Archive for mental health

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

 

 

Nurturing a Child through Stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and take care,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

 

 

Using Mindfulness during Stressful Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

The Imagine Project, Inc., is a nonprofit organization that helps kids, teens, and adults overcome challenging life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. Her simple, yet profound 7-step writing tool, now used by schools across the US and internationally, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

Important Tools to Help Children Build Resilience Through Stressful Times

Stress is everywhere. You can almost feel it in the air. Our community, our state, our country, and the world are facing a difficult time—a global Coronavirus pandemic. Who would have thought a year ago we would be here, living in the new normal—unable to leave our homes, no school, no sports, and no playtime with friends (for kids and adults). With this new (temporary) normal we can find ourselves feeling a gamut of emotions—fear, stress, overwhelm, anger, terror, confusion, relief, even joy—we can feel all of these in a matter of minutes! If we are feeling these emotions, our kids are too.

It’s important to give your kids tools to build their resilience. Tools to support their inner resilience so they know they will be okay—an important lesson of life really—tools kids and adults can use forever. When we are stressed, particular overly stressed, we can’t just hope it will go away, or someone will fix it for us. We must dig down deep—pull up the bootstraps as they say—and find the strength to cope, move forward, and thrive. How can we help ourselves, and our kids stay positive, and build a strong sense of self in these challenging times? Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Expressing how we feel: Coping with stress begins with emotional expression. Conversations with our children asking questions that begin with the words, “How…” or “What…” for example, “How are you feeling about hearing that from your friends?” “What are you feeling about that idea?” This begins the conversation so you can explore both your own feelings, and your child’s. Another wonderful tool to help children (and adults) express emotion is The Imagine Project writing tool. The Imagine Project writing tool is a 7-step writing process that asks specific questions so the writer can express their feelings (using the word “Imagine”) and even Imagine new possibilities of how their personal story might end. It’s a simple, yet powerful tool that is FREE to download from theimagineproject.org.
  2. Releasing negative emotion: Many believe (including myself) that we hold onto negative emotion in our bodies as energy. When we hold on to this negative energy it can create immediate or long-term health problems such as aches and pains or worse—major issues like high blood pressure or cancer. One of the ways we can release the pent up negative energy is through exercise and movement. So move! Dance, jump, play, exercise, play hide-n-seek—whatever gets you and your children moving!  It’s best if you move for 20 minutes or more and get your heart rate up, but do what you can. Another amazing tool is called Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping. Tapping is a form of energy releasing by using your fingers to gently tap on acupuncture points on the body while making simple statements. You can watch videos on this website to learn more about tapping or you can go to another website/app that is very helpful in learning how to tap, especially with kids, thetappingsolution.com. I highly recommend you check it out!
  3. Mindfulness: Mindfulness is powerful in calming our nervous systems. Stress speeds up our nervous systems. Being “sped up” all the time is not good for our health—it releases hormones that can negatively impact our body—creating illness. It’s particularly bad for kids to be stressed and sped up constantly as their neuropathways are developing and will stay in fast mode for life, creating anxiety and other issues. So we need to slow our nervous systems down—actively making our minds and bodies take it easy and relax. Mindfulness is a good way to slow our minds and bodies down—and it’s easier than you think. Sitting and doing a puzzle, cooking, humming (humming is very good for your nervous system), going for walks, or reading together are all mindfulness techniques. Think of the relaxing things you like to do with your kids—and make it a habit to do them everyday, more than once a day. With the stress so intense right now, it’s extremely important to actively practice mindfulness as much as possible. If you want to learn more, you can Google mindfulness or go on YouTube to listen to mindfulness meditations. If you have elementary school age children go to gonoodle.com for great quick mindfulness videos that kids love (it’s free).

These are important times to find extra support for ourselves and our children—the stress around us is intense. Set your intentions around what positive things you want to get from this period of time, ask your kids to set some intentions too. Learning to relax, spending more time together, connecting with old friends, the world coming together again, are a few that come to mind. There is always good that comes from life’s challenges.

We can all make it through this—and be even better on the other side. Try some of these suggestions today. Download The Imagine Project journals and write your imagines together as a family. If you are a teacher have your students to it—it will be amazing! Teach your children they can be resilient and overcome any challenge—it may take a little extra work, but of course it’s important for them to learn that too.

Good luck and stay well,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

The Imagine Project, Inc., is a nonprofit organization that helps kids, teens, and adults overcome challenging life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. Her simple, yet profound 7-step writing tool, now used by schools across the US and internationally, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

 

Supporting the Emotional Needs of Foster Kids with the Imagine Project

Numerous studies have been conducted that reveal just how much stress today’s kids are under. Sadly, we see it every day revealed in bullying, anxiety, depression, chemical abuse, and even suicide. Youth are suffering with stress and trauma, and those labeled as “at risk”, such as foster kids, have more to overcome than the average student. One of the ways we are able to support them is through the Imagine Project, a seven step journal exercise designed to heal trauma in a way that allows for empathy, understanding, and positivity.

Using a process that includes the simple prompt of “imagine”, students begin to share something they have had to deal with, as well as how it has turned around. Here’s an excerpt as an example from a recent classroom experience:

Imagine… having gone to eleven schools by the time you’ve entered the 9th grade.

Imagine… moving so often that you’re numb to the feeling of packing everything you own in trash bags.

Imagine… knowing the term “at-risk” at such a young age that you didn’t yet know the definition of “success.”

Imagine… falling asleep much too early at a friend’s sleepover because it’s the 1st time in a long time that you slept in a bed—not on the floor.

The story continues, but begins moving to the positive…

Imagine… breaking through the circumstances you were given and getting a college scholarship to go to college.

In a classroom setting, students can choose to share their stories with others, or not. Those who do share are often met with compassion and caring, which builds empathy and understanding for both those who read their stories, and those who are simply participating by listening. The process builds emotional wellness with a tool that helps them tap into their feelings, express them in a safe written format, and reveal to them their own resiliency.

Why Foster Kids?

Statistics show that in 2017, more than 690 thousand youth in the United States spent some time in foster care. Of these, the majority were youth of color, and stayed in care an average of 1-2 years. While many lived with extended family, an equal number are in non-family care or group homes. Just over 50% are reunited with their families, but many, who enter the system on average at the age of 8, will exit at age 18 without ever having a stable home.

Foster kids specifically are more likely to get involved with high risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, sexual activity (often resulting in teen pregnancy), and are at greater risk for homelessness and incarceration as adults. Further, they:

  • have often been victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect
  • may have been inappropriately medicated and/or institutionalized
  • have disrupted family connections due to incarceration of a parent or long periods of separation from key family members
  • have experienced homelessness and/or domestic violence

The Imagine Project creates a positive format for self-expression and a supportive community environment by demonstrating compassion to and from peers and caring adults. It helps students build their own problem-solving and self-regulation skills by learning to take responsibility for their feelings and choices. Using this tool with all students, but particularly those who have gone through tremendous trauma, such as those in the foster system, is especially important and valuable.

To get your FREE copies of The Imagine Project Journal and sample lesson plans, visit: https://theimagineproject.org/the-7-step-journals/

Thank you!

Dianne

The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps kids, teens, and adults overcome challenging life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. Her simple, yet profound 7-step writing tool, now used by schools across the US and internationally, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

How does Emotional Freedom Technique/ EFT/Tapping Support The Imagine Project?

As parents and teachers we often see our kids struggling with issues that challenge their ability to cope. It may be keeping up in school, coping with friendship changes, or the trials of social media. We are always looking for tools to support our precious children (and ourselves). The Imagine Project writing activity is a wonderful tool for allowing kids to express their emotions and work through difficult times. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT, also called Tapping) is another tool that is simple and easy to implement with your kids/students, and even use on yourself. Here is an overview of how EFT/tapping works and how it supports The Imagine Project writing activity. If you’d like more information, see The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2018).

Tapping is based on the principles of Chinese medicine where energy runs through the body via energetic meridians, much like how blood runs through veins and arteries. There are energetic points on the body that are specific to various emotions and physical organ functions. If there is negative energy stuck in or around those points, it can alter our health and wellbeing.

When we experience a difficult emotion, it can often leave a negative energetic imprint in our bodies. If we don’t release it, that negative energy can lead to long-term issues with mental and physical health. In EFT we are taught to tap on specific points on the body and state our emotions out loud as we tap. As we tap we are talking to our subconscious, allowing us to acknowledge our feelings and therefore let go of the negative imprint. Healthy energy then begins to flow freely again and we feel better emotionally and physically.

During Step 3 of The Imagine Project writing process, emotion can often begin bubbling up. It’s very positive to feel emotion, emotions help us process and move forward. Tapping can help us let go of those emotions more quickly as we write and acknowledge how we feel. It’s not necessary to use tapping with the writing, but it can help. I encourage you to give it a try by checking out these resources: The Tapping Solution (website and app), Brad Yates YouTube videos, and Peta Stapleton classes for teachers. You can easily teach yourself or take classes online or in person.

There is a great deal of quality research around the positive effects of tapping for many, many different issues. The research shows improvement in anxiety, depression, chronic pain, as well as many other health issues. If you are interested,  Google research with Emotional Freedom Technique/Tapping and you will find a wealth of information.

Teaching ourselves and our youth to tap so they can have a simple and effective tool to use for support, along with The Imagine Project writing process is powerful for them now and in their futuer. As they move through difficult life circumstances these tools can help them feel more comfortable in school, with friends, even in sports! Use it along with The Imagine Project writing process with your children or students!

Good luck and happy Tapping!

Love,

Dianne

The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps kids, teens, and adults overcome challenging life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. Her simple, yet profound 7-step writing tool, now used by schools across the US, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

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