Archive for Imagine

Trauma Informed Schools

Transitioning to a Trauma Informed School has become an important movement across the United States, particularly in those schools with a high population of at-risk students. Schools in poorer communities, communities with high crime, even rural areas are seeing the positive effects of applying Trauma Informed principles into their overall curriculum. Even if your school does not have a high-risk student population, it’s important to understand that trauma is in all schools. Yes, it may be higher in certain communities, but as many know, the ACES research showed that 50% of all kids in white, middle class, well-educated communities have at least one traumatic experience before the age of 17. This means every school has students who’ve experienced trauma. Becoming a Trauma Informed School is of utmost importance in helping all children succeed in school, and in life.

What does Trauma Informed mean?

Becoming a Trauma Informed School means training all staff to have a greater understanding of trauma and the impact it can have on a child—both immediate and long-term. Then giving educators the tools to deal with students experiencing trauma (past or present) in the classroom. Staff learn how to:

  • Create safe and supportive school environments
  • Adopt positive and restorative justice practices which include peer and staff support
  • Integrate social emotional learning tools
  • Have better access to mental health for all students (and staff), and knowing when and how to use mental health resources
  • Have ongoing trainings to continue to understand the latest data and research on trauma—how it affects the child, and current tools to implement in the classroom.

Shifting perspectives:

One of the most important ideas/theories that comes from Trauma Informed Classrooms is knowing a child may be acting out or unable to learn because of something that is happening at home or around the student, even if it’s in his or her past. When a student is struggling an educator asks, “What happened to you?” instead of the more traditional, “What is wrong with you?” When an educator asks in their minds, “What may have happened to this student to cause this behavior?” it shifts to a caring mode that becomes supportive of the student instead of condemning, and they can implement tools to support the child to be successful in school.

What does Trauma look like in students?

There are many definitions of trauma, but I like to define a traumatic experience as anything that challenges our coping mechanisms. We learn to cope based on our past experiences and our brain development. One child’s past experiences may have given him or her a different ability to cope with a situation than someone else’s experience. Often times, kids don’t have a lot of life experience to give them the resources to cope. Their brains are still developing and unable to cognitively process an event, so they are more at-risk for not being able to work through certain difficult situations. The inability to sort through and understand an event can wreak havoc on our brain; impairing thinking and comprehension; our nervous systems have a hard time settling, and social capabilities can be impaired. A child’s inner and outer world can become jumbled, confused, hyper-alert, and often overwhelmed. Which means they can’t focus in school, are easily triggered into emotions like anger, anxiety, or depression. Acting out in school, or shutting down and not being able to interact are obvious signs of trauma in a child or teen.  The traumatic experience can include many different events including (but not limited to):

  • Moving
  • Harsh statements from a teacher, parent, or peer
  • Bullying
  • Deportation or migration
  • Discrimination
  • Medical trauma
  • Loss
  • Witnessing or being a victim of violence.

Know that trauma comes in many forms and is different for each child—you can’t always see the effects of trauma, and the spectrum of what can cause it is broad. Which is why becoming a Trauma Informed School is critical to the success of many, many students.

Getting to know your student’s story:

One important tool that can help educators understand a child’s experience is called The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a simple 7-step writing tool for students K-12. The journals are free to download from www.theimagineproject.org. There are 4 journals; Kinde, Kids, Teens, and Adult. The 7-steps help guide the student through a process of writing their story using the word Imagine… to begin every sentence. Using the word Imagine makes the process unique and different from other story telling methods as it makes the writer feel safe and asks others to Imagine what that experience was like for them. After writing about the difficult experience, the writer is asked to Imagine the positive way that story might end, or what story they want instead—giving the student the ability to move through the stress or trauma and change their perspective of that experience. The Imagine Project also gives the teacher the ability to understand the student’s life and behavior. Please explore the website, watch the videos, see our research, etc. so you can understand the process and how you can implement it as part of your Trauma Informed Classrooms.

Becoming a Trauma Informed School

There are a variety of trainings to become a Trauma Informed School, classroom, and educator. An excellent training that is individual or school wide is through Heather Forbes and the Beyond Consequences Institute. Check out their website and see if this program works for you. You can also get more information about working with stress and trauma from The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2018).

Becoming a Trauma Informed School is important work. Research has shown adapting Trauma Informed techniques will improve student test scores, decrease dropout rates, lessen the need for discipline, and just make your classroom/school a much nicer place to work. Good luck and get started now by downloading The Imagine Project Journals.

Take care and be well,

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.

 

Students will need Extra Emotional Support this Fall

All educators are anxiously awaiting what this fall might look like. Some still aren’t sure if kids will be in the classroom or virtual—and things could change quickly. Most students are also feeling anxious, not really knowing what school will look like in the fall. Some are anxious about possible changes, leaving home, being around other kids, wearing masks/not wearing masks, etc. Students will need extra emotional support from their teachers, counselors, and admin as they navigate this new territory.  How can you help?

First, you know that all kids are not made equal. Some kids will prance into school just happy to be there—and some will be terrified—feeling anxious, worried, and unsure of themselves. Their ability to adjust and cope will run the spectrum of feeling happy and inspired to being lost and confused. Get to know where your students are at, you can even create a numbers system putting 1-5 next to their names showing your perceived level of their anxiety. But how do you really get to know where they are at—here is a simple and free tool that will help the student express what they are feeling and give you a sense of what’s going on in their hearts and minds. This tool is called The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a powerful tool that K-12 teachers can incorporate into their literacy programs (it meets many core standards BTW)—and it’s FREE. The Imagine Project will give students at least part of the extra emotional support they need to adjust to being back to school and the new norms it brings.

The Imagine Project gives emotional support through expressive writing. It’s a simple 7-step process that encourages students to write about a time or experience that has been difficult for them—all using the word Imagine… to begin every sentence. The word Imagine allows the writer to connect with the creative side of the brain to help bring healing, and it gives a safe and simple way to talk about a challenging time. Here is an example:

Imagine…leaving school one day, not knowing that would be the last day of school for the year.

Imagine…having to complete school work every day at home, not being able to hear your friend’s laughter, voices, or even your teacher telling you to “SHHH” while doing the waterfall hand motion.

Imagine…looking outside your bedroom window at the sky, wondering when the next time you will be able to give your friends and teachers a hug

Imagine…you had a sense of hope.

Imagine…you had a sense of thankfulness, thankful for current technology in being able to see your friends and teachers over a computer screen. 

Imagine…spending more time with your family than ever before, discovering new activities and playing games with each other.

Imagine…you had a superpower to change anything in the world, and you chose to cure all disease.

Imagine…the world healthy and strong, getting to see your friends and teachers again.

Imagine…there is no pain, no worry, no strife in the world.

Imagine…everyone living with happiness and joy.

Hope, 2nd grade

Using The Imagine Project will allow students to express what’s in their hearts, learn that others have had similar experiences (if they read their stories out loud to the class which is encouraged), and bring camaraderie to the classroom or group. It also gives the teacher or counselor a better understanding of where the kids are at emotionally—all while meeting core standards!

To learn more about The Imagine Project go to www.theimagineproject.org. Remember it’s free, easy, and powerful. You can even write your own story—supporting your own emotional health. If you decide to read it to your kids—they will love it! Download the journals now!

Good luck and happy Imagining!

Dianne

 

 

Nurturing a Child through Stress

Ugh, life has been challenging lately, sometimes down right hard! Many of us are facing situations we never thought we would ever encounter. The stress is real—for all of us. Even if our situation is doable, we still see and feel the stress in the world. Behind the masks we can see stress in someone’s body language, lack of eye-to-eye contact, or maybe their behavior is less than kind. Adults are feeling stress, but kids are too—all ages of kids are feeling it—from babies to teens.

What we know from stress research is that a little bit of stress is good for kids, it helps them learn how to react and manage it. A lot of stress, especially over a long period of time is not—it causes long-term problems both emotionally and physically.  How long is too long—weeks, months, or years. Yes, it’s been weeks of stress for everyone—a bit too long to be helpful so it’s time to mitigate the stress.

The good news is that research also shows us that we can lessen the long-term negative impact of stress. One of the most important ways to help a child through stress (and ourselves) is through nurturing them. Nurturing buffers the stress, mitigating it’s negative effects and supporting the child to in tolerance and strength.

Nurturing means caring for someone, encouraging them, holding them, letting them know they are okay when they aren’t sure. During stressful times, kids aren’t sure if they are okay. They may not understand what’s happening around them or to them, how to handle the situation, even what to say or do. Nurturing children comes easy for some people, but it can be more challenging for others. This will depend on your own experiences with your parents, teachers, and others around you while you were growing up. If you are good at it, spread it around to as many kids as possible, they will need it. If you are challenged by the idea of nurturing a child, here are some suggestions.

  1. Listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings. Ask open-ended questions that begin with How or What? Repeat what they say back to them—this will help them feel heard.
  2. Spend good quality time with them—lots of extra time with them if they are really stressed. Check in with yourself to see how you are feeling. If you are very stressed too, then increase your self-care so you can be there for your kids.
  3. Give them lots of affection and touch; affectionate touch raises dopamine levels, calming our nervous system.
  4. Read to your children. This will also calm and settle down their nervous systems, as well as teaching them something along the way.
  5. Give your child an opportunity to write or draw about their feelings. The Imagine Project Journals are a perfect format for this. Research has shown that expressive writing calms anxiety. The Imagine Project is a simple 7-step guided writing process for all ages K-12 (and adults) that uses the word Imagine to begin every sentence. Helping a child to process their stress and then move into Imagining something new in their lives. Learn more about this process at theimagineproject.org, they are free!

Creating a stable nurturing environment for kids will really help everyone in managing stress. Try adding more of these 5 steps into your day, at least during stressful times—and even keeping them during less stressful times. Download the journals today and begin the beautiful journey of healing and moving forward (for everyone).

Good luck and take care,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

 

 

Using Mindfulness during Stressful Times

Stress is running high right now. Everyone is feeling it, whether it’s a change in our everyday routines, being worried about a loved one, or the extreme stress of losing your home and/or job. If adults are feeling it, so are our children—no matter what the age. We all need some help coping. Mindfulness can be a great tool to keep us grounded so that our fear and worry emotions don’t get the best of us. The Imagine Project is a form of Mindfullness, it helps with processing how we feel, as well as centering ourselves.

But what does mindfulness really look like? Mindfulness is the conscious decision to pay attention to your body, mind, emotions, and external circumstances. You might be thinking, why would I do that—doesn’t that make me fell worse. The trick is to do so from a nonjudgmental place—a place of noticing and letting go of anything that doesn’t serve you. It actually really works! Research even shows that noticing—just noticing what’s happening in your mind, head, and heart, without trying to fix or change it, just watching and noticing it—allows it to move through and move on. Research also shows that mindfulness helps improve immune function (fewer illnesses), increases concentration, strengthens resilience, as well as many other positive effects.

So how do we do this? Experiment and practice—with ourselves, and our kids. Noticing your breathing is always a great place to begin. Bring your attention back to your breath, and practice long, slow, mindful breathing. This is key to embracing the moment and restoring or strengthening calm in your brain and body. Try sitting quietly and gently paying attention to your breath, counting slowly as you breathe in and out. The goal is breathing in to a count of about 6 or 7, and the same breathing out. You may have to work at going this slow, but just try it at your own pace and work at moving to a slower, deeper breath. Then practice at other times too, in your car, waiting in a doctor’s office, or watching TV. The more you experiment and work at it, the more prepared you’ll be when you really need it to calm yourself in stressful situations!

Practicing mindfulness with kids happens when you create quiet times with them and show them techniques and tools to help them calm down. Here are a few tips to help:

  1. Sit and do the breathing technique together—practicing together really helps.
  2. Have a snack or even cook together. Noticing the food: the taste, the smell, the textures.
  3. Go for a walk, notice what’s going on around you in nature; the clouds, the weather, the landscape—look for 4 leaf clovers or dig in the dirt.
  4. Read together, do a puzzle, chase bubbles, draw, or paint.
  5. Share a breathing hug together, take a few soft, slow breaths as you hold each other.
  6. Notice and share how you are feeling, your body sensations and how they match your emotions and thoughts.
  7. Write your Imagine stories together.

Mindfulness combats stress by allowing us to slow down our minds so we can pay attention to what’s happening in our bodies and emotions. Then the emotions can move through our minds and bodies, which will lessen our stress. Sometimes it’s difficult to connect to and understand how we feel, this is where The Imagine Project comes in. Writing your story, each sentence beginning with the word Imagine… helps put our feelings out into the world, helps us process our experiences that are causing stress, move through them, calming our minds and bodies—the goal in combating stress.

Try writing your imagine story with your child and/or your students. The process is free, simple, and prompted by a 7-step journaling process. Go to www.theimagineproject.org to learn more about The Imagine Project and download the journals. Give it a try, it will help calm your’s and your child’s stress, while giving the opportunity to Imagine new possibilities in life!

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

The Imagine Project, Inc., is 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 and internationally, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

Teaching a Child the Spirit of Giving

The spirit of giving is all around us this time of year. Giving is the essence of life—taking care of our loved ones, friends, even strangers, gives us a sense of purpose and wellbeing—its just part of living in a community and being a good citizen. Making sure our children know the spirit of giving is so important in their understanding of themselves and others; it even helps lessen stress. While using The Imagine Project in classrooms, I often see some kids who are very compassionate and giving, and some who are not.

The question becomes, do children have a natural instinct for compassion and giving back or is it a learned behavior? The answer is both. Yes, some kids naturally want to give to others—it’s innate to their personality. I see this in a classroom when kids read their imagine stories out loud; there’s always at least one student who naturally goes to someone who is struggling emotionally and hugs that student to make them feel better. But more typically, we need to cultivate and teach compassion, kindness, and giving in children, beginning very young and continuing until you see it becomes a natural personality trait.

There are many ways to teach the spirit of giving in our communities; volunteering at shelters, picking up trash on the sidewalks, or asking someone at school who typically doesn’t have many friends to play or be a part of something your child is doing. There are many ways parents and teachers can teach kindness, compassion, and the spirit of giving. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. If you see someone on a TV show you’re watching together struggling emotionally, talk with your child about the emotions that person might be feeling and suggest what you/they could do to help. When you see someone in need in person, talk with them about possibilities of giving hugs or even smiling at them with a caring look when they need to know someone is there for them.
  2. When old toys are outdated or becoming boring (or they even have too many), suggest they give some of their toys to kids who may have very few toys.
  3. Talk about the kids at school who don’t have friends, how they can be included more. Even just saying something nice to a child who is feeling left out or sad can have a major impact in the day of a child (or adult) who needs it.
  4. Have a child save $1 from their allowance or birthday money to give to an organization that you are all in support of.
  5. Do The Imagine Project writing process in your classroom or home and share your stories, the compassion will flow and their will be many opportunities to cultivate kindness and giving back to someone who might need it that day, week, or year.

The 7th step of The Imagine Project writing process asks the writer to do one act of kindness every day for 30 days. What an ample opportunity for children to learn to give back naturally. Our world will have less bullying, fewer suicides, and possibly even eliminate school shootings. There are many ways to teach and cultivate compassion and the spirit of giving—if we all pitch in and do our part to teach our kids (and participate ourselves), the world will be an even better place to live.

Love,

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 and internationally, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

5 Reasons why Teaching Gratitude to Kids is Important


Step 7 of The Imagine Project writing activity is a 30-day Gratitude challenge. We ask students to write down 3 things they are grateful for every day for 30 days. It’s a practice in seeing the positive in their lives and recognizing there is always something to be grateful for, even on the darkest days. Learning to be grateful can mean the difference of staying in a state of sadness and regret to finding love and positivity.

Gratitude is included in the 7-step writing process because learning gratitude practices early can have a wonderful positive impact on brain function and overall mental state, better equipping a child for their journey into adulthood. Here are 5 reasons why gratitude can transform lives:

Improves Brain Health and Sleep

Research has shown that gratitude actually changes the molecular structure of your brain. It keeps grey matter functioning longer, and feeling gratitude floods the brain with dopamine—an important hormone for brain and emotional health. Those with a practice of gratitude journaling before bed, have been shown to sleep longer and more soundly.

Shows Good Manners

Saying ‘thank you’ in general is good manners, and some people believe the art of good manners has been lost on today’s children. While this could be argued, the truth is saying ‘thanks’, whether verbally or through a note, helps build relationships. A friendly ‘thank you’ creates opportunities and reinforces harmony to create connection.

Builds Empathy and Self Esteem

Building empathy reduces aggression and thoughts of revenge as the person begins to see and feel what it’s like in “someone else’s shoes”. When we are looking for and finding the good in life, we discover different points of view. This also means that we better recognize other’s accomplishments, as well as our own, building self-esteem.

Reduces Entitlement

In general, when anyone focuses on the good, or the “blessings” in life, they become happier. Focusing on what there is to be thankful for, banishes entitlement, or the feeling that one needs or deserves more.

Creates Resiliency

Expressing gratitude in the face of self-pity and trauma equips us for better coping and resiliency, asking us to trust a “bigger picture” or to find the positive in a situation. Rather than stress and worry, having an attitude of gratitude helps us overcome the fearful thinking associated with feeling out of control.

Students don’t need Step 7 of the Imagine Project to learn gratitude, but it helps. Along with giving them a voice to express anything that might be difficult in their lives, the Imagine Project writing activity teaches them the habit of gratitude. We can learn to be grateful at any age, but when kids learn gratitude when their young, they receive a gift shifting their thinking from negativity to positivity—pretty amazing gift!

Feeling grateful for all of you

Love,

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 and internationally, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

Mindful Summertime Fun Tips for Parents

As a parent, we are often looking for things to do with our children during the long summer months when they are out of school and home. Our days can be filled with trips to visit loved ones, to explore new areas, or to relax as a family. We may stay close to home and take time to bond with a trip to the zoo or museum, take a cooking class together, hit a library or take in a movie.

We can find so many fun, educational or relaxing things to do with our kids, that are important for our growth as a family and as individuals. Being in the moment with our kids is truly a gift to us and to them. Here are a few more ways to incorporate mindfulness into your summer routine:

Turn off electronics.Consider making time weekly for a no-electronics night. Play a game, talk about your day and listen attentively, or go on a walk together. To get conversation going, consider using The Imagine Project Journal, available for free here: https://theimagineproject.org/the-7-step-journals/

Do it yourself first.Mindfulness can be role-modeled to help your kids really understand it. Have your kids lay beside you during a morning meditation, or have them do a quiet yoga session with you. An online search of images for “kid theme yoga practice” is sure to fill you with ideas, and make the practice interesting and educational.

Create downtime.Sometimes we try to stay super busy, but we all need some down time. Consider creating a corner of pillows in the living room, or other space, where you can lay back and relax, read, listen to soft music, draw or journal. Create a space where you, and the kids, either together or individually can practice quiet down time during the day.

Overall, mindfulness helps improve mental health and social-emotional growth. Journaling and sharing your stories and feelings with each other can help decrease suicide rates, increase empathy and coping skills (which can lessen the potential for school shootings), and improve resiliency. To learn more about using mindfulness techniques and The Imagine Project journals with kids, visit: theimagineproject.org

Have fun this summer!

Love,

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

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.

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