Archive for Kids stress

Making New Year’s Resolutions as a Family

The start of the new year signifies a time for new opportunities, goals, and reflection. While people usually treat New Year’s resolutions as an individual initiative, it can also be beneficial to set some goals as a family. Especially if you have younger children, making resolutions together can help your kids start problem solving and identifying things they’d like to work on.

Along with helping your children work on goal setting, making resolutions as a family is a great way to strengthen your connection with each other. This can give you all something to work toward together throughout the year and allows you to hold each other accountable through consistent encouragement and support. If you’re unsure what New Year’s resolutions you should make as a family, here are a few ideas to consider.

Give Back

The holidays are known for giving back and that generous mindset is something that can be valuable year long. Giving back and serving your community is a great resolution to show your children the importance of helping others and being selfless. Volunteering in your community can not only give your family a new sense of purpose, but is also a productive way to spend quality time together.

If volunteering isn’t doable for your family’s schedule, you can also collect items for a homeless shelter or make handmade cards for the elderly or others in your community. However you decide to serve others, these efforts can help teach your children gratitude, compassion, and empathy. These experiences can also encourage them to think about different perspectives and consider other people’s unique circumstances.

Improve Financial Literacy

Especially after holiday spending, improving your finances is a New Year’s resolution that many people have for themselves. However, financial wellness and literacy can and should be a family affair. Family budgeting can be difficult, but creating a plan to improve your finances can help everyone as money has an indirect influence on most aspects of daily life. You don’t want to put any financial stress on your children, but it can be valuable to teach them about healthy financial habits that they can start early on.

For instance, if your kids receive an allowance, you can encourage them to save rather than spend and dedicate a portion toward a more long term goal. You can also gradually start covering simple yet essential topics such as budgeting, debt, loans, and other principles as your children grow up and become young adults. As they mature and start to handle money more often, you can teach them about more advanced financial practices such as how to start investing early, best practices for managing a bank account, or how credit can determine whether you can buy a house, car, or other large purchases. Although these topics may seem premature, teaching your children and teens a basic understanding of financial wellness and education is a valuable skill that can help them later on in life and set them up for financial success. These practices are helpful for adults too!

Exercise as a Family

Exercise is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, and for good reason. Working out and having an active lifestyle is known for reducing stress and boosting your mood which is beneficial for your whole family. While exercise takes many forms, making this goal as a family doesn’t mean you have to do strict workouts together. This could be as simple as going on walks or bike rides after school, going on family hikes, playing catch, or even joining a sports league. Depending on how old your children are, you can set different goals like training for a 5k or simply going on a walk a few times a week. Exercising regularly can help teach your children the importance of making healthy choices and taking care of their mental and physical health. No matter your age, staying active is something the whole family can enjoy and benefit from.

Spend More Quality Time Together

Between work, school, and extracurricular activities, it can be difficult to find quality time to spend together as a family. If you feel distant or lonely with your children or spouse, this is a great goal that can help you all connect. Quality time comes in many forms and can vary depending on your family’s interests and how old your children are. For instance, quality time could simply mean sitting down and having dinner together every night. Or, it could be dedicating time each week to watch a show together or having a game night.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure to unplug from technology during this time to truly be present and cherish the moment. This uninterrupted time can show your children how much you value them and can help improve your family’s overall connection and communication skills. By spending consistent quality time together, you’re giving your children an open outlet to express their emotions which can help lower the risk of behavioral issues as well.

If your children are having trouble sharing their feelings, The Imagine Project journaling tools can give them another creative way to communicate their emotions. This exercise can help children tell their stories and move through any stress or trauma they might have. You can even do these simple writing prompts together as a family as part of your quality time to learn more about each other.

Good luck,

Dianne

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

 

Eight Ways to Minimize and Mitigate Stress for Yourself and your Children

I was recently sitting and talking with a dear friend who has successfully beat cancer. As we talked she shared that she was beginning to realize her cancer diagnosis was fueled by childhood and current chronic stress. As a young girl she was pushed hard to be perfect, basically keeping the peace in the family through her successes. A heavy toll to carry for a 7-year-old. She continued in adulthood to care for others more than she cared for herself. She ate well, exercised, worked hard and is very successful, and she has a deep faith—but it’s her emotional health she tended to neglect—something she learned as a child.

The research is clear that stress causes disease. Chronic physical and/or emotional stress will make you sick. Whatever your genetic make-up is for illness, i.e. heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, etc., it will show up if you are stressed for too long. Detrimental hormones are secreted when we are stressed, those hormones break down your immune system so eventually whatever you are genetically prone to will fight its way through and show up on your door step with an unfortunate surprise.

This is true for kids too. If kids are under too much stress, the same hormones will cause frequent illness, emotional instability, inability to do well in school, and as adults they will continue to get sick, maybe even with more serious issues. So we must find ways to help ourselves and our kids minimize stress—and use tools to mitigate it when it’s present.

How can we minimize stress?

  1. First and foremost, be honest with yourself and teach your children to do the same. Ask yourself, is this lifestyle causing too much stress? Do I have at least a couple of hours of downtime 5 days a week (everyday if possible). If you are rushing from here to there, not taking any time to relax and let your body unwind, think about how and what you can change. Give yourself a time frame to change the crazy schedules. In 2 months, if things have not settled down, make some hard decisions as to what can be different. Waiting for years for things to change is not good for anyone’s health.
  2. Schedule downtime if it doesn’t naturally fit into your schedule. Two to four hours a day should be spent chatting, hanging out, going for a casual walk or bike ride, working on puzzles, etc. This is critical to teach your kids—and so very important for their nervous systems! Relaxing is part of healing any stress you/they have been under.
  3. Evaluate your work/play balance. Take a hard look at how you feel about this balance. Does it feed your soul, or wear you out too often? If the latter is true, it’s time to change something somewhere. You don’t want to end up with a diagnosis where you wish you would have thought about these things. Your kids feel your stress too—help them by helping yourself.

Tools for mitigating stress:

The truth is, stress is present in everyone’s life. The hope is it’s only occasional, but in this fast paced world, it can be brutal sometimes. Please do everything you can to minimize stress, and when stress is present, do things to offset it’s ill effects.

  1. Self-care, self-care, self-care. I know, some of you are saying yeah right. Well remember, like my dear friend, if you don’t practice enough self-care—an ugly diagnosis will let you know about it. Schedule it in if you have to. Go for walks, chat with friends or neighbors, read a book, get a massage, meditate, cook/bake if you like to cook, look at the stars, etc. You can find things that feed your soul that do or don’t cost anything. Stress and trauma stir up our flight or fight responses in our bodies—we must offset those by practicing things that relax us—fully relax us. Teaching our kids self-care is also critical to their well-being—and if you do it together—what great memories you will create.
  2. Take a hard look at your ability to relax and destress. If you truly can’t relax then see a chiropractor, massage therapist, or energy worker to help your body shift, there could be a nervous system component that you alone can’t fix. Yoga, exercise, Qigong, and meditation will all help your nervous system calm down.
  3. Talk to someone about your emotions. Those old, deeper emotional issues can cause us to have a difficult time relaxing. Talking with a friend, loved one, or therapist can really help us see ourselves more clearly. Use The Imagine Project Journaling process to help guide you through understanding your situation better. Have your children do it with you. You will find it to be a powerful process and possibly even the key to mitigating your stress.
  4. Play, play, play! Laugh, laugh, laugh! Dance, dance, dance!
  5. Give to others. Find a way to help someone else in your world (or even in another part of life you aren’t familiar with). Helping others not only helps them, but it fills our buckets with love. Teaching this to kids when they are young will only make the world a better place and make them smile at the same time.

It’s time for all of us to look at our stress levels, see how we can minimize them, help mitigate them when we are stressed. Use the tools above and consider downloading The Imagine Project Journals to help you on your journey. They are free and powerful—you and your family will love it!

Take care and good luck,

Dianne

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

Teaching Gratitude to Children

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

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

The Benefits of Gratitude

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

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

The Gratitude Game:

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

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

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

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

I’m grateful for you,

Dianne

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

Teaching your Child to Listen to their Intuition

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching your children about intuition?

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

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

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

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

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

How to Use Emotional Freedom Technique(EFT)/Tapping

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

What is EFT/Tapping?

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

How to begin tapping?

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

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

Research:

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

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

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

Good luck and happy tapping!

Love,

Dianne

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

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

Mental Effects

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

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

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

Physical Effects

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

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

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

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

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

How to Limit Screen Time

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

Good luck! Love,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

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

Teach Your Child How to Enjoy Making Healthy Choices

Written by: Amanda Henderson

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

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

Saying No to Drugs and Alcohol

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

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

Staying Safe on the Road

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

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

Searching for Balance

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

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

Encourage Them to Journal

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

Teaching is Doing

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

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

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

Love,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

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

 

Lessons Learned from The Imagine Project, Inc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much and be well.

Happy holidays and cheers to 2021!

Dianne

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

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.

 

Should I Send my Child Back to School?

Parents, teachers, admin, even grandparents are struggling with the difficult decision of; “Should I send my child back to the classroom setting?” Some believe kids should be back in school, some believe they should stay home, some feel a hybrid choice is the best option. The reality is there isn’t one set answer for all. Many factors need to be taken into account when the final decision is made and administration is doing the best they can to balance the situation at hand.

As parents, teachers, admin, and grandparents, what can we do to better help make this decision? Here are some thoughts that might help:

1. Fully educate yourself. Listen to a variety of news sources to get all the accurate information. Be sure to check your sources to make sure they are legitimate and not coming from someone just trying to alter your beliefs. Attend school district meetings and talk to other parents and teachers to hear their input and wisdom.

2. Make the traditional list of “why” and “why not” columns—put your thoughts in each column—this helps so much in sorting through hard decisions. See how they add up.

3. Listen to your gut. If something in your heart is telling you that one choice is better than another—pay attention to that thought or feeling. Listening to your gut means thinking about an idea and really feeling whether or not your body feels at ease with it. Or maybe it feels like that is not a good choice—in that case and your body might feel tight or uncomfortable. Following your gut means when you feel relaxed and comfortable making an idea happen—it’s the right choice. Otherwise, give it some time and don’t do it!

4. If you are having a hard time processing all the information, listening to your gut, and/or you just don’t know what to do, sit down and write an Imagine story about your thoughts and feelings. Use The Imagine Project simple 7-step journaling process to help you sort through your thoughts. It’s a powerful tool to help you understand what’s in your heart and listen to your gut. Have your kids and/or spouse do it with you too—it’s a wonderful tool for families to do together. You will feel relief and everyone will smile a bit more after they write.

These are unprecedented times we live in. Hopefully, things will get easier soon. Until then, remember The Imagine Project writing process, it’s simple and free—and made for individuals, families, groups, or classrooms. Download a journal now and give it a try, you will be glad you did.

May this decision be clear and your children thrive in whatever environment they are in.

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.

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