Archive for School stress

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

 

 

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.

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.

5 Reasons why Teaching Gratitude to Kids is Important


Step 7 of The Imagine Project writing activity is a 30-day Gratitude challenge. We ask students to write down 3 things they are grateful for every day for 30 days. It’s a practice in seeing the positive in their lives and recognizing there is always something to be grateful for, even on the darkest days. Learning to be grateful can mean the difference of staying in a state of sadness and regret to finding love and positivity.

Gratitude is included in the 7-step writing process because learning gratitude practices early can have a wonderful positive impact on brain function and overall mental state, better equipping a child for their journey into adulthood. Here are 5 reasons why gratitude can transform lives:

Improves Brain Health and Sleep

Research has shown that gratitude actually changes the molecular structure of your brain. It keeps grey matter functioning longer, and feeling gratitude floods the brain with dopamine—an important hormone for brain and emotional health. Those with a practice of gratitude journaling before bed, have been shown to sleep longer and more soundly.

Shows Good Manners

Saying ‘thank you’ in general is good manners, and some people believe the art of good manners has been lost on today’s children. While this could be argued, the truth is saying ‘thanks’, whether verbally or through a note, helps build relationships. A friendly ‘thank you’ creates opportunities and reinforces harmony to create connection.

Builds Empathy and Self Esteem

Building empathy reduces aggression and thoughts of revenge as the person begins to see and feel what it’s like in “someone else’s shoes”. When we are looking for and finding the good in life, we discover different points of view. This also means that we better recognize other’s accomplishments, as well as our own, building self-esteem.

Reduces Entitlement

In general, when anyone focuses on the good, or the “blessings” in life, they become happier. Focusing on what there is to be thankful for, banishes entitlement, or the feeling that one needs or deserves more.

Creates Resiliency

Expressing gratitude in the face of self-pity and trauma equips us for better coping and resiliency, asking us to trust a “bigger picture” or to find the positive in a situation. Rather than stress and worry, having an attitude of gratitude helps us overcome the fearful thinking associated with feeling out of control.

Students don’t need Step 7 of the Imagine Project to learn gratitude, but it helps. Along with giving them a voice to express anything that might be difficult in their lives, the Imagine Project writing activity teaches them the habit of gratitude. We can learn to be grateful at any age, but when kids learn gratitude when their young, they receive a gift shifting their thinking from negativity to positivity—pretty amazing gift!

Feeling grateful for all of you

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 and internationally, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

School Shootings: A Tool that can Help Stop this Horrible Trend

Ugh, yet another school shooting. Our hearts are all breaking once again. When will it ever end? What are the solutions? How can we help? We could debate this subject for days, but staying out of politics, I would like to offer a tool that is at least part of the solution. The Imagine Project is a simple 7-step writing process that can be incorporated into any classroom, group, or done individually with kids K-12. It’s supports social emotional balance and mental health. If also changes the climate and culture of a classroom, school, and even society—by bringing kindness, compassion, healing, and hope to the kids. Which in turn, may keep kids from making the horrendous choice of shooting someone else to ease their own pain.

The day of the latest school shooting, my videographer, Christie Taylor and I were just finishing up hours of interviewing teachers and kids about the impact The Imagine Project had on their school. Walnut Hills Elementary had just finished doing the project with their entire school a few weeks earlier. Every interviewee—teachers and students alike—had endless affirming statements and stories about how the Imagine Project had positively impacted their lives and their classrooms. Kids from 2nd through 5thgrade spoke about how they loved being able to talk about something that was difficult for them—an issue they might not have mentioned otherwise, but what negatively affecting them. Some talked about friend issues, divorce, moving, pet—or even worse, parent losses. These experiences or issues often caused emotions such as sadness, anger, fear, even confusion and anxiety. Over and over they expressed how good it was to write and speak about their feelings. And when their classmates heard their Imagine stories (they often read them out loud), they felt heard, found new friends, learned compassion, and they stopped feeling much of the intense emotions related to the issues—they could move on and create a new Imagine story in their lives.

Teachers couldn’t stop talking about how powerful it was for their kids to have a tool that helps students express emotion, share experiences, see their resilience, and just plain feel better about life! When kids shared their stories, they made new friends, smiled more, felt lighter about heavy issues, and best of all saw possibility in their lives. When asked if The Imagine Project might lessen bullying—without hesitation the teachers answered yes. Why? Because The Imagine Project creates connections between students, understanding of another student’s story, and compassion for another student they may have not even known anything about prior to hearing their Imagine story.

Research shows kids are more stressed than ever. Trauma is also very prevalent among our youth. When kids are stressed and traumatized—and don’t have the proper help—they can find unhealthy ways to cope: Addictions, self-harm, dropping out of school–and even harming someone else.

We must give kids tools to cope with, mitigate, and heal from their stress and trauma. Give them positive, healthy tools and strategies so they don’t make horrific choices like seriously hurting someone else. The Imagine Project is the perfect tool for this. Our research shows it increases a child’s ability to manage stress, makes them open to outside support, and they take more academic risks so they do better in school! Please check out the free journals and download them today. Bring them home to your kids, ask your teachers about them, share it with other teachers, counselors, and admin. The kids will love it and you will love it!

For more information you can refer to my book, The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress. It’s not necessary to do the project, but it may be helpful.

Thank you and take care,

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.

New research Showing Positive Outcomes after using The Imagine Project!

Little girl writing her Imagine story.

When teachers, counselors, admin, etc. use new curriculum/ideas in their school and classrooms, they like to know what they are using is backed by credible research. We have good news! Phase One of our research on The Imagine Project has come back significantly positive! If you aren’t familiar with The Imagine Project writing process, click here to see the free journals.

Until now The Imagine Project writing activity has been based on the plethora of research that’s been done on expressive writing over the last 25 years. In most of the studies, participants were asked to take 15 to 30 minutes to write about an emotionally challenging, stressful, even traumatic incident in their lives. Typically, they are asked to do this once a day for three to five days. Even though the time spent writing can be emotional and make the writer feel vulnerable, the long-term benefits are positive. Study measurements were done months, even years, after the writing exercises and positive results still existed.

Expressive writing research shows it can:

  • improve grade point average,
  • improve working memory,
  • improve writing skills,
  • decrease school dropout rates,
  • enhance immune function (fewer illnesses and fewer trips to the doctor),
  • decrease blood pressure,
  • promote wound healing after surgery,
  • decrease anxiety and depression,
  • help people feel better about life, and
  • lessen post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptoms.

We wanted to see more specifically how The Imagine Project affects a student who uses it. So we hired a well sought after research company called QREM (Quantitative Research Evaluation and Measurement) in Littleton, CO. QREM then designed extensively researched questionnaires for elementary, middle, and high school students looking at themes that included academic risk taking, outlook toward their future, positive school attitudes, stress management, support, and writing.

The research process took about 5 months to complete. We recruited various schools in Colorado and Washington. Students took a pretest ora posttest to minimize the test-retest effect. So students who took the pretest did not take the posttest and those who took the posttest had not taken the pretest. All did the Imagine Project writing activity steps 1-7 once in their classrooms. We tested 4th, 5th, 8th, and high school (from Alternative High Schools only because those were the students who were available at the time).

Our results were even stronger than we anticipated:

The Imagine Project has a substantial impact on middle school students.Middle school participants made more significant gains on the established constructs than any other age group. Specifically, middle school students made gains in their ability to manage their stress and their perception of support from others (increases of 11.5% and 6.3%, respectively).

Boys were especially receptive towards the Imagine Project.Boys of all age groups made substantial gains in many of the constructs –seeing improved attitudes towards school by 11.6%, their ability to manage stress by 9.8%, and their perceptions of support by 8.0%.

Girls improved with stress management.Middle and high school girls participating in the Imagine Project improved their overall stress management by 9.4%

Elementary School Findings showed gains in skills and comfort with writing. This information is backed by many teachers reporting their student’s love of writing increased after using The Imagine Project writing project. QREM researchers believe we did not see more changes in stress management with elementary school students because they are more difficult to measure due to being easily influenced by life events on a daily basis—and developmentally it can be challenging to measure these types of issues. But, teachers tell us all the time, the Imagine Project makes a huge impact in a student’s self-awareness, ability to cope with stress, improved kindness, and it brings classrooms together in support of each other.

We are very pleased with the results of our Phase One research project. We are now in Phase Two, looking more in-depth at constructs such as compassion, self-awareness, stress management, and love of writing. We understand how critical mental health and education research is to implementation of programs in a classroom/school, and we want to know the best format for applying the Imagine Project writing process. With kids as stressed as they our in our world, they (and you) need tools for support. Go to www.theimagineproject.org to download our free journals!

I hope you find this helpful and spread the word about The Imagine Project!

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, gives kids and teens the opportunity to rewrite a challenging personal story and Imagine new possibilities in its place.

7 Tips to Teach Kids/Students to be Resilient

Teaching kids to be resilientA very important question all parents, teachers, counselors, youth leaders, etc. must always be asking is, “How do we teach our kids to be resilient?” Resilience is so important when trying to navigate and succeed in our complicated world. Research shows stress is growing with our younger generations. Social media, faster moving information, pressures from peers, parents, and education is intensifying quickly. Knowing how to teach our kids to cope with life and become resilient is critical to their ability to overcome stress and become resilient in their lives.

Everyone has the ability to be resilient; some kids are naturally more resilient than others based on two factors; their genetic make-up and their environment. Two individuals with the same exact genetic makeup may have two entirely different expressions of their genes, purely because of environmental factors. For example, in studies of identical twins adopted into different homes, researchers found many similarities (personality traits, interests, manner- isms), but also many differences, suggesting that environmental factors can “turn on” certain genes. Genes that make us susceptible to conditions like depression, cancer, and bipolar would “turn on” in one twin and not in the other, due to differing circumstances such as level of parental nurturing, the physical environment, school experiences, individual and family stress.

Even though we are influenced by our genetic makeup, and our environment, coping can be learned which boosts our resilience. A child learns to cope with adversity by encountering difficulty and figuring out how to work through it. This process begins at a very young age—falling over when learning to walk, for example—and trials and errors continue throughout life. To strengthen coping, let your child struggle and make mistakes without jumping to fix it for them. Instead, let them do it. Let them fall, listen with compassion, be a supportive presence, and whenever possible and advisable, let them figure out their own solutions. Your trust in their ability to prevail boosts their resilience, a key feature of emotional wellness.

Here are 7 tipsfor boosting emotional resilience in your child/student (adapted from the American Psychological Association):

  1. Self-care:Many of us have moved have away from embracing self-care for ourselves, and our kids/students—yet if our buckets are empty we are pretty much worthless. Taking care of yourself is making a come back—and it’s critical to teach kids not to over book themselves; play everyday, laugh everyday, take time to be quiet at least once a day (10 minute meditations are perfect), and be mindful of listening to others. (click here for more information on self-care)
  2. Socialization:Children learn through face-to-face interactions with other children (and adults). Give them opportunities after school and on the weekends to just be with others (without a computer or device) so they can learn about themselves and others.
  3. Giving back:Kids learn so much by seeing and helping others in need. It feels good to give to those who need it—it feeds the soul and teaches them so much about life.
  4. Sleep and eating properly: None of us can function well on lots of sugar and lack of sleep. Eating a healthy diet filled with protein, veggies, and fruit will fuel their brains—and their resilience. Sleeping at least 8-9 hours (more for younger ones) will give them clear minds and the ability to think and move.
  5. Talk about feelings:We as a society often don’t like to talk about how we feel; yet processing challenges in life out loud or on paper is imperative to building resilience. Talking or writing about the experience not only helps us understand what we’ve been through, but it gives us a better look at how we’ve already coped (good or bad) and thoughts about what else we might do when facing difficult situations. The Imagine Project journaling is a simple and powerful format for writing about life experiences.
  6. Positivity: There is so much research on the power of positivity. People who live longer are often positive by nature. Teaching kids that there is always something positive in any situation is so important to keeping their brains and bodies healthy and a smile on their face.
  7. Imagining new possibilities: Teach a child to imagine and define their goals, supporting them in achieving their goals, then joining in when they are proud of themselves will build any child’s resilience. Some kids need smaller goals, some bigger, but every child needs to imagine new possibilities in their lives, hope is everything in keeping us resilience.

Resilience is a critical part of emotional wellness for all of us. It’s important to teach kids—no matter what their age—that they can overcome obstacles, imagine new possibilities, and enjoy life no matter what they face. Humans are resilient—I see it every time I step into a classroom and listen to the powerful Imagine stories of all ages. Download The Imagine Project Journal and try it with your child or classroom. There will be ample opportunities to teach and show resilience—I promise.

Good luck and take care,

Dianne

Dianne Maroney is a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing. She is the founder of 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.

Why Play is Important to a Child’s Mental Health

Laughter, running, jumping, being silly, twirling, smiling, creating—all are part of play and having fun! Instinctively, as parents and teachers, we know the importance of play for our kids (and ourselves)—it gives them/us a welcome break from stress and promotes mental health. Yet, we often put play last after homework, sports, jobs, and the constant daily routines of life. The American Academy of Pediatrics promotes play as essential to a child’s development because research shows that it improves learning, cognitive awareness, physical, social, and emotional wellbeing. Fortunately, play is making a comeback because we are remembering how critical it is to healthy brain and body development. Play gives kids tremendous learning opportunities, including how to work with others, manage feelings, think, plan, make decisions, and read other people’s emotions. Play also promotes physical fitness, creativity, self-expression, self-regulation, and healthy boundaries—basically physical and emotional wellness and mental health!

Global Play Labs

There are organizations all over the world embracing the forgotten benefits of play. In Bangladesh, they have created play labs for kids in poorer communities who aren’t exposed to the benefits of preschool and early learning. The World Bank is watching and adding billions of dollars to these resources to help bring a play curriculum to underprivileged kids all over the world. Research has shown that investing in a child early will promote brain development and improve their abilities later in life.

Global School Play Day

There is even a Global School Play Day on February 5th each year where kids take an entire day off school and just play! Teachers do not guide the play, the students do—only rules for safety and that’s it—just play! Imagine how important these days are for stress relief, interpersonal interaction, and just understanding life.

Therapeutic Play

Play can also be very therapeutic for children struggling with difficult life experiences. Doing something completely different, getting away from a difficult situation, or giving a child the opportunity to process the scenario that’s been difficult by acting it out in play will support a child’s mental health. A friend who had a hospitalized premature infant said her girls often played “hospital,” because having their sister hospitalized was so difficult for them. If your kids are stressed or acting out their trauma in play, don’t try to fix it or guide it in a certain direction, let them play it out (as long as they are safe)— eventually they will master or resolve the issues they are working on. If you have concerns about them or what you see, talk to your pediatrician or consult a therapist.

Teaching your child (or yourself) to play

Many of us didn’t grow up understanding how to play so it can be hard to teach and encourage your child to play. But the cool thing is that children naturally know how to play, and you can follow their lead and have fun doing it! The first step is to find out what your child likes to do. This may change over time, so be flexible. Some kids might like cool science experiments, some only want to do something physical and outdoors, others may have music interests, want to cook with you, draw or create—the list is endless, but try to avoid video games—more can be learned without a screen! Instead provide the raw materials your child needs to pursue their interests, explore their imaginations, experience the world around them, or express their creativity.

Ideas for Play

Here are some suggestions for games to play with students/kids. They will help with physical and emotional wellness.

• Chase bubbles.
• Have a picnic (indoors or out).
• Play hide-n-seek.
• Card or board games.
• Puzzles
• Decorate cookies together.
• Guess the mystery food.
• Have a pillow fight.
• Cut snowflakes out of paper.
• “I see something in Grandma’s grocery store and
it starts with the letter ___.”
• “I spy with my little eye, something that is (name
a color). Guess what it is!”
• Play music, dance, and freeze—see how silly
everyone looks!

If you or your child is struggling with stress or an event in their life that has been difficult, play can be a perfect outlet. Sometimes they may need to talk or write about their feelings before they can let go and play. Using The Imagine Journals will help them process what is making them feel down, sad, mad, etc. Try doing The Imagine Project with your classroom or in your family to help support their mental health and bring them back to a place they can run, jump, and laugh again. For more information on stress and trauma in kids you can read The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to rise above Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2018) You can download the free journals at www.theimagineproject.org)
Thank you and happy playing!
Dianne

When Trauma Happens in a Classroom or School

Unfortunately, we live in a world where trauma happens. It might be a school shooting, a natural disaster, or a significant loss of a student, teacher, or admin, but it happens more often that we’d like. I recently sat in with a classroom of 4thgraders who lost a fellow schoolmate to a fatal disease—a significant school trauma. Their journey in understanding what happened is complicated, but I was grateful to be there to help them through it using The Imagine Project.

Drew Rushton is described as a fun-loving, kind, silly, Dennis the Menace type kid who was a ray of sunshine in the eyes of those who had the honor of knowing and loving him. He knew no enemies and was gracious to everyone—which means he had a lot of friends who will miss him. With the loss of Drew comes great sadness to many, particularly his friends and classmates. I was asked by a 4thgrade teacher to come in and help start The Imagine Project process just about 2 weeks after Drew’s passing. Drew was not in this particular classroom, but he was the same age and many of the kids were friends or had known him from previous classes.

The second step of The Imagine Project asks the kids to write a down something that has been difficult for them in their lives. Yes, even young kids have experienced tough times, the most common are moving, loss of pets or grandparents, injuries, or parents divorcing. Sadly, in the class there were more than a handful of kids who wrote down, “Drew”, just “Drew”. For a few of the students, it was all they could write. They couldn’t add any more details, just “Drew”.

Step 3 asks each student to write an Imagine story—telling in more detail the story of their difficult experience—each sentence begins with the word Imagine…  Ann Henderson, their teacher (who was wonderful BTW), and I walked around the classroom helping them with ideas, spelling, how to write, etc. There were a few kids who were able to write their feelings about Drew, even though it was hard, they found the words. But there were a few more that had a hard time saying what was in their hearts and minds. They wanted to write, but it was too hard for them, they didn’t want to cry, and they knew they would. It’s painful to talk about a loss that still hurts. We encouraged them, but they just couldn’t. So we honored their feelings and after some time writing, we brought everyone together in a circle. Bravely, one little boy read his story about Drew out loud to the other kids.

Imagine having a friend who was incredible.

Imagine that friend becoming very sick.

Imagine thinking that friend would be okay even though he had been through a lot.

Imagine that friend dying.

Imagine seeing his body and signing the casket.

Imagine going to his celebration of life and hearing stuff about him you never knew.

Imagine knowing he’s in a better place.

Gavin, 4thgrade

As Gavin read his story I watched the other kids, particularly the ones who struggled writing their stories. They were fighting back the tears, hearing and feeling similar emotions. After they read their stories (those that wanted to) we talked a bit about how hard it was to not have Drew there anymore. I was even able to do a group round of tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique—see below) with the kids which really helped them let go of some of their sadness and move into the comfort of knowing Drew is in a better place.

There is such comfort knowing others feel the same as you do when you’re hurting. It doesn’t necessarily take the pain away, but it helps. I’m told over and over again by teachers and counselors that The Imagine Project brings out buried feelings and opens up avenues of compassion and empathy for kids (and adults). A child writing about a difficult time is powerful, hopeful, and healing—and they love it! They want to share how they feel and many of them just don’t know how—it’s not a skill we always teach to kids, but it’s so important.

Giving a classroom, school, or community the opportunity to work through a traumatic time is critical for healing and bringing kids and adults together in a comradery they may never have experienced before. They grow together in healing, love, trust, and empathy because they understand each other and themselves a little bit better.

If your school, classroom, group, or community has experienced any sort of traumatic experience, it’s helpful to have those involved write their Imagine stories together. By writing and sharing, there is a deeper understanding of our own hearts and minds, and those around us. What a great way to bring people together and embrace the amazing human resilience. We are all resilient, it’s just easier when you have others who understand and maybe even feel similar.

Ms. Henderson had this to say after doing The Imagine Project with her class:

My overall takeaway is that the project gave the students permission and encouragement to write and talk about their feelings in an open and safe forum. A very few students have had some counseling before and sharing in this way has been normalized, but many students have had less exposure to the idea that they can/should get their feelings out and learn how to process them. With a common trauma, I think this is especially important because the kids know that other peers are finding this difficult time too, and that it’s ok to feel upset and ungrounded at the moment.”

She added the next day that the kids were overall calmer too. Does The Imagine Project help with childhood trauma—absolutely. Is it easy to implement—yes! Will it bring up emotion for everyone, probably, but you can always try using Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) with yourself and the kids to help. If you want to learn more about EFT (also called tapping) you can google it and watch a few YouTube videos or I explain how to use it in my book: The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress. The Imagine Project Journals can be downloaded for free here.

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or Tapping)

Wording I used for group tapping in this classroom—the kids repeated after me and tapped where I tapped:

“Even though I’m sad Drew is gone, I love and accept myself” (above the eyebrow)

“Even though it’s hard not to have Drew around anymore, I love and accept myself” (under the eye)

“Even though I’m sad Drew is gone, I love an accept myself” (under the nose)

“It’s hard to lose someone you love” (chin)

“I miss Drew a lot” (collar bone)

“I wish I could see him again” (under the arm)

“My heart is sad” (top of the head)

“I hope I feel better soon” (eyebrow)

“It helps to know my friends feel the same way I do” (under the eye)

“I know my feelings will get better” (nose)

“It helps to know he’s in a better place” (chin)

“He’s probably watching over us right now” (collar bone)

“I bet he’s smiling and playing and laughing” (under the arm)

“It makes me smile to think of him smiling” (top of the head)

“He’s happy and that makes me feel better” (eyebrow)

**The trick to tapping is using the points that are typical in tapping and saying what the other person/student might be feeling. You may not know exactly what they are feeling, but you will have a sense and you can try a few different emotions/thoughts to get to their general thoughts. After acknowledging their painful emotions it’s important to bring them around to positive thoughts, gently.

Thank you and happy Imagining!

Love,

Dianne

The Gift of Gratitude

With the holidays comes family, fun, and gifts! There’s no better time of year to each a child (and adults) the importance of gratitude beyond the “Thank you” that comes after receiving a gift. Daily gratitude is such a simple idea/process, yet most people overlook it’s amazing benefits. Dr. David Hamilton, author of Why Kindness is Good for You, writes, “Gratitude is a mark of being kind to life by being aware of all that is around us, and when we are grateful, we acknowledge the people and situations in our life and express thanks for them.” We teach our children to say “thank you,” but it’s also important to model and teach them to see gratitude as a key philosophy of life. Seeing and feeling gratitude every day is one key to being resilient and successful.

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

The benefits of gratitude:

  • Greater sense of well-being
  • Improved physical health
  • Improved self-esteem, resilience, and empathy
  • Decreased aggression
  • Increased optimism
  • Improved sleep

Gratitude even improves relationships. Research shows that saying thank you to someone helps to create a more positive relationship. When a child feels gratitude from his or her parents for being helpful or for just being a good kid, the child feels safer and more empowered to say something when they are upset and need to talk.

It is fairly easy to teach kids to practice a life philosophy of gratitude. Using the 30-day Imagine, Gratitude, and Kindness Challenge (Step 7 in My Imagine Journal) is a good place to start—especially during the holidays. Kids can have fun creating a family gratitude board or a gratitude box where everyone can write, keep, and even share what they feel grateful for anytime of year. We play The Gratitude Game in the car or at meal- time. Particularly if someone has had a bad day, this can help them put their experiences in perspective and feel better.

The gratitude game:

Each person takes a turn saying what they are grateful for, beginning with, “I am grateful for…”. We can be grateful for anything in life, even our pillows or phones, waking up on the more or just life in general! Everyone takes at least three turns. By the 3rdturn you should see and feel more positivity in the air!

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

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

Even before the gifts begin to open, it’s so important to teach a child to find gratitude in every day. Begin each morning by taking turns saying what everyone is grateful for; end each day with the same practice; both are life long practices that positively change brain function and will improve anyone’s outlook on life.

It’s with my deepest gratitude and love for believing in The Imagine Project, Inc.

Happy Holidays,

Dianne