself and your kids in The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress(Yampa Valley Publishing, 2017). Watch the YouTube videos on www.theimagineproject.orgor google tapping to visually see the points you tap on the body. Use a medium touch to tap on each point described below:

How to use EFT/Tapping with kids:

  1. First help your child figure out the strongest negative emotion they are feeling at that moment, i.e. anger, sadness, or fear. Let them say it in their own words and tap with them, using their words.
  2. Ask them how bad their emotion is before you begin, using a scale of 1-10, 10 being very bad and 1 being minimal. When you are done tapping you can ask them again; hopefully it will be only at a 0 or 1 when you are done.
  3. Ask them if they can tell where they are storing that emotion in their body—they might feel an ache in their belly, tightness in their neck or chest, a headache, or other pain (they may not be able to answer this question which is fine).
  4. Tell them to do what you do and say what you say. (Note, every practitioner adapts their own version of the tapping sequence, if you see something you like better on YouTube go ahead and use it.)
  5. 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.”
  6. Now tap on your temple near your eye and say it again, “Even though I feel angry, I deeply and completely accept myself.”
  7. Now tap under your eye and say it again, “Even though I feel angry, I deeply and completely accept myself.” (Continue to have your child follow your tapping and say what you say.)
  8. Now move to under your nose, tapping and saying, “I’m so angry.” Show a little emotion so your child can copy you.
  9. Move to under your bottom lip and repeat. You can mix it up and say what your child might be angry at, perhaps school, friends, or confrontations: “I’m so angry that boy did that to me!”
  • Now tap just under the middle of your collar bone (either side of your chest—you can even switch sides of your body and face—it doesn’t matter). Keep making statements that you think your child might feel. “So and so was so mean”, “I am so mad at him!” Ask your child what they want to say and keep tapping.
  • Move to under your armpit about two inches down, keep making statements and tapping. Think about what your child might be feeling and make those statements or let them talk. Keep having them repeat after you.
  • 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 your child is 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, count to five out loud, hum a few notes and then count to five again. This is a critical part of the process, because it triggers different parts of the brain where emotion is often released. If your child is feeling more emotional at this point, have them repeat all of the eye movements, humming and counting again a few times, all while tapping on the hand. Do it with them!
  • 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 can tell they are feeling better. This might take 5 minutes, or it might take 20 minutes (occasionally longer). They might sigh, take a deep breath, get distracted, smile. You can stop and ask them to give you a number between 1 and 10 naming how emotional they feel now. 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.
  • If they become really emotional during this process, don’t stop, keep going. Tell them it will only last for a minute. If they need it, you can always tap on their bodies for them. Talking and tapping for them works, but it is better to let them participate. With little ones, under about 6 years old, you can tap back and forth on their legs or shoulders and just talk to them about something that is bothering them, it typically helps. You can even try it with babies!
  • One last note. Throughout the process, remind your child to think about the area on their bodies where they are holding the negative emotion (you asked them about this earlier)—it will help them to release the energy/emotion and keep them from feeling too emotional by focusing on their body not their emotions. Keeping them thinking about their bodies helps keep them grounded as well. It might sound complicated, but it’s not. Practice it a few times and you will be able to use it any- time, anywhere. It’s a great tool for many different issues!

A shortened version of EFT is simple yet it’s still ef- fective. It’s what I use in the classroom, or on myself when I don’t want anyone to know I’m tapping. Have kids cross their arms over their hearts and tap back and forth gently on the front of their shoulders, not too hard and not too soft. They can also cross their arms and tap under their arms, or just back and forth on their legs. If a child is upset, you can also tap on them, for them. It’s most beneficial to tap this way for six to seven minutes, until you see them relax and they can refocus on what they are doing.

Finding an EFT therapist should not be too difficult. Google EFT therapists in your area or go to www.thetappingsolution.com to find a therapist. Be sure to ask the therapist how long they have been practicing EFT and their experience with kids. If you want to use EFT for more serious issues such as trauma or depression, make sure they have experience working in those areas as well.

For those of you who have seem me present in person and tap with a group, here are some suggestions as to the statements you can make with kids individually or with small or large groups. Say each statement as you move from point to point on the face and body. Ab lib if you’d like, add more emotions or other statements that come to you. The goal is to think about what others might be feeling (or what you are feeling), make that statement with them. Moving from the painful to the positive. Tell them to do what you do and say what you say.

My story is hard.
My story hurts.
My story makes me feel sad.
My story makes me feel angry.
My story makes me feel ashamed.
I don’t like my story, it’s hard (you can repeat some of these again or try some other emotions you think of)
What is I could write a new story?
What if my story didn’t affect me as much anymore?
What if I could write a new story.
I’m thinking I can write a new story.
A story that I want to have in my life.
A story full of love, fun, and joy.
I deserve a new story.
Because I am amazing.
I’m excited about writing a new story.
Anything is possible.
Because I am,
I can,
And I will!

For more support helping kids with stress and trauma download My Imagine Journals—they are free!

Good luck!

Dianne

The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps kids, teens, and adults overcome challenging life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. Her simple, yet profound 7-step writing tool, now used by schools across the US, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

Supporting Stressed Kids in the Classroom

Going back to school can be fun, exciting—and stressful. Teachers have to deal with organizing lesson plans, getting to know new students and staff, budgeting for new expenses, and juggling/organizing their time differently once the kids are back in the classroom.

Students can be stressed too. Pressures of peer groups, sibling rivalry, highly demanding schedules, social media, problems with boyfriends/girlfriends, too much screen time, and family expectations are all sources of kids stress. And for some children, school can be a source of excessive stress. Children may feel overwhelmed when they don’t understand or can’t deal with their workloads. They 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. 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.

Research done by Stress in America on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA) showed that teens, ages 13 to 17, tend to feel levels of stress similar to that of adults. On a scale of 1 to 10, teens reported, on average, a stress level of 5.8 during the school year (healthy is considered 3.9), and even in the summertime, a level of 4.6! Teens who face poverty, community violence, a challenging home life, and social deprivation (lacking close, in-person, one-on-one friendships) are at a higher risk for stress. Research also reveals that childhood stress correlates with a greater risk for adult illness due to chronically high cortisol levels. Chronic and/or intense stress in the developing brain can create negative long-term brain function issues that turn into anxiety, depression, difficulty processing, poor memory and a host of other problems.

So overall, it’s best to address and support stress in students (and ourselves)! Here are a few suggestions for teachers to support stressed kids:

  • Decrease extra noise and visual stimulation, keeping the room as quiet and uncluttered as possible.
  • When possible, use daylight or full-spectrum lighting, rather than convention lighting. Harvest natural light by keeping windows free of obstruction.
  • Give an adequate amount of time for transitions, as hurrying students can be stressful for them.
  • Play soft music in the classroom.
  • Use a chime or a soothing bell sound to get their attention or when they are moving to new stations.
  • Take laughter breaks, such as sharing jokes,watching funny videos, or reading a funny story.
  • Take movement breaks, such as dancing, yoga, stretching, or jumping jacks.
  • Teach appreciation through talking about daily gratitude in a morning meeting and/or a wrap-up gratitude circle at the end of the day.
  • Use mindfulness techniques such as taking 2 minutes in the morning and have them close their eyes and follow their breathing. Or they can lie on their backs with a jewel on their forehead, eyes closed focusing only on the jewel and relaxing. Play a relaxing song while they close their eyes and sitting in their chair or on the floor.
  • Find ways to calm yourself before and during school (a calm teacher means a calm classroom). Play inspiring, uplifting songs on the way to work to help you set your energy for the day, journal, take a movement break for yourself!

And of course, giving students the opportunity to write about their stress using The Imagine Project Journaling process can help immensely. The Imagine Project journaling is a simple 7-step expressive writing activity that helps a student talk about what’s stressful in their lives, think through it and improve the way they see the stress, and ultimately, clear the stress and Imagine a new story in it’s place. The Imagine Journaling process is unique because it uses the word Imagine…to begin each sentence. Kids love it (they really do) and it gets them to write more!

After a teacher uses The Imagine Project with their kids and the child understands the process, the teacher can suggest to a student who is stressed to write an Imagine story about what’s bothering them. The student might want to show their teacher their story, or not. You can also ask the student to write an Imagine story to a sibling, parent, or friend they might be struggling with—it works!! They feel better and everyone understands the issue better so they can move forward.

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) also called tapping can really help a stressed student (or teacher). Look for videos on www.theimagineproject.org about tapping or find one that helps you on Youtube. It’s a great tool too!

Stress is a fact of life in our society. Kids need resources to build resilence and understand they have the grit to overcome most anything! Helping your stressed student is key to supporting their ability to learn and grow positively in life. I hope these simple tips will support you and your classrooms. Download the journals (for free) here!

Thank you,

Dianne

The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps kids, teens, and adults overcome challenging life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. Her simple, yet profound 7-step writing tool, now used by schools across the US, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

 

 

 

 

An Imagine Challenge for Teachers

Tis that time of year again; teachers are trying not to think about going back to school—but, unfortunately, it’s creeping up on your horizon. There are mixed feelings about the up and coming new school year; excitement, dread, curiosity, doubt, hope, and worry are just a few. Where does a teacher begin when he or she is planning for their future 8-10 months with students? How about writing your Imagine Intentions for the school year?

The Imagine Project is about expressing emotion and processing difficult life circumstances through expressive writing—ultimately it’s about imagining the possibilities in your life. What if you set your goals/intentions in the Imagineformat for the next school year?

There’s tons of research about the power of goal setting. Jeff Bossfrom Forbesmagazine writes that setting goals:

1) drives your focus toward actionable behavior,

2) guides your focus in a certain direction,

3) helps sustain momentum,

4) aligns your focus,

5) and promotes self-mastery.

Intentions are clear and positive goals regarding what you want to have and experience in life. If you have a distinct end in mind, your thoughts, actions, attitude, and choices will move in that direction. If you don’t have a distinct end in mind, you will stumble and wander without direction. Research has proven that defined intentions and goals reap greater success in many areas of life, including education.

So why not write your Imagine goals/intentions for the coming year? What a powerful way to positively influence the coming school year. It’s easy. Here are a few simple examples from teachers:

Imagine…students coming to school resting, fed, and ready to learn.

Imagine…seeing my students faces as they become excited about learning a new lesson.

Imagine…finding the perfect lessons to keep kids engaged.

Imagine…all of my students understanding the lessons I teach with ease and effortlessness.

Imagine…kids being kind and compassionate to one another each and every day.

Imagine…feeling appreciated by parents and administration.

Imagine…taking care of myself, staying rested, eating right, and exercising.

Sylvia Yager, middle school science teacher

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Imagine…a year of 25 students that are happy, kind and compassionate

Imagine…staff working together to ensure all students are safe, successful and love coming to school.

Imagine… a class of kindergarten students that have not experienced stress or trauma and have experienced nothing but genuine love and happiness.

Imagine…meeting the social/emotional needs of all students.

Imagine…giving all students the confidence that they can accomplish any dream they have.

Imagine…the next 9 months of less sleep, extra work hours and over spending, but knowing it is all worth it because all of your students are happy, loving school and learning more than you ever imagined.

Imagine…the smiles you will see when your students “get it!”

Imagine…starting everyday with hugs and smiles and ending everyday with hugs and smiles!

Amy Ford, Kindergarten teacher

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 Imagine each child feeling safe and loved.

 Imagine every teacher feeling honored to do the daily work they do!

 Imagine public education offering such a wide variety of tools, resources, structures, strategies, help, support, programs and staff that each and every child learns and grows from right where they start!

Imagine…students being excited to write!!

Sam Alexander, 3-5thgrade teacher

Writing your Imagine stories about your coming year is simple (you can find the Adult Journal download here). You may find yourself becoming emotional at times, thinking about some negative past experiences, or even a few beautiful moments that showed you why you do the amazing work you do. Overall, it will be helpful to express yourself—your challenges, your hopes and dreams—and push this year to be the best year yet. Guiding your thoughts and energy on a positive path is always helpful.

Teaching is such an extremely important profession in our world. I hope you recognize the incredible impact you are making in the world—one child at a time. Each and every one of us is so very grateful. Imagine the impact you can make!!

Bring The Imagine Project to your classroom, school, and district! Find our more and download the journals for free at www.theimagineproject.org.

Thank you!

Dianne

The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps kids, teens, and adults overcome challenging life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. Her simple, yet profound 7-step writing tool, now used by schools across the US, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

Trauma Informed Schools

I recently attended the Trauma Informed Schools Conference in St. Charles, MO, hosted by the Beyond Consequences Institute (a great trauma focused organization founded by Heather Forbes, MSW). My overall impression was WOW! There were 1500 teachers, counselors, administrators, etc. who attended this conference that was filled with endless information about how to support and educate a child who has experienced trauma. I wish every educator could have been there, but for those who couldn’t here are some highlights:

  1. Recognize regulation vs. dysregulation!

The incidence of previous or current trauma in students is high—anywhere from 50-100% of all kids have experienced at least 1 traumatic event before their 17th birthday. Having a Trauma Informed School means understanding and helping kids who suffer from emotional imbalances that stem from trauma. These emotional imbalances can cause many different symptoms/behaviors including ADHD, poor focusing, concentration and memory, anxiety, depression, and a host of other issues. Heather suggests that instead of labeling a student as having a behavioral or learning issue, see that the impact they’ve had from their trauma has caused their nervous system to become dysregluated (i.e. abnormal).

A student who is regulated is calm, focused, and open to learning. They have a nervous system (which includes their brain) that can function well and comprehend. On the other hand, if a child has experienced trauma, their nervous system is “lit up” which causes their brains to be somewhat jumbled and chaotic, they can’t focus or comprehend, and their behavior is probably not conducive to a calm, happy classroom—they are dysregulated. All children (and adults) will become dysregulated at times in life, stress can easily cause dysregulation in all of us. However, an emotionally healthy student who has not experienced trauma, can reregulate themselves easily and quickly after experiencing stress. A child who has experienced trauma often has difficulty reregulating themselves—calming down, sitting still, and focusing.

Teachers, counselors, and administrators have the difficult task of understanding how to deal with kids who are dysregulated. You will need many tools and tricks to help a traumatized child reregulate; here are a few options.

What helps to regulate a child/student:

  1. Exercise/movement,
  2. Mindfulness and meditation techniques,
  3. Singing Bowls,
  4. Fidget gadgets,
  5. EFT or tapping with a child,
  6. Yoga,
  7. Journaling with My Imagine Journal,
  8. Talking with a support person,
  9. Nature or being with animals.

When a teacher sees that a child is dysregulated, know that the child is experiencing something that has caused him/her to be triggered into dysregulation. Use your toolbox to help the child reregulate so he/she can settle down their nervous system, mentally come back into the classroom and learn with more ease.

  1. Building a Sense of Community is Key!

My favorite line of the entire conference was from Mr. James Moffett, a principal from a high-risk school in KS. Every morning at the end of his PA announcements he tells the kids, “Remember, we love you and there is nothing you can do about it!” Imagine the feeling this gives the students at his school. Almost every presenter talked about the importance of building a sense of community in your schools and classrooms to create a trauma informed classroom/school. When a child feels a sense of belonging, trust, love, and hope, they will feel empowered, capable, and regulated! Mr. Moffett believes this atmosphere begins with the teachers and administration. Let your kids know they are loved, that you believe in them, and have hope for tomorrow. See what’s possible instead of what they can’t do. Give them a warm place to land when they come to school from a not so safe home life. Show them compassion every chance you get. Easier said than done I realize, but starting with gratitude for them showing up, say words like, “I notice…”, “I saw you…”, and “With persistence you can…” Give them empowering encouragement such as, “I have faith…”, “I trust…”, and “I know…”. Pick a student and for 10 days use these statements on them over and over, and then move to the next student. You will see the difference!

The Imagine Project journaling program is perfect for creating a sense of community. Students write their stories using the word, “Imagine…” and then share them by reading them out loud to the other students. Everyone in the classrooms hears what’s in the hearts of others and the stories behind their behaviors. Kids become more accepting of one another, supporting each other, and creating a sense of trust and family—this has been reported by many teachers and students.

  1. Create an environment that feels safe.

A child who walks into a classroom that is organized, positive, calm, and happy tells the student that the person in charge is ready and capable of taking care of them (they may not feel this at home). Here are some tips speakers gave for helping to create a trauma sensitive classroom:

  1. Keep your room organized (this may be hard for some, recruit teachers or friends to help you). Organization is calming to the nervous system, helping with regulation,
  2. Greet each student as the come into the classroom using their first names,
  3. Seat students in groups of 2-4,
  4. Use all the senses to calm the space in the room such as a diffuser for calming oils (Lavender is a good one), plants, soft music/sounds (singing bowls are a great tool), and keep the air fresh when you can by opening a window when possible.
  5. Using a mindfulness technique and/or breathing technique at the beginning of each class—this will help the kids and you. It literally only takes a minute or two. Have the kids close their eyes and follow their breath as you guide them for 3 or 4 breaths.

Because trauma is so prevalent in our children today, it’s critical that teachers, counselors, and administrators educate themselves and bring as many tools as possible to help their school as they become trauma informed. A child needs social emotional support to learn and grow, without it they are more likely to fail. Look for regulation and dysregulation—have options that will help reregulate a student. You may have to try more than one trick to support students—something that helps one student may not help another. If you would like more information about stress and trauma in kids, read The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above, Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing). Download The Imagine Project Journals to begin helping your students regulate and create a sense of community in your classrooms.

Thank you!

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps kids, teens, and adults overcome challenging life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. Her simple, yet profound 7-step writing tool, now used by schools across the US, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

Supporting the Mental Health of our Children

Yet another school shooting—ugh—the pain, the anger, the despair, and the confusion. I/we hope this one is different. Could it be the tipping point for students, parents, teachers, and possibly even lawmakers to realize we have some serious issues in our country; issues with the mental health of our children—and gun control? I won’t address the gun control issue here; instead I’d like to focus on supporting the mental health of our children.

I’ve been working with children with mental health issues for over 15 years. The past 3 years have been spent working in classrooms with children of all ages and from all walks of life. It doesn’t matter what socio-economic class a child is in, they are still stressed—more stressed than you think. The stress grows and compounds in more at-risk communities—those where poverty, crime, and high levels of trauma are more prevalent, but there are difficult life challenges everywhere. Every child—no matter who there parents are, where they live, or what their life style is—needs tools to cope with stress and trauma. If they don’t have the tools and resources to cope with life, they find other ways to express pain and sadly, one of those is with violence.

I’d like to suggest a wonderful resource for all parents, teachers, counselors, students, youth leaders, etc. The Imagine Project is a tool that helps children deal with stress and difficult life circumstances. A tool that is simple, powerful, and effective in supporting the mental health of kids (and adults). It’s a 7-step expressive writing process that uses the word Imagine… to begin every sentence. Expressive writing research shows that writing about our feelings helps us release bottled up emotions, understand our circumstances better, and shift our perspective to a positive viewpoint. Using the word Imagine… amplifies this process because it allows the writer to be creative and detach slightly from their story as they write, which expedites the healing process.

As I’ve traveled across the country working with all types of children ages K-12. I’ve heard stories about bullying, kids feeling like they aren’t good enough, moving, loss, illness (themselves or loved ones), suicide ideation, parents who have left them or are in prison, witnessing murder, and/or being molested. It’s mind-blowing to hear what children can tolerate and bounce back from. These stories come from every classroom! The stress and trauma of our kids is real—in every walk of life.

An Imagine story from a local, middle class school comes to mind. As I stood in the library listening to 5th graders read their story, one boy, who was typically very quiet bravely stood up and read his story to the entire 5th grade.

Imagine…your dad leaving when you were little.

Imagine…not having a place to live.

Imagine…going to 6 different schools in 3 years.

Imagine…not having any friends.

Imagine…being made fun of.

Imagine…wanting a best friend.

Imagine…always hoping you will fit in.

Now you may worry that this child would be made fun of after reading his story out loud—the opposite happened. It was remarkable how much compassion the other students felt for this little boy after listening to his story. Their teacher told me that after the other 5th graders heard his story they played with him and made sure he was included. This didn’t just last for a couple of days, it lasted the entire school year—and hopefully a lifetime. I see this compassion in every classroom, kids care about other kids, and they feel better about themselves when they know that they aren’t the only one feeling sad, angry, worried, overwhelmed, etc.

We know that the shooter at Stoneman Douglas High School in the Parkland, FL was troubled. He’s had a very difficult life filled with turmoil and loss. What if someone had listened, included him, and helped him express his feelings? Did someone try—I don’t know, if they did, it wasn’t enough.

I do wonder about the 5th grader above—what if he wasn’t able to write about, express his feelings, and then feel included? What would his life have become? Would he have wanted to express his anger through addiction, self-harm, or violence? Thankfully, we will never know the answer to that question. I do know The Imagine Project helped him, along with thousands of other students who have experienced it.

Every child has a story—a story that is aching to be told. Given the chance to tell it, a child feels better, and then they are given the opportunity to Imagine new possibilities in it’s place. When we speak our truth—when a child speaks their truth—their hearts feel heard and healing happens.

Please consider using The Imagine Project with your child, in your school or group. It’s simple and can be part of your writing curriculum or a fun home project—and it’s FREE! Go to the www.theimagineproject.org to find out more.

Thank you!
Dianne

The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps kids, teens, and adults overcome challenging life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. Her simple, yet profound 7-step writing tool, now used by schools across the US, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

5 Tips on How-to Help Kids Set Intentions

 

January is a month for new beginnings. We often dream about what’s possible for the upcoming year creating hopes for new life experiences. Research has proven that defined intentions and goals reap greater success in many areas of life. Yet many don’t think about setting intentions and may not understand how to teach kids to set intentions. An intention is a clear and positive goal regarding what you want to have and experience in life. If you have a distinct end in mind, your thoughts, actions, attitude, and choices will move in that direction. If you don’t have a distinct end in mind, you will stumble and wander without direction.

Intention setting is a life skill we can teach our children that will benefit them now and in the future. Here are some tips to help you and your child learn how to set their intentions:

  1. Play a game imagining new possibilities:

Imagining new possibilities in life is a great conversation starter with kids. It can be fun, interesting, and exciting. As you are beginning your school day, coming back from recess, eating dinner, having a snack, driving in the car, or at bedtime; ask your student/child if they could do anything in the world, what would it be? You can use the word Imagine if you’d like.

Imagine…being a doctor, teacher, musician, etc.

Imagine…swimming with dolphins.

Imagine…going to college.

Don’t worry if their ideas are farfetched; let them dream, at least they are thinking about something positive—positive thinking improves brain function!

  1. Set daily intentions:

Make a fun event out of setting your intentions daily. In the morning when you/they wake up or as the students are sitting down to begin their day, ask them, “What kind of day are we going to have today?” See how they answer and point out the positive. Help them remember that setting your intentions daily does set the foundation for the mood/dynamics of the day.

  1. Help them clarify what they want:

Whether your setting intentions for the day, month, year, or lifetime, it’s important to clarify what you want. Saying, “I just want to be happy” isn’t enough. Help them be more specific about what they want in all areas of their life including home, family, work, school, friendships, relationships, finances, etc. Encourage your kids to write down or draw their Imagines on a piece of paper and put it somewhere they can see it. Visibility will spur them to think about it often, envision it, and feel good about the new possibility. Even scenarios that seem impossible can be helpful, feeling hopeful can give them energy to muscle through difficult times.

  1. Embellish what it will feel like when their dreams happen:

Ask what it will look, feel, smell, even taste like if that fits. Embellishing an idea makes it even more real and they will work harder to achieve it. It would be fun to act it out if possible. The more they feel the idea of it, the harder they will work to make it happen!

     5. What will they need to do to make their intentions/dreams happen?

Don’t push too hard on this, but it’s important to talk to them about what they can do to make their dreams happen? Many kids (and some adults) would really like for others to do the work and then present them with their dreams; we all know that doesn’t happen. It’s important for all of us to think about how we can make our dreams happen, and then implement those important steps. Let children experience what works and what doesn’t, there are important learning opportunities in failures, and then in successes; muscling through both will build resilience.

Setting intentions is imperative in life—it helps us define what we want and work towards our dreams. Teaching kids to plan and Imagine is a critical life lesson. Give them small and big examples, helping them understand the process and learn how good it feels when you are successful!

 

The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps kids, teens, and adults overcome challenging life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. Her simple, yet profound 7-step writing tool, now used by schools across the US, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

 

 

5 Tips to Help Kids with Holiday Stress

Tis the season to be jolly, overwhelmed, and/or stressed. The holiday season can bring out the best, and sometimes the worst in us. Many people love the holidays: spending time with family and friends, recreating traditions, and feeling a sense of giving are all positive aspects of the holidays. But there are a significant percentage of people who feel more stress around the holiday season. In our already fast paced world, the holidays add more to our list of things to do, which may create unwanted pressure, even overwhelm for some. Then there’s our holiday history from our own childhood. You may be lucky enough to have beautiful memories from your holidays as a child, but many are left with the memories of increased alcoholism, domestic abuse, or the lack of having gifts to open.

Parents, teachers, and others who are navigating the holiday season are not alone in feeling the stress of the holidays. Our kids are feeling it too. They sense, know, feel, see, and experience the stress around them. They might be feeling the pressures of the end of the school semester, or wondering if life is going to get more challenging throughout the holiday season as history has shown them, or wondering if there will be money enough for gifts for all. If you are seeing any signs of stress in your children: anxiety, sadness, turning inward, aggressiveness, anger, odd behaviors and/or illness here are 5 simple tips you can try to lesson their stress:

  1. Lighten the mood with laughter: Nothing relieves stress better more than a good laugh. Laughter is powerful medicine! It’s been found to relax the body, open our heart, improve our immune system, and decrease our stress hormones. Do whatever makes you and your child/student laugh. Watch funny videos or movies, play games, listen to a funny podcast in the car, whatever works for all of you. It only takes a few minutes, but it’s well worth the time and effort!
  2. Go for walk outdoors: Science has shown us that being outdoors lifts the spirit. If you are lucky enough to life in a warm state, be sure to take your shoes off and feel nature under your feet. If it’s chilly outside, put on the layers and experience it anyway. Make it an adventure to find or see new things. Play a game or walk to visit a friend. Nature is good medicine!
  3. Create a new tradition: Structure and knowing what to expect helps lesson stress. Giving kids the awareness of their background or family traditions help them understand who they are and where they come from. Do something that is easy and won’t stress you out trying to make it happen. Bake cookies, decorate the house, cook a dish from your heritage. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just something that feels like tradition.
  4. Talk to your kids: When we are busy, we often become short with our answers and forget to listen. Be sure to take time to ask your kids/students how they are doing. Use open ended questions using “How, what, why…”, asking them about their day. See what excites them the most about the holidays, and what is the hardest part. Be sure to take the time to listen. The car, mealtime, and before bed are good times for conversations.
  5. Write your Imagine stories: Most of us have holidays that are both good and bad. The positive experiences make us smile and love the holidays. The negative experiences can negatively influence for a lifetime if we don’t do the work to process and let go of negative experiences. The Imagine Project Journaling process can help children and adults express any negative experiences about the holidays (or otherwise), let them go, and create a new experience in its place. Doing this process around the holidays at school will help kids who are feeling stressed to express themselves. Doing the process as a family will help everyone involved understand how others are feeling, and bring you closer as a family. To learn more about the journals (and download them for free) go to theimagineproject.org.

May this holiday season bless you will the gifts of peace, love, and hope.

Love,
Dianne

Dianne Maroney is a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing. She is the founder of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps kids, teens, and adults overcome challenging life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. Her simple, yet profound 7-step writing tool, now used by schools across the US, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

 

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