Archive for the imagine project

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.

 

 

Tips to Help your Kids Cope with Daily Stress

Let’s face it—kids may not always show it, but they are stressed. They may seem happy go lucky on the outside, but in their hearts and minds they can be struggling with common stressors such as pressures at school (or home), feeling pushed internally or externally to do their best (or better), handling the drama with friends, worrying about social media, and sadly, hearing about the negative events of the world. Research has shown the in the last 6 years there has been a giant spike in the amount of anxiety and depression in kids—these mental health imbalances can be a direct result of chronic or intense stress (The Self-Driven Child, Stixrud, PhD).

An important aspect of keeping stress at bay is setting a foundation to offset stress first thing in the morning. Most of us can benefit from using techniques that help to put us in a positive mindset so we can handle the inevitable stress of each day, yet many of us don’t take the time to take care of ourselves (or teach our kids the importance of self-care).  What if you tried a few simple and easy techniques in the morning? Simple ideas that only require about 10 minutes. What if you shared these with your kids/students, teaching them that self-care is critical to a healthy mindset in life? What techniques will help us bring a positive and grounded mindset to our day and how can we help our kids and students? Here are 5 simple tips that will help:

In the morning:

  1. Begin with a 5-10-minute mediation before you get up in the morning. Just follow your breathing in and out. If your mind gets distracted, just bring it back to your breathing, keep trying—you will benefit even if it’s only for a few minutes. If your kids are young, cuddle with them for 10 minutes encouraging them to follow their breathing too. Teachers you can do a 3-minute meditation or mindfulness technique in the classroom before class begins.
  2. When kids (and adults) are getting ready for school and things are getting hectic, try using a singing bowl for a minute or two, it will calm things down and make everyone more mindful of what’s happening. If you don’t have a singing bowl, there is an app you can use on your phone or just play calming music in the background.
  3. Play the gratitude game. Everyone takes turns saying something they are grateful for—do 3 rounds of gratitude each if you can!
  4. Play the Imagine game! Everyone takes turns saying what they want to imagine for the day (or for life). The gratitude and imagine games can be done during breakfast or in the car.
  5. Give yourselves enough time in the morning that you aren’t rushed—get up 10 minutes earlier if needed. Being rushed starts the day off already geared up for stress. If you can’t get your child out of bed, try making mornings more relaxed. Many kids, especially if they are more sensitive will resist and avoid anything that is stressful.

Have conversations about stress:

Talk to your kids/students about stress. What does it feel like? When does it happen? What causes stressful thoughts and feelings? Asking “What…” and “How…” questions will bring deeper answers and more reflections of thoughts about the issue at hand. Help them process the real issue and find solutions to the problems they are facing. Helping them strategize possible solutions will give them ideas for coping in the future—great tools we all need throughout life.

Give them a break—some time to regroup, have fun, and fill up their buckets during and after school. Make sure evenings and weekends have some fun in them. Spend at least an hour every night just hanging out, playing games, talking about life, telling stories, or even cooking a fun meal. This is precious time for all of you and it will help everyone relax and sleep better—resourcing for the next day.

Helping your kids understand, process and offset stress gives them a mental understanding of life and it’s ups and downs. Teaching them to take care of themselves, starting every morning with techniques to support mental health, is a life-long, critical tool for showing children that they can handle whatever life brings them. It’s important to take care of ourselves—a new idea for many of us, but a powerful one to grab on to!

For more information on helping children and students handle stress you can read The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2018). If you need a tool for helping kids to talk about stress try having them write their Imagine story using My Imagine Journal—a powerful tool that you all will love!

Good luck 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.

 

 

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.

Supporting Stressed Kids in the Classroom

Going back to school can be fun, exciting—and stressful. Teachers have to deal with organizing lesson plans, getting to know new students and staff, budgeting for new expenses, and juggling/organizing their time differently once the kids are back in the classroom.

Students can be stressed too. Pressures of peer groups, sibling rivalry, highly demanding schedules, social media, problems with boyfriends/girlfriends, too much screen time, and family expectations are all sources of kids stress. And for some children, school can be a source of excessive stress. Children may feel overwhelmed when they don’t understand or can’t deal with their workloads. They can also be stressed by feeling socially or academically inadequate, like they don’t fit in, or are not accepted for their strengths and weaknesses. Being bullied or shunned is extremely stressful. Tension and anxiety can often arise from within their own minds too. As children grow, they frequently feel pressure from their own thoughts as they attempt to understand who they are, how the world works, and how they fit into it.

Research done by Stress in America on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA) showed that teens, ages 13 to 17, tend to feel levels of stress similar to that of adults. On a scale of 1 to 10, teens reported, on average, a stress level of 5.8 during the school year (healthy is considered 3.9), and even in the summertime, a level of 4.6! Teens who face poverty, community violence, a challenging home life, and social deprivation (lacking close, in-person, one-on-one friendships) are at a higher risk for stress. Research also reveals that childhood stress correlates with a greater risk for adult illness due to chronically high cortisol levels. Chronic and/or intense stress in the developing brain can create negative long-term brain function issues that turn into anxiety, depression, difficulty processing, poor memory and a host of other problems.

So overall, it’s best to address and support stress in students (and ourselves)! Here are a few suggestions for teachers to support stressed kids:

  • Decrease extra noise and visual stimulation, keeping the room as quiet and uncluttered as possible.
  • When possible, use daylight or full-spectrum lighting, rather than convention lighting. Harvest natural light by keeping windows free of obstruction.
  • Give an adequate amount of time for transitions, as hurrying students can be stressful for them.
  • Play soft music in the classroom.
  • Use a chime or a soothing bell sound to get their attention or when they are moving to new stations.
  • Take laughter breaks, such as sharing jokes,watching funny videos, or reading a funny story.
  • Take movement breaks, such as dancing, yoga, stretching, or jumping jacks.
  • Teach appreciation through talking about daily gratitude in a morning meeting and/or a wrap-up gratitude circle at the end of the day.
  • Use mindfulness techniques such as taking 2 minutes in the morning and have them close their eyes and follow their breathing. Or they can lie on their backs with a jewel on their forehead, eyes closed focusing only on the jewel and relaxing. Play a relaxing song while they close their eyes and sitting in their chair or on the floor.
  • Find ways to calm yourself before and during school (a calm teacher means a calm classroom). Play inspiring, uplifting songs on the way to work to help you set your energy for the day, journal, take a movement break for yourself!

And of course, giving students the opportunity to write about their stress using The Imagine Project Journaling process can help immensely. The Imagine Project journaling is a simple 7-step expressive writing activity that helps a student talk about what’s stressful in their lives, think through it and improve the way they see the stress, and ultimately, clear the stress and Imagine a new story in it’s place. The Imagine Journaling process is unique because it uses the word Imagine…to begin each sentence. Kids love it (they really do) and it gets them to write more!

After a teacher uses The Imagine Project with their kids and the child understands the process, the teacher can suggest to a student who is stressed to write an Imagine story about what’s bothering them. The student might want to show their teacher their story, or not. You can also ask the student to write an Imagine story to a sibling, parent, or friend they might be struggling with—it works!! They feel better and everyone understands the issue better so they can move forward.

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) also called tapping can really help a stressed student (or teacher). Look for videos on www.theimagineproject.org about tapping or find one that helps you on Youtube. It’s a great tool too!

Stress is a fact of life in our society. Kids need resources to build resilence and understand they have the grit to overcome most anything! Helping your stressed student is key to supporting their ability to learn and grow positively in life. I hope these simple tips will support you and your classrooms. Download the journals (for free) here!

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.

 

 

 

 

An Imagine Challenge for Teachers

Tis that time of year again; teachers are trying not to think about going back to school—but, unfortunately, it’s creeping up on your horizon. There are mixed feelings about the up and coming new school year; excitement, dread, curiosity, doubt, hope, and worry are just a few. Where does a teacher begin when he or she is planning for their future 8-10 months with students? How about writing your Imagine Intentions for the school year?

The Imagine Project is about expressing emotion and processing difficult life circumstances through expressive writing—ultimately it’s about imagining the possibilities in your life. What if you set your goals/intentions in the Imagineformat for the next school year?

There’s tons of research about the power of goal setting. Jeff Bossfrom Forbesmagazine writes that setting goals:

1) drives your focus toward actionable behavior,

2) guides your focus in a certain direction,

3) helps sustain momentum,

4) aligns your focus,

5) and promotes self-mastery.

Intentions are clear and positive goals regarding what you want to have and experience in life. If you have a distinct end in mind, your thoughts, actions, attitude, and choices will move in that direction. If you don’t have a distinct end in mind, you will stumble and wander without direction. Research has proven that defined intentions and goals reap greater success in many areas of life, including education.

So why not write your Imagine goals/intentions for the coming year? What a powerful way to positively influence the coming school year. It’s easy. Here are a few simple examples from teachers:

Imagine…students coming to school resting, fed, and ready to learn.

Imagine…seeing my students faces as they become excited about learning a new lesson.

Imagine…finding the perfect lessons to keep kids engaged.

Imagine…all of my students understanding the lessons I teach with ease and effortlessness.

Imagine…kids being kind and compassionate to one another each and every day.

Imagine…feeling appreciated by parents and administration.

Imagine…taking care of myself, staying rested, eating right, and exercising.

Sylvia Yager, middle school science teacher

______________________________________________________________________

Imagine…a year of 25 students that are happy, kind and compassionate

Imagine…staff working together to ensure all students are safe, successful and love coming to school.

Imagine… a class of kindergarten students that have not experienced stress or trauma and have experienced nothing but genuine love and happiness.

Imagine…meeting the social/emotional needs of all students.

Imagine…giving all students the confidence that they can accomplish any dream they have.

Imagine…the next 9 months of less sleep, extra work hours and over spending, but knowing it is all worth it because all of your students are happy, loving school and learning more than you ever imagined.

Imagine…the smiles you will see when your students “get it!”

Imagine…starting everyday with hugs and smiles and ending everyday with hugs and smiles!

Amy Ford, Kindergarten teacher

___________________________________________________________________

 Imagine each child feeling safe and loved.

 Imagine every teacher feeling honored to do the daily work they do!

 Imagine public education offering such a wide variety of tools, resources, structures, strategies, help, support, programs and staff that each and every child learns and grows from right where they start!

Imagine…students being excited to write!!

Sam Alexander, 3-5thgrade teacher

Writing your Imagine stories about your coming year is simple (you can find the Adult Journal download here). You may find yourself becoming emotional at times, thinking about some negative past experiences, or even a few beautiful moments that showed you why you do the amazing work you do. Overall, it will be helpful to express yourself—your challenges, your hopes and dreams—and push this year to be the best year yet. Guiding your thoughts and energy on a positive path is always helpful.

Teaching is such an extremely important profession in our world. I hope you recognize the incredible impact you are making in the world—one child at a time. Each and every one of us is so very grateful. Imagine the impact you can make!!

Bring The Imagine Project to your classroom, school, and district! Find our more and download the journals for free at www.theimagineproject.org.

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.

Trauma Informed Schools

I recently attended the Trauma Informed Schools Conference in St. Charles, MO, hosted by the Beyond Consequences Institute (a great trauma focused organization founded by Heather Forbes, MSW). My overall impression was WOW! There were 1500 teachers, counselors, administrators, etc. who attended this conference that was filled with endless information about how to support and educate a child who has experienced trauma. I wish every educator could have been there, but for those who couldn’t here are some highlights:

  1. Recognize regulation vs. dysregulation!

The incidence of previous or current trauma in students is high—anywhere from 50-100% of all kids have experienced at least 1 traumatic event before their 17th birthday. Having a Trauma Informed School means understanding and helping kids who suffer from emotional imbalances that stem from trauma. These emotional imbalances can cause many different symptoms/behaviors including ADHD, poor focusing, concentration and memory, anxiety, depression, and a host of other issues. Heather suggests that instead of labeling a student as having a behavioral or learning issue, see that the impact they’ve had from their trauma has caused their nervous system to become dysregluated (i.e. abnormal).

A student who is regulated is calm, focused, and open to learning. They have a nervous system (which includes their brain) that can function well and comprehend. On the other hand, if a child has experienced trauma, their nervous system is “lit up” which causes their brains to be somewhat jumbled and chaotic, they can’t focus or comprehend, and their behavior is probably not conducive to a calm, happy classroom—they are dysregulated. All children (and adults) will become dysregulated at times in life, stress can easily cause dysregulation in all of us. However, an emotionally healthy student who has not experienced trauma, can reregulate themselves easily and quickly after experiencing stress. A child who has experienced trauma often has difficulty reregulating themselves—calming down, sitting still, and focusing.

Teachers, counselors, and administrators have the difficult task of understanding how to deal with kids who are dysregulated. You will need many tools and tricks to help a traumatized child reregulate; here are a few options.

What helps to regulate a child/student:

  1. Exercise/movement,
  2. Mindfulness and meditation techniques,
  3. Singing Bowls,
  4. Fidget gadgets,
  5. EFT or tapping with a child,
  6. Yoga,
  7. Journaling with My Imagine Journal,
  8. Talking with a support person,
  9. Nature or being with animals.

When a teacher sees that a child is dysregulated, know that the child is experiencing something that has caused him/her to be triggered into dysregulation. Use your toolbox to help the child reregulate so he/she can settle down their nervous system, mentally come back into the classroom and learn with more ease.

  1. Building a Sense of Community is Key!

My favorite line of the entire conference was from Mr. James Moffett, a principal from a high-risk school in KS. Every morning at the end of his PA announcements he tells the kids, “Remember, we love you and there is nothing you can do about it!” Imagine the feeling this gives the students at his school. Almost every presenter talked about the importance of building a sense of community in your schools and classrooms to create a trauma informed classroom/school. When a child feels a sense of belonging, trust, love, and hope, they will feel empowered, capable, and regulated! Mr. Moffett believes this atmosphere begins with the teachers and administration. Let your kids know they are loved, that you believe in them, and have hope for tomorrow. See what’s possible instead of what they can’t do. Give them a warm place to land when they come to school from a not so safe home life. Show them compassion every chance you get. Easier said than done I realize, but starting with gratitude for them showing up, say words like, “I notice…”, “I saw you…”, and “With persistence you can…” Give them empowering encouragement such as, “I have faith…”, “I trust…”, and “I know…”. Pick a student and for 10 days use these statements on them over and over, and then move to the next student. You will see the difference!

The Imagine Project journaling program is perfect for creating a sense of community. Students write their stories using the word, “Imagine…” and then share them by reading them out loud to the other students. Everyone in the classrooms hears what’s in the hearts of others and the stories behind their behaviors. Kids become more accepting of one another, supporting each other, and creating a sense of trust and family—this has been reported by many teachers and students.

  1. Create an environment that feels safe.

A child who walks into a classroom that is organized, positive, calm, and happy tells the student that the person in charge is ready and capable of taking care of them (they may not feel this at home). Here are some tips speakers gave for helping to create a trauma sensitive classroom:

  1. Keep your room organized (this may be hard for some, recruit teachers or friends to help you). Organization is calming to the nervous system, helping with regulation,
  2. Greet each student as the come into the classroom using their first names,
  3. Seat students in groups of 2-4,
  4. Use all the senses to calm the space in the room such as a diffuser for calming oils (Lavender is a good one), plants, soft music/sounds (singing bowls are a great tool), and keep the air fresh when you can by opening a window when possible.
  5. Using a mindfulness technique and/or breathing technique at the beginning of each class—this will help the kids and you. It literally only takes a minute or two. Have the kids close their eyes and follow their breath as you guide them for 3 or 4 breaths.

Because trauma is so prevalent in our children today, it’s critical that teachers, counselors, and administrators educate themselves and bring as many tools as possible to help their school as they become trauma informed. A child needs social emotional support to learn and grow, without it they are more likely to fail. Look for regulation and dysregulation—have options that will help reregulate a student. You may have to try more than one trick to support students—something that helps one student may not help another. If you would like more information about stress and trauma in kids, read The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above, Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing). Download The Imagine Project Journals to begin helping your students regulate and create a sense of community in your classrooms.

Thank you!

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN

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.

School Shootings: How The Imagine Project Can Make a Difference

Sadly, anyone with a child, friend, or relative in a school today worries if they will be safe. Unfortunately, the fear of a student being hurt by gun violence has become very real and prevalent. After picking ourselves up from yet another school shooting we have to seriously look at what we can do to help dissolve this horrific issue.

Profiles of School Shooters

What is it that causes a school shooter to do such an unthinkable act? Research has shown many common problems and characteristics of those who commit this violent act. School shooters often harbor anger and delusions about themselves and those around them. They frequently have abuse in their backgrounds and/or ineffective parenting. They experience low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, lack of empathy, and difficultly establishing and maintaining friends. Many have shown previous violence to others and/or animals and are obsessed with violent video games and previous school shootings. They also seem “troubled” and have varying degrees of mental illness.

How can we help?

Imagine being able to deter these kids (most often boys) from going down the path of violence? Helping them express and work through their emotions (as early as possible), process any past or current trauma, teach them empathy for others, empower them, and watch for possible mental health issues can make a difference. One tool that supports improving all of these issues/concerns is The Imagine Project, an expressive writing activity for students in schools, youth organizations, or even at home.

The Imagine Project is a simple yet profound 7-step process that helps kids write and talk about difficult life experiences. In a classroom, group, or even on their own, a student writes their story using The Imagine Journal, where every sentence begins with the word Imagine… It’s a powerful process that gives kids an opportunity to express what’s in their hearts, work through how they feel, process their experiences, and imagine a new story in its place. There are 4 journals for kids K-12 and adults; all are available to download for free at www.theimagineproject.org.

After using the journaling process with thousands of kids, many kids tell us they love being able to express themselves and speak what’s in their hearts. “I put my anger on paper instead of keeping it inside,” said a very articulate 6th grader. “It was hard to write about my emotions but it was worth it, it’s important to tell your story,” said Emily, 10th grade. The Imagine Project is a healthy, life-long tool that kids (and adults) can use to work through emotions, difficult life challenges, and in turn empower them to believe in themselves and new possibilities in their lives. Sadly, there are very few acceptable tools kids are taught to kids, to help them work through difficult life experiences, talk about emotions, and feel empowered. Most often emotions and tools are not even talked about in classrooms. It’s time to talk about it. The Imagine Project journaling process is a simple and free activity kids can use every day to help them when they are feeling overwhelmed and/or upset about life.

Teachers also tell us that using The Imagine Project promotes and teaches empathy and camaraderie in a classroom or within a group of kids. Many students have reported back to their teachers, and to me, that listening to the other kids read their stories out loud helped them realize that the other student is human too; they act the way they do because of their own experiences. Hearing other kid’s stories brings intense compassion and empathy for those reading. It brings students closer, helps form new friendships, trust, and “a family like feeling” in schools. It’s a perfect opportunity for teachers or youth leaders to teach the kids about compassion and empathy—some come by these traits naturally—but many need help learning them depending upon what they are taught at home.

Sam’s story

In one 5th grade classroom a boy named Sam read his Imagine story out loud to the rest of the class (this is encouraged). He talked about moving 6 times in 3 years and losing his dad when he was young. He was new to this school and was having a hard time finding friends. When the other kids heard his story they were shocked, they had no idea that was why he was so quiet and hard to play with. When they heard his story they purposefully made friends with him. The friendships didn’t last for a week, but for the rest of the year! We will never know how this might have changed the trajectory of his life, but it certainly made a positive impact.

Help for those that have been affected by a School Shooting or fear one in their future.

If a child, teacher, administration, parent, or anyone directly or indirectly has experienced a school shooting, it can be devastating. The Imagine Project can be utilized by teachers, counselors, or any other appropriate staff member who works with students. Imagine journaling is an opportunity to express their emotions, find comfort in others who feel the same, and join together to imagine a better future. For those students and educators who live in fear of a shooting happening in their school in can be helpful to write and find comfort in others who feel the same.

We are currently researching The Imagine Project, our experience thus far—after working with thousands of kids—shows that students are positively impacted by expressing emotion, having a deeper understanding of what’s happened in their lives, learn compassion and empathy, and realize there are better possibilities in their future. Teachers and youth leaders also learn more about a child’s story and will know when to refer them for mental health services.

A school shooting is a complicated, multifaceted issue that is far too prevalent in our society today. We need to look carefully at all aspects of causes and solutions. Providing an outlet for emotion, a voice for what’s in a child’s heart, empowering new hope and possibility, and teaching youth compassion and empathy through The Imagine Project just might change the trajectory of a troubled child’s life, help those who are impacted by a school shooting, and bring a useful tool to those who fear what is happening with our kids in the world today.

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.

Supporting the Mental Health of our Children

Yet another school shooting—ugh—the pain, the anger, the despair, and the confusion. I/we hope this one is different. Could it be the tipping point for students, parents, teachers, and possibly even lawmakers to realize we have some serious issues in our country; issues with the mental health of our children—and gun control? I won’t address the gun control issue here; instead I’d like to focus on supporting the mental health of our children.

I’ve been working with children with mental health issues for over 15 years. The past 3 years have been spent working in classrooms with children of all ages and from all walks of life. It doesn’t matter what socio-economic class a child is in, they are still stressed—more stressed than you think. The stress grows and compounds in more at-risk communities—those where poverty, crime, and high levels of trauma are more prevalent, but there are difficult life challenges everywhere. Every child—no matter who there parents are, where they live, or what their life style is—needs tools to cope with stress and trauma. If they don’t have the tools and resources to cope with life, they find other ways to express pain and sadly, one of those is with violence.

I’d like to suggest a wonderful resource for all parents, teachers, counselors, students, youth leaders, etc. The Imagine Project is a tool that helps children deal with stress and difficult life circumstances. A tool that is simple, powerful, and effective in supporting the mental health of kids (and adults). It’s a 7-step expressive writing process that uses the word Imagine… to begin every sentence. Expressive writing research shows that writing about our feelings helps us release bottled up emotions, understand our circumstances better, and shift our perspective to a positive viewpoint. Using the word Imagine… amplifies this process because it allows the writer to be creative and detach slightly from their story as they write, which expedites the healing process.

As I’ve traveled across the country working with all types of children ages K-12. I’ve heard stories about bullying, kids feeling like they aren’t good enough, moving, loss, illness (themselves or loved ones), suicide ideation, parents who have left them or are in prison, witnessing murder, and/or being molested. It’s mind-blowing to hear what children can tolerate and bounce back from. These stories come from every classroom! The stress and trauma of our kids is real—in every walk of life.

An Imagine story from a local, middle class school comes to mind. As I stood in the library listening to 5th graders read their story, one boy, who was typically very quiet bravely stood up and read his story to the entire 5th grade.

Imagine…your dad leaving when you were little.

Imagine…not having a place to live.

Imagine…going to 6 different schools in 3 years.

Imagine…not having any friends.

Imagine…being made fun of.

Imagine…wanting a best friend.

Imagine…always hoping you will fit in.

Now you may worry that this child would be made fun of after reading his story out loud—the opposite happened. It was remarkable how much compassion the other students felt for this little boy after listening to his story. Their teacher told me that after the other 5th graders heard his story they played with him and made sure he was included. This didn’t just last for a couple of days, it lasted the entire school year—and hopefully a lifetime. I see this compassion in every classroom, kids care about other kids, and they feel better about themselves when they know that they aren’t the only one feeling sad, angry, worried, overwhelmed, etc.

We know that the shooter at Stoneman Douglas High School in the Parkland, FL was troubled. He’s had a very difficult life filled with turmoil and loss. What if someone had listened, included him, and helped him express his feelings? Did someone try—I don’t know, if they did, it wasn’t enough.

I do wonder about the 5th grader above—what if he wasn’t able to write about, express his feelings, and then feel included? What would his life have become? Would he have wanted to express his anger through addiction, self-harm, or violence? Thankfully, we will never know the answer to that question. I do know The Imagine Project helped him, along with thousands of other students who have experienced it.

Every child has a story—a story that is aching to be told. Given the chance to tell it, a child feels better, and then they are given the opportunity to Imagine new possibilities in it’s place. When we speak our truth—when a child speaks their truth—their hearts feel heard and healing happens.

Please consider using The Imagine Project with your child, in your school or group. It’s simple and can be part of your writing curriculum or a fun home project—and it’s FREE! Go to the www.theimagineproject.org to find out more.

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.

5 Tips on How-to Help Kids Set Intentions

 

January is a month for new beginnings. We often dream about what’s possible for the upcoming year creating hopes for new life experiences. Research has proven that defined intentions and goals reap greater success in many areas of life. Yet many don’t think about setting intentions and may not understand how to teach kids to set intentions. An intention is a clear and positive goal regarding what you want to have and experience in life. If you have a distinct end in mind, your thoughts, actions, attitude, and choices will move in that direction. If you don’t have a distinct end in mind, you will stumble and wander without direction.

Intention setting is a life skill we can teach our children that will benefit them now and in the future. Here are some tips to help you and your child learn how to set their intentions:

  1. Play a game imagining new possibilities:

Imagining new possibilities in life is a great conversation starter with kids. It can be fun, interesting, and exciting. As you are beginning your school day, coming back from recess, eating dinner, having a snack, driving in the car, or at bedtime; ask your student/child if they could do anything in the world, what would it be? You can use the word Imagine if you’d like.

Imagine…being a doctor, teacher, musician, etc.

Imagine…swimming with dolphins.

Imagine…going to college.

Don’t worry if their ideas are farfetched; let them dream, at least they are thinking about something positive—positive thinking improves brain function!

  1. Set daily intentions:

Make a fun event out of setting your intentions daily. In the morning when you/they wake up or as the students are sitting down to begin their day, ask them, “What kind of day are we going to have today?” See how they answer and point out the positive. Help them remember that setting your intentions daily does set the foundation for the mood/dynamics of the day.

  1. Help them clarify what they want:

Whether your setting intentions for the day, month, year, or lifetime, it’s important to clarify what you want. Saying, “I just want to be happy” isn’t enough. Help them be more specific about what they want in all areas of their life including home, family, work, school, friendships, relationships, finances, etc. Encourage your kids to write down or draw their Imagines on a piece of paper and put it somewhere they can see it. Visibility will spur them to think about it often, envision it, and feel good about the new possibility. Even scenarios that seem impossible can be helpful, feeling hopeful can give them energy to muscle through difficult times.

  1. Embellish what it will feel like when their dreams happen:

Ask what it will look, feel, smell, even taste like if that fits. Embellishing an idea makes it even more real and they will work harder to achieve it. It would be fun to act it out if possible. The more they feel the idea of it, the harder they will work to make it happen!

     5. What will they need to do to make their intentions/dreams happen?

Don’t push too hard on this, but it’s important to talk to them about what they can do to make their dreams happen? Many kids (and some adults) would really like for others to do the work and then present them with their dreams; we all know that doesn’t happen. It’s important for all of us to think about how we can make our dreams happen, and then implement those important steps. Let children experience what works and what doesn’t, there are important learning opportunities in failures, and then in successes; muscling through both will build resilience.

Setting intentions is imperative in life—it helps us define what we want and work towards our dreams. Teaching kids to plan and Imagine is a critical life lesson. Give them small and big examples, helping them understand the process and learn how good it feels when you are successful!

 

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.

 

 

5 Tips to Help Kids with Holiday Stress

Tis the season to be jolly, overwhelmed, and/or stressed. The holiday season can bring out the best, and sometimes the worst in us. Many people love the holidays: spending time with family and friends, recreating traditions, and feeling a sense of giving are all positive aspects of the holidays. But there are a significant percentage of people who feel more stress around the holiday season. In our already fast paced world, the holidays add more to our list of things to do, which may create unwanted pressure, even overwhelm for some. Then there’s our holiday history from our own childhood. You may be lucky enough to have beautiful memories from your holidays as a child, but many are left with the memories of increased alcoholism, domestic abuse, or the lack of having gifts to open.

Parents, teachers, and others who are navigating the holiday season are not alone in feeling the stress of the holidays. Our kids are feeling it too. They sense, know, feel, see, and experience the stress around them. They might be feeling the pressures of the end of the school semester, or wondering if life is going to get more challenging throughout the holiday season as history has shown them, or wondering if there will be money enough for gifts for all. If you are seeing any signs of stress in your children: anxiety, sadness, turning inward, aggressiveness, anger, odd behaviors and/or illness here are 5 simple tips you can try to lesson their stress:

  1. Lighten the mood with laughter: Nothing relieves stress better more than a good laugh. Laughter is powerful medicine! It’s been found to relax the body, open our heart, improve our immune system, and decrease our stress hormones. Do whatever makes you and your child/student laugh. Watch funny videos or movies, play games, listen to a funny podcast in the car, whatever works for all of you. It only takes a few minutes, but it’s well worth the time and effort!
  2. Go for walk outdoors: Science has shown us that being outdoors lifts the spirit. If you are lucky enough to life in a warm state, be sure to take your shoes off and feel nature under your feet. If it’s chilly outside, put on the layers and experience it anyway. Make it an adventure to find or see new things. Play a game or walk to visit a friend. Nature is good medicine!
  3. Create a new tradition: Structure and knowing what to expect helps lesson stress. Giving kids the awareness of their background or family traditions help them understand who they are and where they come from. Do something that is easy and won’t stress you out trying to make it happen. Bake cookies, decorate the house, cook a dish from your heritage. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just something that feels like tradition.
  4. Talk to your kids: When we are busy, we often become short with our answers and forget to listen. Be sure to take time to ask your kids/students how they are doing. Use open ended questions using “How, what, why…”, asking them about their day. See what excites them the most about the holidays, and what is the hardest part. Be sure to take the time to listen. The car, mealtime, and before bed are good times for conversations.
  5. Write your Imagine stories: Most of us have holidays that are both good and bad. The positive experiences make us smile and love the holidays. The negative experiences can negatively influence for a lifetime if we don’t do the work to process and let go of negative experiences. The Imagine Project Journaling process can help children and adults express any negative experiences about the holidays (or otherwise), let them go, and create a new experience in its place. Doing this process around the holidays at school will help kids who are feeling stressed to express themselves. Doing the process as a family will help everyone involved understand how others are feeling, and bring you closer as a family. To learn more about the journals (and download them for free) go to theimagineproject.org.

May this holiday season bless you will the gifts of peace, love, and hope.

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.