Archive for mental health

Nurturing Minds: The Crucial Role of Imagination in a Child’s Mental Health

In the bustling world of technology and structured education, the value of imagination often takes a backseat. However, fostering a child’s imagination is not just about encouraging creativity; it plays a pivotal role in their mental health development. Imagination is the magical doorway through which children explore emotions, problem-solving, and self-expression, laying the foundation for robust mental well-being.

  1. Building Emotional Intelligence:

Imagination serves as a powerful tool for children to understand and navigate their emotions. Through imaginative play, they can embody different roles, experimenting with various feelings and responses. Whether it’s a tea party with imaginary friends or a grand adventure in a make-believe world, children learn to identify and manage their emotions, fostering emotional intelligence. This emotional awareness becomes a crucial asset as they grow, helping them navigate relationships and cope with life’s challenges.

Developing Problem-Solving Skills:

Imagination is the birthplace of creativity, and creativity is closely tied to problem-solving. When children engage in imaginative play, they encounter scenarios that require quick thinking and inventive solutions. Whether it’s building a fort with cushions or creating a story with unexpected twists, their minds are constantly at work, honing problem-solving skills that will prove invaluable in academic and real-life situations.

Cultivating Resilience:

Life is full of uncertainties, and cultivating resilience is essential for a child’s mental health. Imagination allows them to explore different outcomes and possibilities, teaching them to adapt and bounce back from setbacks. Through role-playing and storytelling, children develop the resilience needed to cope with disappointment and challenges, fostering a positive attitude towards life.

Stimulating Brain Development:

The brain is like a muscle that needs regular exercise, and imagination is the perfect workout. When children engage in imaginative activities, various regions of their brain are activated, contributing to cognitive development. This stimulation not only enhances creativity but also improves memory, attention span, and language skills. A well-developed brain is better equipped to handle stress and maintain mental well-being throughout life.

Encouraging Self-Expression:

Imagination provides a safe space for children to express themselves freely. In a world where societal expectations and norms often prevail, imaginative play allows them to explore their thoughts, feelings, and identities without judgment. This uninhibited self-expression is crucial for building a strong sense of self and confidence, laying the groundwork for positive mental health.

Promoting Social Skills:

Imagination is a social activity. Whether playing house with friends or creating an imaginary world together, children learn important social skills through imaginative play. Cooperation, communication, and empathy are all developed as they navigate the shared landscapes of their imagination. These social skills are not only vital for healthy relationships but also contribute to a child’s overall mental well-being.

The Imagine Project

The Imagine Project is an expressive writing program that allows a child (or adult) to write about a difficult story that has happened in their life. Once they write about the story by beginning each sentence using the word Imagine.., they are prompted to Imagine a new hopeful, positive ending to that story. This gives the writer the ability to use their imagination to see that they don’t have to be defined by their negative story, instead, they can create a new story in their lives. To download a FREE journal from The Imagine Project go to www.theimagineproject.org.

Conclusion

In the fast-paced and technologically driven world we live in, it’s essential not to overlook the importance of nurturing a child’s imagination. Imagination is not just a whimsical escape; it is the cornerstone of mental health development. Through imaginative play, children build emotional intelligence, develop problem-solving skills, cultivate resilience, stimulate brain development, encourage self-expression, and promote social skills. As parents, educators, and caregivers, it is our responsibility to create an environment that values and encourages the boundless possibilities of a child’s imagination, recognizing its profound impact on their mental well-being both now and in the future. So, let’s celebrate the world of make-believe and ensure that every child has the space and freedom to let their imaginations soar.

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

Be Kind To Your Mind: Practicing Self-Compassion

If you’re used to being self-critical, it might be difficult for you to understand what being self-compassionate is like. Self-compassion is defined as treating yourself with kindness and understanding during difficult times or when you feel like you are not good enough. For kids and teens, this is thinking, “It’s okay if I didn’t get an award today. I will do better next time” instead of telling themselves, “I’m such a loser. I can’t do anything right!”

When you’re kind to yourself, you will have an easier time dealing with the difficult situations in your life. Self-compassion naturally leads to better mental well-being, physical health, and relationship with others. Here’s more about the importance of self-compassion and ways to practice it.

The Importance of Self-Compassion for Mental Well-Being

It’s tempting to resort to negative-self talk after you make mistakes or fail self-expectations. But becoming harder on yourself can lead to more stress, depression, or insecurity. 

Self-compassion is linked to a strong resilience or the ability to recover from difficulties in life. Because you treat yourself with kindness and empathy, you can move on from shame and fear to having the motivation to do better in life. 

Components of Self-Compassion

To have compassion is to be aware of others’ suffering, and to have the desire to alleviate that suffering. This not only applies to others but to yourself as well.

Dr. Kristen Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research, says that self-compassion is made up of three elements — self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity. 

Self-Kindness

Self-kindness is the act of showing care, consideration, and understanding to yourself when you fail, suffer, or feel inadequate. Even when you don’t reach your self-expectations, you choose to be gentle with yourself rather than resort to anger or frustration. 

The reality about life is that you are going to make mistakes. It is inevitable to fail and be imperfect. Accepting this reality with kindness and patience to yourself instead of self-judgment can help you practice self-compassion. 

Mindfulness

Self-compassion also involves being mindful of your thoughts and emotions — neither exaggerating them nor dismissing them. This balanced approach allows you to be aware of your negative thoughts and emotions, and treat them with acceptance in a non-judgmental way. This is because you cannot practice self-compassion without observing your thoughts and feelings. 

Mindfulness also requires you to steer away from over-identification, which is the process of dwelling on negative feelings. Reliving your negative experiences repeatedly can make it difficult to practice self-compassion. 

Common Humanity

It’s easy to be hard on yourself if you think that mistakes and painful situations are things that can only happen to you. Realizing that you are not the only one who is imperfect is something that is part of having common humanity. This involves understanding that inadequacy and suffering are all part of being ‘human’ — a shared human experience. 

Rather than feeling isolated, you can practice self-compassion by reminding yourself that other people also feel that they’re not enough at times, and it is a part of life that everyone experiences.

Benefits of Practicing Self-Compassion

The way you treat yourself can affect many aspects of your life. Below are the benefits of practicing self-compassion:

Improved mental health

Practicing self-compassion promotes mental and emotional well-being. According to a 2018 study, compassion for one’s self is linked to lower levels of symptoms of depression. 

In another study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, it was found that self-compassion has a positive effect on happiness, positivity, optimism, wisdom, and others.

Better physical health

People who practice self-compassion are more likely to care for themselves not just emotionally, but also physically. Additionally, self-compassion can help you manage stress better, helping you avoid the physical effects of stress — such as weight gain, sleep problems, digestive issues, and many more. 

According to the research findings published by the researchers of the University of Pittsburgh, middle-aged women who had self-compassion also had lower chances of developing cardiovascular disease. The findings emphasize the importance of practicing self-compassion not just for mental but also for physical health. 

Positive relationships 

The ability to be compassionate to yourself also translates into the way you treat others. Having self-compassion allows you to be aware of others’ pain and challenges and treat them in a gentle way. This is important if you have children because strong and healthy family relationships can help with their performance academically and socially.

Aside from that, the life-enhancing benefits of self-compassion also allow you to approach your relationships with positivity. A study review published in the Australian Psychological Society, suggests that people who have self-compassion are also more likely to have secure attachment relationships.

How to Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion, just like other abilities, requires constant practice. Below are some tips that can help you:

Mindfulness practices

As an important component of self-compassion, it is helpful to give time to mindfulness practice. Tara Brach, a well-known psychologist and teacher of Buddhist mindfulness meditation, developed a tool for mindfulness practice called RAIN.

RAIN is an acronym that stands for the following four steps:

  1. Recognize what is taking place
  2. Allow the experience to take place as it is
  3. Investigate with care and interest
  4. Nurture yourself with compassion

RAIN can be used for meditation or when difficult challenges happen in your life. This allows you to acknowledge what is affecting you, allowing it to be there, investigate it, then nurture yourself with compassion. 

Self-compassion exercises 

Small things can make a huge difference in your life. Start practicing self-compassion through journaling. Notice and jot down the times when you resort to negative self-talk or experience distressing situations. 

Through journaling, you can practice mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. Write about how you felt as the negative thought or event occurred, recognize that it is part of common humanity, and end the entry by being kind to yourself. The practice of journaling can help you organize your thoughts and emotions and cope healthily. 

A wonderful format to use for journaling is called The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a simple, effective, and free journaling that includes 7-steps to prompt your thoughts and feelings, giving the writer an opportunity to organize their emotions and write them in second person using the word Imagine…to begin every sentence. To learn more about The Imagine Project go to www.theimagineproject.org and download the free journals

Self-compassion exercises can also be a family activity. For instance, start by teaching children about gratitude. By being grateful for everything you have — even though you are imperfect — you practice self-kindness as well. 

Reframing negative self-talk 

To practice self-compassion, it is helpful to understand the concept of growth mindset vs fixed mindset.

People who practice self-compassion know and accept that they are imperfect, but don’t resort to self-blame or shame. This is because of a growth mindset, which allows them to understand that challenges are a part of life and failures are not the end. This helps them move away from negative self-talk and towards a more positive attitude. 

On the contrary, having a fixed mindset involves the belief that talent and intelligence are fixed. This can lead to negative thinking, such as avoiding challenges because of fear of failure, taking constructive criticism personally, and giving up easily. 

You can adopt a growth mindset by embracing imperfection, viewing criticism as feedback, and being open to possibilities. 

Take Home Message 

Self-compassion allows you to accept painful experiences as they are while remembering that it is all a part of the human experience. As a response, you treat yourself with care and kindness. This can lead to several life-enhancing benefits that affect not just your mental health, but also physical health and relationships. 

Becoming self-compassionate is not an easy task, but consistent practice can get you there. Be kind to yourself and accept that you will make mistakes while being open to learning. 

Thank you Michael Vallejo for contributing this wonderful article to The Imagine Project. 

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 including The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress. She is an international speaker, lives in Colorado and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

Nurturing a Child’s Mental Health through Simple Mindfulness Techniques

When we think about healing, many of us focus only on our physical bodies. In reality, there is a great deal of research showing our minds lead the way for our bodies. What we think drives what we do, how we behave, and how we interact. Our thoughts even affect our cellular structure. Scientists used to believe that the body was made up of only physical matter; it functioned in specific ways and was only affected by other matter such as chemical responses (medications), surgery, and other physical modalities. Now we know the body is more than matter—it’s energy, and can be affected by many things, particularly the mind.

In his book, The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton writes, “Thoughts, the mind’s energy, directly influence how the physical brain controls the body’s physiology. Thought ‘energy’ can activate or inhibit the cell’s function…” In other words, thoughts can control the health of both the mind and the body. Using the mind to help handle drama, trauma, and stress is the key to emotional wellness. Here are some useful tools to help your children’s/students’ minds cope with life.

Mindfulness

As summer arrives, it’s a great time to create new health habits with our kids. Mindfulness is a great habit that will support our emotional and mental health (for life). Mindfulness is about being fully aware of what is happening in the present moment, both internally and externally. It’s a conscious decision to pay attention to your body, mind, emotions, and external circumstances, and to do so from a nonjudgmental place—a place of noticing and letting go of anything that doesn’t serve you. This may sound challenging, and it can be at times, but the more you practice the easier it gets. For kids, the earlier they learn these habits, the greater the impact.

According to research on mindfulness with adults and with children, mindfulness improves immune function (fewer illnesses), increases concentration, and decreases stress. There is a long list of positive effects on children who practice mindfulness.

Many who teach mindfulness advocate that it begins with paying attention to your breath. In calm moments, or in times of distress, 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. In her book, Rising Strong, Brené Brown writes about her “calm practice” in which “breathing is central to practicing mindful- ness.” You can try it by sitting quietly and gently paying attention to your breath, counting slowly as you breathe in and out. The goal is breathing into a count of about 3-5 and breathe out with a longer exhale. The longer exhale triggers your nervous system to relax physically as well as mentally. 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 and Teens

Practicing mindfulness with kids can begin during the early weeks of a pregnancy, which is an important time of brain growth. Sitting quietly for a time each day, perhaps reading or listening to music, can program your unborn baby’s biology, and reduce susceptibility to emotional problems early in life. With newborns, take time to just sit and rock, sing, read, and enjoy your baby. Be very present and not distracted by other things around you. As your babies grow into children, continue with quiet times—no phone, no TV, no distractions, just you and your children experiencing and talking about life.

You may need to be creative to help your growing child with mindfulness. Here are some ideas:

  • Sit together and have a snack. Talk about the snack and its characteristics, your favorite flavor, its texture, its temperature. Really noticing what you’re eating helps you be in the moment instead of worrying about anything else. To be playful, make funny faces to show your opinion of a food, or come up with creative ideas for weird meals.
  • Do a puzzle together.
  • Go for a walk and talk about the trees, birds, bugs, or grass.
  • Read a book together. Talk about the book and what you both thought about the story and characters.
  • Ask your child about the weather inside their hearts—sunny, cloudy, bright, rainy, or stormy. Be curious about their day and its highs and lows.
  • Write your Imagine stories together.
  • Play a game, anything from peek-a-boo and hide-and-go-seek to card games or board games.
  • Cook together.
  • Chase bubbles.
  • Look at the clouds and find formations in them.
  • Pick a country on the world map and research it.
  • Draw, color, create together.
  • Tell a story at bedtime, real or fictional.

Any one of these activities needs to be your full focus for at least 15 minutes, even longer can be better; no distractions, just one-on-one attention while you are being mindful of the present moment. The above suggestions are forms of mindfulness you can do together. What a great way to do something together that is peaceful and helpful.

Happy Imagining!

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

Small Changes That Make a Big Difference in Your Child’s Happiness

Children deserve to grow up happy, loved, and supported no matter their environment. According to an article on child development, various factors contribute to children’s happiness and wellbeing. Beyond economic stability and educational access, it’s important that children have strong and healthy relationships with their families. Children with supportive family members perform well academically and socially, while also reporting higher levels of overall life satisfaction.

The journey towards improving your child’s happiness and quality of life can start with transforming habits and behaviors at home. These may be small changes, but they ultimately make a significant difference in how children think and feel about themselves and the world around them.

Make time to communicate

Despite the busyness of daily life, it helps to communicate with your children. Whether it’s about motivating them at the start of the day or asking them how their day at school went, talking to your children sends them a message that you value their needs, feelings, and experiences. Furthermore, a study about parent-child communication published in Frontiers Psychology emphasizes the quality, and not just the frequency, of conversations. This contributes to the child’s positive self-concept, self-esteem, and confidence.

The quality of the conversations can be improved by ensuring your child isn’t always relegated to being the listener or receiver of information. Allow your child to take the lead in the conversation while encouraging them through nonverbal affirmations like nodding your head and maintaining eye contact.

Seek professional help

There are instances where a child may develop signs of poor mental health, such as withdrawal from social interactions or disruptions in their sleeping patterns. While it’s still our responsibility as parents to address potential or existing stressors, seeking professional help from licensed health professionals allows us to access more tools and resources related to mental health. Despite the shortage of mental health professionals across the country, you can find excellent online therapists to help. Everyday Health has an extensive list of providers, as well as Forbes lists online therapy providers that either charge per session or per weekly/monthly subscription. Most of the services allow you to choose a therapist that best matches your child’s situation.

With the advent of telemedicine, there are now remote nurse practitioners who can also address specific health needs. Remote mental health nurse practitioners across states are making up for the shortfall to provide all-around care and support starting from initial consultations to follow-up visits and medication plans. Their focus on child and family health can help alleviate common barriers like the availability and affordability of care. These remote services mainly benefit children who are more comfortable receiving counseling in the comfort of their own homes or children whose health conditions or special needs make it difficult to access care services at fixed facilities.

Minimize screen time

Regardless of your child’s age, it’s vital to set reasonable limits for their screen time and use of social media. As much as the increasingly digital world allows them to expand their knowledge and communicate with others despite the distance, nothing beats the organic experience of unstructured and unplugged playtime. Included in our list of ways to mitigate parents’ and children’s stress was scheduling two to four hours of downtime each day. This can come in the form of going for a short walk outside, biking to the park, doing puzzles, singing, and dancing. Not only do these activities let them relax and get in touch with the world around them, but your emotional bond and connection also improve when you make sure you play together!

Have regular family meals

This last change may seem the simplest of all, but parents sometimes overlook the importance of having regular family meals. No matter how busy your respective schedules get, an article on The Hill says family meals are a great way to reduce stress, strengthen connections, and boost the self-esteem of your children. When you mainly serve healthy and hearty dishes for mealtime, your children can find stability and consistency in their eating habits. You can further elevate this bonding experience by preparing the food together, especially on weekends or special occasions.

Overall, quality time together with fun and supportive conversations will support your child’s happiness now and for their lifetime. To help your child communicate emotions they may have difficultly talking about, you can also write your Imagine stories together. It’s fun, easy, and free. Download a journal today at www.theimagineproject.org.

Thank you,

The Imagine Project Team

Article written by Renee Jessa (Submitted to The Imagine Project)

10 Ideas for Infusing The Imagine Project into your Classroom Consistently

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Todd Daubert, Educational Consultant and veteran elementary teacher

Thank you so much,
Dianne

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

National Wellness Month: Self Care for Parents and Kids

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

How to Understand Your (and Their) Stress

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

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

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

How to Handle Loss

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

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

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

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

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

How Fatigue Shows Itself In Others

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

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

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

Love,

Dianne

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

 

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. 

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