Archive for stressed kids

Trauma Informed Schools

Transitioning to a Trauma Informed School has become an important movement across the United States, particularly in those schools with a high population of at-risk students. Schools in poorer communities, communities with high crime, even rural areas are seeing the positive effects of applying Trauma Informed principles into their overall curriculum. Even if your school does not have a high-risk student population, it’s important to understand that trauma is in all schools. Yes, it may be higher in certain communities, but as many know, the ACES research showed that 50% of all kids in white, middle class, well-educated communities have at least one traumatic experience before the age of 17. This means every school has students who’ve experienced trauma. Becoming a Trauma Informed School is of utmost importance in helping all children succeed in school, and in life.

What does Trauma Informed mean?

Becoming a Trauma Informed School means training all staff to have a greater understanding of trauma and the impact it can have on a child—both immediate and long-term. Then giving educators the tools to deal with students experiencing trauma (past or present) in the classroom. Staff learn how to:

  • Create safe and supportive school environments
  • Adopt positive and restorative justice practices which include peer and staff support
  • Integrate social emotional learning tools
  • Have better access to mental health for all students (and staff), and knowing when and how to use mental health resources
  • Have ongoing trainings to continue to understand the latest data and research on trauma—how it affects the child, and current tools to implement in the classroom.

Shifting perspectives:

One of the most important ideas/theories that comes from Trauma Informed Classrooms is knowing a child may be acting out or unable to learn because of something that is happening at home or around the student, even if it’s in his or her past. When a student is struggling an educator asks, “What happened to you?” instead of the more traditional, “What is wrong with you?” When an educator asks in their minds, “What may have happened to this student to cause this behavior?” it shifts to a caring mode that becomes supportive of the student instead of condemning, and they can implement tools to support the child to be successful in school.

What does Trauma look like in students?

There are many definitions of trauma, but I like to define a traumatic experience as anything that challenges our coping mechanisms. We learn to cope based on our past experiences and our brain development. One child’s past experiences may have given him or her a different ability to cope with a situation than someone else’s experience. Often times, kids don’t have a lot of life experience to give them the resources to cope. Their brains are still developing and unable to cognitively process an event, so they are more at-risk for not being able to work through certain difficult situations. The inability to sort through and understand an event can wreak havoc on our brain; impairing thinking and comprehension; our nervous systems have a hard time settling, and social capabilities can be impaired. A child’s inner and outer world can become jumbled, confused, hyper-alert, and often overwhelmed. Which means they can’t focus in school, are easily triggered into emotions like anger, anxiety, or depression. Acting out in school, or shutting down and not being able to interact are obvious signs of trauma in a child or teen.  The traumatic experience can include many different events including (but not limited to):

  • Moving
  • Harsh statements from a teacher, parent, or peer
  • Bullying
  • Deportation or migration
  • Discrimination
  • Medical trauma
  • Loss
  • Witnessing or being a victim of violence.

Know that trauma comes in many forms and is different for each child—you can’t always see the effects of trauma, and the spectrum of what can cause it is broad. Which is why becoming a Trauma Informed School is critical to the success of many, many students.

Getting to know your student’s story:

One important tool that can help educators understand a child’s experience is called The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a simple 7-step writing tool for students K-12. The journals are free to download from www.theimagineproject.org. There are 4 journals; Kinde, Kids, Teens, and Adult. The 7-steps help guide the student through a process of writing their story using the word Imagine… to begin every sentence. Using the word Imagine makes the process unique and different from other story telling methods as it makes the writer feel safe and asks others to Imagine what that experience was like for them. After writing about the difficult experience, the writer is asked to Imagine the positive way that story might end, or what story they want instead—giving the student the ability to move through the stress or trauma and change their perspective of that experience. The Imagine Project also gives the teacher the ability to understand the student’s life and behavior. Please explore the website, watch the videos, see our research, etc. so you can understand the process and how you can implement it as part of your Trauma Informed Classrooms.

Becoming a Trauma Informed School

There are a variety of trainings to become a Trauma Informed School, classroom, and educator. An excellent training that is individual or school wide is through Heather Forbes and the Beyond Consequences Institute. Check out their website and see if this program works for you. You can also get more information about working with stress and trauma from The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2018).

Becoming a Trauma Informed School is important work. Research has shown adapting Trauma Informed techniques will improve student test scores, decrease dropout rates, lessen the need for discipline, and just make your classroom/school a much nicer place to work. Good luck and get started now by downloading The Imagine Project Journals.

Take care and be well,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

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

 

Nurturing a Child through Stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and take care,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

 

 

Using Mindfulness during Stressful Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

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

Important Tools to Help Children Build Resilience Through Stressful Times

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and stay well,

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

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

 

Supporting the Emotional Needs of Foster Kids with the Imagine Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story continues, but begins moving to the positive…

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

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

Why Foster Kids?

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

Dianne

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

Using the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)/Tapping to Help Kids Process Stress and Trauma.

Are you looking for tools to help kids/students with stress and trauma? Unfortunately, stress and trauma are common issues kids and teens must deal with everyday. In the last decade, anxiety and depression has increased dramatically in children. Social media, peer pressure, parental pressure, and sadly in the US, the horrible fear of a school shooting. Although many things contribute to stress in our kids, few tools are given to them that support emotional balance—until now! This photo shows kids before an athletic event using a technique called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) also called tapping—a great tool to help kids manage stress and trauma, in and outside the classroom.

Trauma is all to present in kids as well. The Advanced Childhood Experiences study (also called ACES) was done on over 17,000 participants in the San Diego, CA area which showed that 50% of all kids have at least 1 traumatic event before the age of 17! This study was done on primarily white, middle class, well-educated kids. Add in poverty, crime, even rural areas and the rate goes up to 70-100%. This is a serious health care issue in our society (and the world) because stress and trauma is hard on the body and mind causing long-term issues such as heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, frequent issues, and serious mental health issues including depression and anxiety, etc.

Treating stress and trauma is extremely difficult, particularly when practitioners only focus only on using traditional talk therapy and medication. These tools can be helpful, but not healing. So parents, therapists, even teachers, must find other, more alternative therapies to help kids (and adults) support and heal stress and trauma.

EFT/Tapping is a perfect alternative therapy to teach kids (and use on yourself). It’s is easy to learn/use and research has shown it’s highly effective in treating stress and trauma, even with kids. It’s free if you watch YouTube videos to learn how to use it, or there are plenty of inexpensive books where you can learn to use the process. Here is an overview on how to use tapping with yourself and kids. For more information check out the websites www.thetappingsolution.com, www.tap-easy.com or you will find more information on how to tap with yourself and your kids in The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress(Yampa Valley Publishing, 2017). Watch the YouTube videos on www.theimagineproject.orgor google tapping to visually see the points you tap on the body. Use a medium touch to tap on each point described below:

How to use EFT/Tapping with kids:

  1. First help your child figure out the strongest negative emotion they are feeling at that moment, i.e. anger, sadness, or fear. Let them say it in their own words and tap with them, using their words.
  2. Ask them how bad their emotion is before you begin, using a scale of 1-10, 10 being very bad and 1 being minimal. When you are done tapping you can ask them again; hopefully it will be only at a 0 or 1 when you are done.
  3. Ask them if they can tell where they are storing that emotion in their body—they might feel an ache in their belly, tightness in their neck or chest, a headache, or other pain (they may not be able to answer this question which is fine).
  4. Tell them to do what you do and say what you say. (Note, every practitioner adapts their own version of the tapping sequence, if you see something you like better on YouTube go ahead and use it.)
  5. Begin by using two fingers from either hand and tap with medium pressure just above your eyebrow to the inside, closer to your nose. Keep tapping as you say, “Even though I feel angry (or whatever emotion they named), I deeply and completely accept myself.”
  6. Now tap on your temple near your eye and say it again, “Even though I feel angry, I deeply and completely accept myself.”
  7. Now tap under your eye and say it again, “Even though I feel angry, I deeply and completely accept myself.” (Continue to have your child follow your tapping and say what you say.)
  8. Now move to under your nose, tapping and saying, “I’m so angry.” Show a little emotion so your child can copy you.
  9. Move to under your bottom lip and repeat. You can mix it up and say what your child might be angry at, perhaps school, friends, or confrontations: “I’m so angry that boy did that to me!”
  • Now tap just under the middle of your collar bone (either side of your chest—you can even switch sides of your body and face—it doesn’t matter). Keep making statements that you think your child might feel. “So and so was so mean”, “I am so mad at him!” Ask your child what they want to say and keep tapping.
  • Move to under your armpit about two inches down, keep making statements and tapping. Think about what your child might be feeling and make those statements or let them talk. Keep having them repeat after you.
  • Now move to the crevice or indentation on the top, pinky side of your hand and tap there while saying a profound statement about the emotion your child is feeling. “I am really mad!” Stay tapping on that spot on the hand and look up with your eyes, then down. Look to the left and then right (do not move your head, just your eyes), make a circle with your eyes, go back the other way, count to five out loud, hum a few notes and then count to five again. This is a critical part of the process, because it triggers different parts of the brain where emotion is often released. If your child is feeling more emotional at this point, have them repeat all of the eye movements, humming and counting again a few times, all while tapping on the hand. Do it with them!
  • Now start all over again on the face and continue on all the spots you did the first round (eyebrow, temple, under your eye, under your nose, dimple in your chin, collar bone, below your arm pit, and the pinky side of the hand). Continue with this pattern until you can tell they are feeling better. This might take 5 minutes, or it might take 20 minutes (occasionally longer). They might sigh, take a deep breath, get distracted, smile. You can stop and ask them to give you a number between 1 and 10 naming how emotional they feel now. Hopefully, it will be much lower, even 0! If not, keep going or switch to another emotion—there is often more than one emotion to deal with at a time.
  • If they become really emotional during this process, don’t stop, keep going. Tell them it will only last for a minute. If they need it, you can always tap on their bodies for them. Talking and tapping for them works, but it is better to let them participate. With little ones, under about 6 years old, you can tap back and forth on their legs or shoulders and just talk to them about something that is bothering them, it typically helps. You can even try it with babies!
  • One last note. Throughout the process, remind your child to think about the area on their bodies where they are holding the negative emotion (you asked them about this earlier)—it will help them to release the energy/emotion and keep them from feeling too emotional by focusing on their body not their emotions. Keeping them thinking about their bodies helps keep them grounded as well. It might sound complicated, but it’s not. Practice it a few times and you will be able to use it any- time, anywhere. It’s a great tool for many different issues!

A shortened version of EFT is simple yet it’s still ef- fective. It’s what I use in the classroom, or on myself when I don’t want anyone to know I’m tapping. Have kids cross their arms over their hearts and tap back and forth gently on the front of their shoulders, not too hard and not too soft. They can also cross their arms and tap under their arms, or just back and forth on their legs. If a child is upset, you can also tap on them, for them. It’s most beneficial to tap this way for six to seven minutes, until you see them relax and they can refocus on what they are doing.

Finding an EFT therapist should not be too difficult. Google EFT therapists in your area or go to www.thetappingsolution.com to find a therapist. Be sure to ask the therapist how long they have been practicing EFT and their experience with kids. If you want to use EFT for more serious issues such as trauma or depression, make sure they have experience working in those areas as well.

For those of you who have seem me present in person and tap with a group, here are some suggestions as to the statements you can make with kids individually or with small or large groups. Say each statement as you move from point to point on the face and body. Ab lib if you’d like, add more emotions or other statements that come to you. The goal is to think about what others might be feeling (or what you are feeling), make that statement with them. Moving from the painful to the positive. Tell them to do what you do and say what you say.

My story is hard.
My story hurts.
My story makes me feel sad.
My story makes me feel angry.
My story makes me feel ashamed.
I don’t like my story, it’s hard (you can repeat some of these again or try some other emotions you think of)
What is I could write a new story?
What if my story didn’t affect me as much anymore?
What if I could write a new story.
I’m thinking I can write a new story.
A story that I want to have in my life.
A story full of love, fun, and joy.
I deserve a new story.
Because I am amazing.
I’m excited about writing a new story.
Anything is possible.
Because I am,
I can,
And I will!

For more support helping kids with stress and trauma download My Imagine Journals—they are free!

Good luck!

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.

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

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

Child Stress Symptoms

Stress is a normal, unavoidable part of life. It’s actually 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. Learning to deal with the minors stressors of life as a child, when a parent is around to teach them healthy coping skills, will support them as they grow and face more difficult life challenges.

Unfortunately however, when a child experiences frequent, chronic, or overwhelming stress, survival mode becomes the norm and the brain and body learn to stay in a stressed state. These chronic stress patterns can hamper healthy brain development, leading to a brain imbalance where the emotional part of the brain becomes overdeveloped and the thinking part of the brain remains underdeveloped. 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 these physical and emotional child stress symptoms:

Physical Child Stress Symptoms:

  • Stomachaches
  • Frequent headaches
  • Acne
  • Dizziness
  • Bowel problems
  • Bedwetting
  • Change in appetite or food cravings
  • Frequent or lengthy illnesses

Emotional Child Stress Symptoms:

  • Clingy
  • Change in quality of school work
  • New compulsive habits such as hair twirling, nose picking, hand washing, or thumb sucking
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Mood swings
  • They begin lying or become quiet or secretive
  • Change in eating habits
  • Angry or aggressive behavior

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, even draw them if they like to draw.
  • Set limits, such as, “When you’re angry, don’t touch anyone or anything.”
  • Suggest they move to get some negative energy out. “Would it help to run up and down the hall for a few minutes?”
  • Instead of interjecting an 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.

Your listening and caring reflection can encourage children to move through stress reactions and painful emotions, maybe not immediately, but much more quickly than if they don’t feel heard and cared for. By listening to them, asking them what they need, what they want to happen, what they see as solutions, and whether they want your help, you are also providing a supportive connection, teaching children how to manage stress, and promoting healthy brain development.

Sometimes all a child needs is a hug, your compassionate eyes, and/or a verbal acknowledgement that he/ she is experiencing a stressful moment or challenging times. If you or your child/student are really struggling and can’t seem to get on top of the stress, you may need to find a counselor who can help. Having a child write their Imagine story will support them immensely, and it can be a tool to use for a lifetime (you can write one too). Giving a child tools to support their mental health is equally as important as watching over their physical health. A healthy mind, heart, and body will bring joy and positivity to them, you, and the world.

To learn more about stress and trauma in kids and teens you can read The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2017)

Love,

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

 

 

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