Archive for mental health

National Mental Health Month: A Story of Healing Through Expressive Writing

Written by Tara Imperatore

Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness. May is a time to raise awareness of the impact trauma can have on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being in order to help reduce the stigma so many experience. This is the story of how one woman harnessed the power of expressive writing to heal her childhood trauma.

Before I went to bed on the night of July 25, 1995, I was a carefree 10-year-old girl. I was an avid reader, gymnast, cheerleader, and straight-A student who loved making people laugh with goofy impressions and aspired to be a Saturday Night Live cast member one day. Growing up in a small suburb of New Jersey with my parents and two sisters, Nichole, 14, and Alyssa, 5, I felt safe and secure, unaware that in an instant, everything was about to change.

My mom rushed into my room around 10pm and shook me awake, the panic in her voice unlike anything I’d experienced before. “Get up! Nichole broke her neck! Pack a bag. Let’s go!” Rushing to the hospital, my parents were scared, but optimistic, expecting a broken neck to be healed with a foam neck brace. The reality we were up against is that my teenage sister, a talented athlete and aspiring chef, would never walk again.

Swimming at our uncle’s pool that night, Nichole dove into the shallow end, hitting the bottom with such force that she broke three vertebrae and damaged her spinal cord. Paralyzed from the neck-down, she was classified a quadriplegic, rendering her wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life, and shattering the dreams my parents had for our family’s future.

At home, the dynamic abruptly shifted. My 10-year-old carefree spirit disappeared among a long list of adult responsibilities. I loved my family so immensely that I took each task seriously and to heart, wanting to please my parents and ease their burdens. Riding bikes and having sleepovers turned into cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and babysitting my little sister; all the while learning how to care for someone in a wheelchair and maintain my own friendships and schoolwork. The space to complain, cry, or be uncooperative no longer existed for me under the constant pressure to always put on a brave face and offer to help. Laying down at night no longer felt safe and secure, but stressful and filled with uncertainty.

This enduring support for my family came at the expense of my mental health. Conditioned to ignore and devalue my needs for years to follow, I lost myself in struggles with depression, anxiety, trichotillomania, panic disorder, and PTSD—diagnoses I wouldn’t come to understand until I sought talk therapy for the first time at the age of 27. As a child, finding time to decompress was rare and I felt my playful, creative side eroding every day. It wasn’t until I found my way to journaling that a sense of freedom and control was regained.

Finally, I could let my mind wander without judgment or explanation. I could play out scenarios and express my anger without fear. I could discover again what brings me joy and makes me who I am. The act of daily journaling led to short story writing, and eventually a college degree in journalism. Now 37, I’ve built a successful career as a professional writer, motivating others to connect with themselves, and those around them, through the power of the written word.

I was introduced to The Imagine Project during a recent therapy session. My doctor told me about their dedication to help people, especially children, process stress and/or trauma through journaling. Their mission to give kids a voice for positive change and empower them to imagine a new story in their lives hit close to home. I was so inspired that I felt compelled to write my own imagine story. Reflecting on the lowest points in my life and seeing how far I’ve come and the growth I’ve achieved was more healing than I could have ever imagined.

Imagine…finding out your sister was in a life-threatening accident

Imagine…learning she will never walk again

Imagine…being only ten years old when your whole life changes

Imagine…growing up way too fast

Imagine…feeling like you can’t act like a kid anymore

Imagine…prioritizing everyone else’s needs over your own

Imagine…a teacher taking notice of your pain and encouraging you to journal

Imagine…exploring your imagination and finding yourself again

Imagine…being brave enough to share your words with the world

Imagine…becoming a professional writer and making a career out of storytelling

Imagine…inspiring others with your stories of perseverance and strength every single day

By: Tara Imperatore, age 37

Thank you so much Tara, we are so grateful to have you share your story with us. To learn more about The Imagine Project and download our FREE journals go to www.theimagineproject.org. Tell friends, family, and educators–help us spread the word. Thank you,

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.

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.

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.

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.

Students will need Extra Emotional Support this Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine…you had a sense of hope.

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine…everyone living with happiness and joy.

Hope, 2nd grade

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

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

Good luck and happy Imagining!

Dianne