Archive for helping students cope with trauma – Page 2

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 to find out more.

Thank you!

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

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


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.


Supporting Kids through the Stress and Trauma of Our Complicated World

It feels like life is getting more and more stressful with each passing day. Watching and experiencing overwhelming situations such as hurricanes, floods, fires, shootings, and political strife is wearing on one’s body, mind, and soul. It seems we can’t escape it, and yet, we must prevail.

Our kids are feeling the stress too; many are even traumatized by these difficult life experiences and what’s going on around them. I recently spoke with someone from the Florida Keys who works mentoring high school students, he said life is very challenging for everyone, “Many have lost their homes, their jobs, and everywhere you look there is destruction”. And yet, at the end of every conversation, people stand up, feel their own resilience, and want to help others, particularly children.

Kids look to their parents, extended family, teachers, and friends for understanding and support. If you have children, are a teacher, or work with kids in any capacity, you may be unsure, even confused about how to help them manage the stress and trauma they are facing. Below are 7 tips on how you can help your child/student.

Understanding stress: When a child experiences frequent, chronic, or overwhelming stress, brain patterns can change and a child can think, feel, react, and respond differently. A child may become easily agitated, anxious, impulsive, hyperactive, unable to focus, lack empathy, have 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. Long-term stress can change the pathways of the brain and so it’s important to address, soften, and treat stress as soon as possible.

Understanding trauma: Experiencing “trauma” means a child has endured an event that has overwhelmed their ability to cope. Children can experience trauma even just witnessing a traumatic event—this is referred to as vicarious or secondary trauma. Having a significant emotional or physical traumatic incident can also change how the brain functions. The post-trauma symptoms are similar to those with significant stress, but more intense and chronic. Immediately after the experience a child/student might be on constant alert, worried, fearful, struggle with processing information, withdraw, become aggressive, have eating or sleeping problems, feel guilty, and/or have new or unusual physical problems. If a child isn’t given the proper support and opportunities to deal with their emotions, their behaviors and problems can become chronic, even last a life time.

  1. Establish a routine and safe surroundings: Kids need to feel safe. After extreme stress or trauma this need is accentuated. Feeling safe comes from having reliable adults around them, as well as having routines so they know what’s next in their lives. If you are surviving and managing the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, it’s helpful to get back to a routine as quickly as possible. Establish a new routine if you have to, but try and incorporate some of your old routines if you can. In a classroom, set up your space so that a child feels organized, safe, but not trapped. In a home or classroom, you can have a safe area/room where there is comfortable seating, plants, flowers, relaxing scents like lavender, peppermint, or eucalyptus. Play calming music.
  2. Encourage them to express their feelings: Take time every day (more than once a day) to talk about how they are feeling. Listen to them with heart-felt energy and reflect back what you hear. Be honest about what’s happened and what they can expect, but try to be positive to help your child/student have hope for a better tomorrow. The Imagine Project is a wonderful tool for parents, teachers, counselors, etc. to give kids the opportunity to speak what’s in their hearts. Talking about their feelings will help them get their emotions out of their hearts and heads, as well as have a better understanding of what has happened to them.
  3. Minimize further stress and trauma: When you’ve survived natural disasters and you are living in the mist of destruction everywhere this can be hard to do. You may not be able to keep them from seeing what’s happened around them, but try and minimize further bombardment of negativity by watching positive shows on the TV or computer. You can decorate with positive images, even look at positive images on the computer. Watching inspiring movies and videos will help. Anything to offset the negativity they feel in their hearts and hear all around them. Remember they can hear, see, and feel what you feel and say, try your best to be positive.
  4. Use calming techniques for yourself and your child/student: When we experience intense stress or trauma, our nervous systems speed up and it can be very difficult to slow down. This can be exhausting, causing long term health problems. Using mindfulness techniques such as meditation, yoga, SuperBrain Yoga, will help a lot; even try a walk in nature for just 10 minutes a day. Use these techniques to help calm your child or student’s nervous system so they can think, process what’s happening, and move forward (these techniques will help you too). Calming down your nervous system is critical for all ages to heal and help others heal. Calming music in your home or classroom, essential oils diffused around you, even chimes in the distance can be helpful. Anything that sooths your/their body, mind, and soul.
  5. Play: Play can be very therapeutic for children struggling with stressful or traumatic life experiences. Doing something completely different and getting away from life gives a well-needed break. Play can also give kids the opportunity to process the scenario that’s been difficult by acting it out within the play. If you see kids doing this, don’t stop them (as long as they are being appropriate), they will work through it on their own, in their own time—play is a perfect avenue to process and move through stress and trauma. Give them opportunities to laugh. Laughter is great medicine for all ages, particularly kids. A good belly laugh helps us all—watch videos, tell jokes, whatever works!
  6. Human connection: A hug, holding hands, a gentle hand on another’s shoulder—human touch releases a neuro hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin offsets the negative effects of stress and trauma in the body. The more touch we have during difficult times—the more support we feel in our body, mind, and heart. Teachers know their boundaries with their students—do what you can. Parents—the more hugging and holding the better (for both of you). Encourage kids to do one act of kindness every day. Reaching out and giving to others in need also releases oxytocin. Teaching kids to help others, (even when the person who is helping is in need) builds character and resilience.
  7. Hope: We all need hope in our lives. Kids are naturally hopeful; they see possibility in anything if you let them. If your children/students are struggling to see hope, give them ideas by showing them what’s possible. Even a small deed done for another makes us feel good and brings us a sense of hope. Let them imagine what might be possible in the next days, weeks, months, and years. Dreaming is powerful and we need it to move forward. The Imagine Project journaling process encourages imagination and creates new possibilities in a child’s life. It’s fun to imagine—and it’s a light-hearted, a welcome break from the negativity of stress and trauma. Make a game out of imagining. One person takes a turn saying, “I imagine…” then the next, and the next. Take turns. Add in what each person is grateful for in the mix. Imagination, gratitude and giving to others gives kids hope at a time they are struggling to see it.

To learn more about helping kids/students with the stressful and sometimes traumatic events of life and the world, see The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2017)


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