Archive for Kids stress

10 Ideas for Infusing The Imagine Project into your Classroom Consistently

Every teacher wants their students to feel emotionally supported in their classroom–when a child feels emotionally stable, they can take in and learn information. The Imagine Project is a tool that will support a student’s emotional health. At first you might see The Imagine Project as a one time use, but it’s meant to be a forever tool that students lean on for their emotional support as many do with journaling. If our dream is for students in our classrooms to choose to write Imagine stories independently during the times in their lives when they need it most, then it is crucial that they have consistent practice using the tool. In order to provide that practice, planning for the intentional use of The Imagine Project across the curriculum is essential. Rather than every experience with The Imagine Project being emotionally intense, we want to show students that anytime we are exploring different perspectives or emotions an Imagine story can be useful. In this blog we will explore 10 ways The Imagine Project can be used as an intentional instructional tool.  

Once you have taken the first step and experienced the power of The Imagine Project with your students by completing the entire process as a class, it is time to plan for its deliberate use in your general instruction.  

  1. One idea to consider is that an Imagine story can actually be just a quick, single sentence as a way for students to process and share their perspective or feelings on a particular topic either before it is taught as a way to assess or after instruction as a way to reflect.  
  2. Another idea is to use The Feelings Wheel (downloadable on our website) and an imagine statement as a weekly/daily check in with students. 
  3. You can write a class Imagine story outlining the expectations for behavior and learning in your classroom.  By framing it around the idea of “Imagine a class who…” you can use it as an aspirational document to set your intentions for the year together.
  4. At the beginning or ending of a grading period, you can write hopeful Imagine stories that can be turned into actionable goals using the frame of “I am… I can… I will.”  Remember that hope happens when students feel in charge of their future and create flexible plans to achieve their goals. 
  5. Take the 30 Day Imagine Challenge where you end each day writing and sharing three things that you imagine happening in your life, three things you are grateful for in your life, and one act of kindness that you have done or plan to do. They say after 30 days new habits form, and this is a habit that can transform the climate in your classroom.  
  6. Choose an emotion of the week to explore with an Imagine story.  This is a great chance to use The Feelings Wheel and build emotional vocabulary and empathy together.  
  7. Explore problems and their solutions using the design cycle but frame it around an Imagine story where students help others to empathize with the problem they are trying to solve and then show how their solution will improve the world.
  8. Develop a deeper understanding of point of view and perspective by writing Imagine stories from the point of view of fictional or historical characters.  The hopeful turn can be used to predict endings to stories.
  9. The Feelings Wheel can be used to identify emotional character traits in fictional or historical characters and how they change over time. This also helps to build a complex emotional vocabulary. 
  10.  When issues arise in class, planned or unplanned, that lead to taking sides and debate, imagine stories can be written so both sides can express their feelings around a position along with what they hope for in the future.  While empathy will grow as both sides share, it is interesting how commonalities arise in the hopeful turns which can lead to shared understanding and solutions. 

*For more ideas check out the downloadable Powerpoint on our website.

These are only a few ideas for infusing The Imagine Project into your daily classroom planning. If we can get students using this tool on a regular basis, then when unexpected issues arise it will be a natural path forward and you will have a built in tool for emotional regulation that will help your students to be more available to learn. If we can create a habit of writing Imagine stories in our students’ lives, then when students are dealing with the difficulties of life on their own, they will have a tool for exploring and expressing their feelings. The work you do every day in your classroom is the work of saving lives and providing hope for the future.  

Download the Imagine Journals (for FREE) and start today! Thank you and good luck!

Written by Todd Daubert, Educational Consultant and veteran elementary teacher

Thank you so much,
Dianne

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

Tips on Moving and Supporting Your Kids

Moving is not a simple, straightforward process that always goes according to plan. And if you have kids, you can expect a few unexpected surprises to crop up along the way. This is why it is vital to ensure everyone is on board with the decision and on the same page when it comes to executing your move. Below, The Imagine Project shares tips on how to do so smoothly.

Finding the right location

Finding the right house for you and your family is probably not going to be the easiest task. After all, finding the right house has so much more to do than just selecting a home that meets all your wish lists; it’s also about picking a location where you’re going to have peace of mind concerning your family’s safety; knowing that your kids are going to get the best of the best education, as well as having plenty of options when it comes to fun stuff to do outdoors or indoors. Nonetheless, the search is not as difficult as it was, say 40 years ago when there was no such thing as the World Wide Web. Nowadays, you can search for suitable family-friendly properties online using realtor sites to search for available listings. Have your kids help you with the search, making it fun for them to see the future possibilities. You can make a list of things together that you would like in your new home.

Storing your belongings for another day

Of course, you’ll need to ensure your new home can accommodate all your things. If not, you may want to consider finding a local storage unit until you can decide what to do with those things you don’t necessarily need anymore. Alternatively, maybe you want to choose a property that’s smaller than your current one for financial reasons. If so, you could also use self-storage to store your extra belongings for however long you need. Help your kids choose what stays with them and what goes into storage. They may have a hard time parting with certain items, you can always take them to the storage unit and show them their things are being safely kept for later. Create bins with their names on them so they have some ownership.

Make alternative arrangements

Suppose you don’t have the finances just yet to put a down payment on your dream home. While you’re saving up, you may want to consider staying with friends or family while you work on getting your finances in order. However, be sure that if you are moving your pet along with you, they have the space to accommodate your pet too.

Make sure your business functions smoothly

If you are planning on moving your business with you, then you’ll want to ensure that your business functions smoothly despite any disruptions that could cause it to veer off track. Things you can do to ensure everything goes smoothly on this end include packing and labeling your office furniture and equipment carefully and clearly, hiring efficient and trustworthy movers, and even working remotely when necessary to help fill in the gaps when you are out of the office and dealing with things related to the moving process.

Make sure your kids are comfortable with this big change

Since this is likely to be a major adjustment for them, you will have to be extra cognizant of your kid’s feelings. Furthermore, you’ll have to exercise that extra bit of patience should they end up acting out whenever they feel overwhelmed about what’s taking place. Moreover, you’ll likely need to be more thoughtful in terms of including your kids as much as possible throughout the moving process. For example, you may want their input regarding the schools they’d like to attend in the area. Or, once you’ve moved in, you can set up their rooms first so they’ll start getting used to their new home, surroundings, and routines.

Using The Imagine Project journaling process will be helpful in all stages of this major change, from the time you tell them you are moving until after the move. You can write your Imagine stories as a family and share them together so everyone is able to express how they are feeling and can empathize with, and support each other. To learn more about how The Imagine Project works and download the free journals go to www.theimagineproject.org.

Be sure to do your best to manage your own stress. When you are stressed, your kids will feel it. Take some time to just be with your kids, cooking, watching TV, reading a book, going for a walk—these special times can offset the stress you all feel. Your family’s happiness is probably the most important thing to you, aside from choosing a home that you’ll be happy with in the long term. Do your best to show your family that they’re your topmost priority at all times during this challenging process.

Visit The Imagine Project. where we give kids all the necessary tools to assist them with overcoming any daily stress or trauma they may be experiencing.

Thank you to Gwen Payne for contributing to this article.

Good luck and keep Imagining!

Love,

Dianne

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

Image via Unsplash

Successful Back to School—Social-Emotional Support to Help Students Thrive

It’s back to school time again and most educators are acutely aware of the potential social emotional needs of students. Last school year was a challenging year for many teachers. Anxiety, social insecurities, inability to focus, distractions coming from many angles were worse than prepandenmic times. How can teachers give students the opportunity to stay present, grounded, feel accepted, and focus on learning? One simple and free way is by using The Imagine Project.

Emotional support through writing

The Imagine Project is a writing tool that gives kids an opportunity to talk about issues that are bothering them; a difficult life event or a stressful situations they’ve experienced recently or in the past. This is done by having students K-12 write their story using Imagine to begin every sentence. They follow a 7-step simple writing process that’s in a journal format. The journals can be downloaded (for free) at www.theimagineproject.org. The beautiful part of this writing process is in Step 4 where the writer is asked to Imagine a new, more positive version of their story—helping them shift to a positive mindset, giving them the social emotional support to move forward and learn.

How to begin

Students can begin the first week of school by writing a story about coming back to school—their worries, hopes, and dreams. They can keep an Imagine journal and write it in often, on their own or together in the classroom; particularly when there is an emotional event in their lives, classroom, school, or in the world. Using this process often teaches students a tool they can use whenever needed as difficult life circumstances occur.

Social Emotional support in the classroom

When classrooms do The Imagine Project together and read their stories out loud to each other, empathy and camaraderie are created. Kids hear that they aren’t alone in their experiences and they feel a sense of relief in telling their story, and a sense that they’ve been heard. It’s a remarkable and beautiful process to watch students in a classroom come together and support one another. Relationships are critical for our social emotional health, as is self-expression. The Imagine Project helps promote both of these. Watch here to teachers and students talking about using The Imagine Project in their classrooms.

Student Stress

When a student is experiencing stress (past or present) it’s difficult for them to make friends, focus, and learn in school. Giving them a simple process (that meets many core standards and can be incorporated into many lessons plans) will support their social emotional needs and growth–something students need now more than ever. To learn more and get started go to The Imagine Project Getting Started page. If you recognize the value of social emotional support for students as students go back to school and throughout the school year, you will love The Imagine Project!

Thank 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, is a thought leader in stress and trauma in children, has written multiple award winning books including The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress. She is an international speaker, lives in Colorado and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

 

National Wellness Month: Self Care for Parents and Kids

We often associate wellness with physical health. However, wellness is described by the Global Wellness Instituteas the “active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” This includes your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. As we step into National Wellness Month, here are a few tips for keeping you and your family focused on wellness and keeping self-care at the forefront of your mind.

How to Understand Your (and Their) Stress

Stress can come in all shapes and sizes, and is going to look different in you than in your children. The way they cope may be totally different from what you’re used to dealing with. In fact, the way that you even coped with your stress as a child may be different from the way you cope now! Understanding your child’s stress is the first step to working through stressors, big and small. You may start to overcome.

Although you as an adult might know when you’re stressed, the signs of stress in a child can have a wider range as they deal with these emotions for the first time. There might be physical signs, such as dizziness, fatigue, or a change in what they’re choosing to eat, the possibilities are endless. However, there can also be behavioral signs. Compulsive habits might take place, or small outbursts might occur. Sometimes these can just be part of growing up, but if repetitive could mean more.

While you can’t expect to solve all of your child’s problems (and in truth, you can’t always solve your own), there are a few coping mechanisms that can help create less stress. The Imagine Journal offers an opportunity for your child to write about anything they’re feeling, even if there may not be any stressors at the time. While you can always offer a safe space, sometimes offering a non-parental option can feel safer. It not only helps create trust for future problems down the road but can help build healthy mechanisms as they get older.

How to Handle Loss

Whether it’s moving to a new house or grieving a loved one, big life changes can affect your child in ways you may not even know. Offering outlets for conversations are key ways to make sure you and your child are adjusting to these life changes.

If a loved one has a progressing condition such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s, sometimes offering time to understand why changes are happening, giving them a chance to ask questions and voice their concerns, and understanding the grief as disease progresses can lead to an easier transition. In cases like this, keeping a routine is vital. In fact, family stability is directly linked to a child’s success. Visiting older grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles can help them realize they’re still a part of their life. While life changes are inevitable, showing love, connection, and that you’re there through these changes can really make a difference.

While you can’t always prepare for the loss of a loved one, you can take steps to help handle these life changes that work for both you, and your children. When it comes to life changes, caring for a loved one who has a rare terminal cancer like mesothelioma, it’s important to provide the right resources for them. These changes can be hard to deal with at any age, and you might not always be able to provide the right coping mechanisms that they need.

Other difficult diseases such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes can be a shock once discovered to adults and children. If this is the case when it comes to life changes, there are caregiver resources available that cover anything from counseling, to support services that allow your kids to be involved in these life changes, as little or as much as they would want.

Offering these options can help your child open up, and can even help you find peace in some of these changes in life. While you can’t expect everything to be smooth sailing, small steps to connect can make a difference.

How Fatigue Shows Itself In Others

Fatigue may show itself due to too much activity. You’ve experienced being tired before, right? But, this can go the other way too and can be present if they’re not getting enough activity. It can also be a sign of stress or an effect of other changes in their life. Fatigue in children can present itself in different ways over time.

Some important things to consider here are if there are huge life changes taking place, or if there are stressors at school, in their extracurriculars, or in their personal life. Are they getting regular exercise? Are they getting plenty of rest? Are there changes happening that even you can’t control? Maintaining stability where you can and creating opportunities to work their mind and bodies can help them stay mentally healthy, along with yourself. After all, these tips work for parents too!

While you can’t expect to be the perfect parent, finding coping mechanisms to focus on self-care for yourself and your children is key to creating a healthy, trusting environment. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be scared to give yourself some credit where credit is due. Even the small things can go a long way.

Love,

Dianne

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

 

Is Your Child Stressed and How you Can Help

Is Your Child Stressed?

Caught up in our own challenging day-to-day lives, we often assume our children live a relatively carefree life without stress. But children’s lives can actually contain multiple sources of stress, including the pressures of peer groups, sibling rivalry, highly demanding schedules, and family expectations. It’s also not unusual for kids to experience problems dealing with boyfriends/girlfriends, having too much screen time, and of course, handling social media. Tension and anxiety can often arise from within their own minds too. As children grow, they frequently feel pressure from their own thoughts as they attempt to understand who they are, how the world works, and how they fit into it.

Many children also experience stressors that go above and beyond what’s considered typical and normal. Family life can be extremely stressful, such as when there is marital discord, mental instability, financial worries, abuse, or neglect. If kids hear parents, friends, or family members talk about troubling personal situations or community violence, this can add to their worries. Inappropriate exposure to media reports on crime, war, terrorism, tragedy, or political strife can also heighten a child’s stress levels. And for some children, school is a source of excessive stress. Children may feel overwhelmed when they don’t understand or can’t deal with their workloads. Children can also be stressed by feeling socially or academically inadequate, like they don’t fit in, or are not accepted for their strengths and weaknesses. Being bullied or shunned is extremely stressful.

Stress is a normal, unavoidable part of life. It’s even good for a child to experience small amounts of manageable stress, such as frustration with learning a new skill, dealing with being late to a birthday party due to traffic, or worrying about saying the wrong line in a school play. Unfortunately, when a child experiences frequent, chronic, or overwhelming stress, survival mode becomes the norm instead of an occasional occurrence, and the brain and body stay in a stressed state. These chronic stress patterns can hamper healthy brain development, leading to an imbalance where the limbic system becomes overdeveloped and hyperreactive. This brain imbalance can create significant mental and emotional issues such as agitation, anxiety, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, an inability to focus, lacking empathy, low emotional control, poor decision-making, and weak problem-solving abilities. Chronic stress can also cause a host of minor, and sometimes significant, physical health problems, such as an impaired immune system, slowed growth, aches and pains, and poor digestion.

How can you tell if a child is over-stressed? Look for physical and behavioral symptoms. Physical problems might include stomachaches, frequent headaches, acne, dizziness, bowel problems, bedwetting, change in appetite or food cravings, and frequent or lengthy illnesses. Behavioral symptoms of stress are varied as well: a child might become clingy; the quality of his or her school work might change; new compulsive habits such as hair twirling, nose picking, hand washing, or thumb sucking might develop; sleep patterns might change (too much or too little); mood swings might increase; a child might begin to lie or become quiet or secretive; eating habits might change. If there is any notable regression or worrisome change in a child’s behavior and/or decline in physical health, it is important to step back and consider whether too much stress is the root cause.

How Can You Help a Stressed Child?

  • First and foremost, spend extra time listening. Your careful, quiet listening helps a child feel heard and validated.
  • Hold space for big emotions. This means being a compassionate, nonjudgmental witness while a child expresses him- or herself. Encourage the child to verbalize feelings, draw them, and/or move his/her body.
  • Set limits if needed, such as, “When you’re angry, don’t touch anyone or anything.” Or, “Would it help to run up and down the hall for a few minutes?”
  • Instead of interjecting interpretation or drawing your own conclusions, support the child’s developing ability to analyze and solve problems by reflecting what you’ve heard and asking exploratory questions.
  • Remember, questions that only require a “yes” or “no” answer can stop conversations in their tracks. And “Why” questions can feel pointed or punitive instead of caring.
  • Ask open-ended questions that inspire sharing and reflection, such as, “How are you feeling?” or “What was your day like today?” Or simply invite them to “Tell me more.”
  • Reflect back what you heard, such as, “It sounds like you had a very frustrating time and got hurt by your friends today.”
  • Notice how your child is feeling and reflect on the emotions expressed, “It sounds/looks like you’re really angry (sad, hurt, worried, etc.).”
  • Ask for thoughts about why that happened and ideas for possible solutions. Let them know you can offer help if they want it. Don’t lead their emotions/ideas expecting good or bad stories, just listen, reflect, and love.
  • Help them express themselves by writing about their stress. Use The Imagine Project simple and free journaling process to support them in their expressions. Download the Journal here.

Good luck and take care,

Dianne

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

 

 

 

Addressing a Child’s Mental Health is Important

Mental health means having emotional, psychological, and social well-being; when we think, act, and feel from a balanced perspective the majority of the time. Having a balanced and grounded perspective helps us make healthy choices, be kind, express emotion, accept help when we need it, handle stress effectively, feel empathy, laugh, feel joy, and relate to others easily. This are true in every stage of life. As young children grow they develop these skills, and we even continue to develop them throughout adulthood.

Supporting and helping children find emotional wellness is a very important part of parenting. It’s also important for teachers, counselors, extended family, even coaches to spend time addressing emotional wellness as they surround and work with a child or teen. “It takes a village” as the old saying goes, and it’s still true today. We all can contribute to the health and well-being of a child.

But what if a child show signs of a mental or emotional imbalance? Significant mental health challenges can and do occur in young children. Children and teens can develop characteristics of anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, depression, and/or posttraumatic stress disorder at any age. These will depend on life experiences, genetic make-up, parent/family and external support, even school and social experiences. A sensitive child might have a difficult life experience that changes their view of the world dramatically, where another child who is less sensitive will just plow right through it without even a scratch. Moving for example, can be hard on one child, altering their sense of safety and self-awareness. Another child might find it easy and effortless to fit into a new place.

Know that watching a child for signs of mental or emotional imbalances is important. If they become:

  • Quiet or withdrawn
  • Agitated easily
  • Impulsive
  • Overly attached to you or someone/thing
  • Showing signs of obsessive compulsive behavior (always need things in order and having to repeat the same things over and over again)
  • Hyperreactive
  • Lacking empathy
  • Poor emotional control
  • Frequent colds or health issues
  • Anxious, sad, or depressed

Showing one or more of these behaviors could mean your child/student is not coping well with his or her current (or past) situation and could use some extra support.

Spend time with them. Just doing simple things like games, puzzles, cooking, walking or talking will show them they are supported. Ask a few questions when the timing is right (when both of you are relaxed and grounded). Use “How” and “What” questions. Avoid yes, no. or why questions. Get them some outside help either through school or an outside counselor if things doing settle down and their behaviors improve.

Addressing mental health needs in school is critically important too because 1 in 5 children have a diagnosable emotional, behavioral or mental health disorder and 1 in 10 young people have a mental health challenge that is severe enough to impair how they function at home, school, or in the community.

The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome of a child facing some level of stress and/or trauma in their lives. Know that the stress or trauma doesn’t have to be a big thing for some kids, it could be mild but they need to learn healthy coping skills. The earlier they are taught, the less of an impact difficult life experiences will have on them. Life seems to be more and more stressful as time goes on, so give them opportunities to learn good coping skills now.

One very healthy skill is expressive writing. Expressive writing is free writing, where the writer just speaks from their hearts without worrying about grammar, punctuation or spelling. The Imagine Project is one simple, safe, effective, and free way for a child, teen, or adult to express their emotions, process that’s happened, heal their hearts, and imagine a new story in its place—all using the word Imagine… Anyone from anywhere in the world can download the journal and use this process to cope. Check out our website and try it for yourself or download it for someone you love.

Happy Imagining!

Love,

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.

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.

Thank 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.

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