Archive for the imagine project

National Mental Health Month: A Story of Healing Through Expressive Writing

Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness. May is a time to raise awareness of the impact trauma can have on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being in order to help reduce the stigma so many experience. This is the story of how one woman harnessed the power of expressive writing to heal her childhood trauma.

Before I went to bed on the night of July 25, 1995, I was a carefree 10-year-old girl. I was an avid reader, gymnast, cheerleader, and straight-A student who loved making people laugh with goofy impressions and aspired to be a Saturday Night Live cast member one day. Growing up in a small suburb of New Jersey with my parents and two sisters, Nichole, 14, and Alyssa, 5, I felt safe and secure, unaware that in an instant, everything was about to change.

My mom rushed into my room around 10pm and shook me awake, the panic in her voice unlike anything I’d experienced before. “Get up! Nichole broke her neck! Pack a bag. Let’s go!” Rushing to the hospital, my parents were scared, but optimistic, expecting a broken neck to be healed with a foam neck brace. The reality we were up against is that my teenage sister, a talented athlete and aspiring chef, would never walk again.

Swimming at our uncle’s pool that night, Nichole dove into the shallow end, hitting the bottom with such force that she broke three vertebrae and damaged her spinal cord. Paralyzed from the neck-down, she was classified a quadriplegic, rendering her wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life, and shattering the dreams my parents had for our family’s future.

At home, the dynamic abruptly shifted. My 10-year-old carefree spirit disappeared among a long list of adult responsibilities. I loved my family so immensely that I took each task seriously and to heart, wanting to please my parents and ease their burdens. Riding bikes and having sleepovers turned into cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and babysitting my little sister; all the while learning how to care for someone in a wheelchair and maintain my own friendships and schoolwork. The space to complain, cry, or be uncooperative no longer existed for me under the constant pressure to always put on a brave face and offer to help. Laying down at night no longer felt safe and secure, but stressful and filled with uncertainty.

This enduring support for my family came at the expense of my mental health. Conditioned to ignore and devalue my needs for years to follow, I lost myself in struggles with depression, anxiety, trichotillomania, panic disorder, and PTSD—diagnoses I wouldn’t come to understand until I sought talk therapy for the first time at the age of 27. As a child, finding time to decompress was rare and I felt my playful, creative side eroding every day. It wasn’t until I found my way to journaling that a sense of freedom and control was regained.

Finally, I could let my mind wander without judgment or explanation. I could play out scenarios and express my anger without fear. I could discover again what brings me joy and makes me who I am. The act of daily journaling led to short story writing, and eventually a college degree in journalism. Now 37, I’ve built a successful career as a professional writer, motivating others to connect with themselves, and those around them, through the power of the written word.

I was introduced to The Imagine Project during a recent therapy session. My doctor told me about their dedication to help people, especially children, process stress and/or trauma through journaling. Their mission to give kids a voice for positive change and empower them to imagine a new story in their lives hit close to home. I was so inspired that I felt compelled to write my own imagine story. Reflecting on the lowest points in my life and seeing how far I’ve come and the growth I’ve achieved was more healing than I could have ever imagined.

Imagine…finding out your sister was in a life-threatening accident

Imagine…learning she will never walk again

Imagine…being only ten years old when your whole life changes

Imagine…growing up way too fast

Imagine…feeling like you can’t act like a kid anymore

Imagine…prioritizing everyone else’s needs over your own

Imagine…a teacher taking notice of your pain and encouraging you to journal

Imagine…exploring your imagination and finding yourself again

Imagine…being brave enough to share your words with the world

Imagine…becoming a professional writer and making a career out of storytelling

Imagine…inspiring others with your stories of perseverance and strength every single day

By: Tara Imperatore, age 37

Thank you so much Tara, we are so grateful to have you share your story with us. To learn more about The Imagine Project and download our FREE journals go to www.theimagineproject.org. Tell friends, family, and educators–help us spread the word. Thank you,

Love,

Dianne

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

 

Is Your Child Stressed and How you Can Help

Is Your Child Stressed?

Caught up in our own challenging day-to-day lives, we often assume our children live a relatively carefree life without stress. But children’s lives can actually contain multiple sources of stress, including the pressures of peer groups, sibling rivalry, highly demanding schedules, and family expectations. It’s also not unusual for kids to experience problems dealing with boyfriends/girlfriends, having too much screen time, and of course, handling social media. Tension and anxiety can often arise from within their own minds too. As children grow, they frequently feel pressure from their own thoughts as they attempt to understand who they are, how the world works, and how they fit into it.

Many children also experience stressors that go above and beyond what’s considered typical and normal. Family life can be extremely stressful, such as when there is marital discord, mental instability, financial worries, abuse, or neglect. If kids hear parents, friends, or family members talk about troubling personal situations or community violence, this can add to their worries. Inappropriate exposure to media reports on crime, war, terrorism, tragedy, or political strife can also heighten a child’s stress levels. And for some children, school is a source of excessive stress. Children may feel overwhelmed when they don’t understand or can’t deal with their workloads. Children can also be stressed by feeling socially or academically inadequate, like they don’t fit in, or are not accepted for their strengths and weaknesses. Being bullied or shunned is extremely stressful.

Stress is a normal, unavoidable part of life. It’s even good for a child to experience small amounts of manageable stress, such as frustration with learning a new skill, dealing with being late to a birthday party due to traffic, or worrying about saying the wrong line in a school play. Unfortunately, when a child experiences frequent, chronic, or overwhelming stress, survival mode becomes the norm instead of an occasional occurrence, and the brain and body stay in a stressed state. These chronic stress patterns can hamper healthy brain development, leading to an imbalance where the limbic system becomes overdeveloped and hyperreactive. This brain imbalance can create significant mental and emotional issues such as agitation, anxiety, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, an inability to focus, lacking empathy, low emotional control, poor decision-making, and weak problem-solving abilities. Chronic stress can also cause a host of minor, and sometimes significant, physical health problems, such as an impaired immune system, slowed growth, aches and pains, and poor digestion.

How can you tell if a child is over-stressed? Look for physical and behavioral symptoms. Physical problems might include stomachaches, frequent headaches, acne, dizziness, bowel problems, bedwetting, change in appetite or food cravings, and frequent or lengthy illnesses. Behavioral symptoms of stress are varied as well: a child might become clingy; the quality of his or her school work might change; new compulsive habits such as hair twirling, nose picking, hand washing, or thumb sucking might develop; sleep patterns might change (too much or too little); mood swings might increase; a child might begin to lie or become quiet or secretive; eating habits might change. If there is any notable regression or worrisome change in a child’s behavior and/or decline in physical health, it is important to step back and consider whether too much stress is the root cause.

How Can You Help a Stressed Child?

  • First and foremost, spend extra time listening. Your careful, quiet listening helps a child feel heard and validated.
  • Hold space for big emotions. This means being a compassionate, nonjudgmental witness while a child expresses him- or herself. Encourage the child to verbalize feelings, draw them, and/or move his/her body.
  • Set limits if needed, such as, “When you’re angry, don’t touch anyone or anything.” Or, “Would it help to run up and down the hall for a few minutes?”
  • Instead of interjecting interpretation or drawing your own conclusions, support the child’s developing ability to analyze and solve problems by reflecting what you’ve heard and asking exploratory questions.
  • Remember, questions that only require a “yes” or “no” answer can stop conversations in their tracks. And “Why” questions can feel pointed or punitive instead of caring.
  • Ask open-ended questions that inspire sharing and reflection, such as, “How are you feeling?” or “What was your day like today?” Or simply invite them to “Tell me more.”
  • Reflect back what you heard, such as, “It sounds like you had a very frustrating time and got hurt by your friends today.”
  • Notice how your child is feeling and reflect on the emotions expressed, “It sounds/looks like you’re really angry (sad, hurt, worried, etc.).”
  • Ask for thoughts about why that happened and ideas for possible solutions. Let them know you can offer help if they want it. Don’t lead their emotions/ideas expecting good or bad stories, just listen, reflect, and love.
  • Help them express themselves by writing about their stress. Use The Imagine Project simple and free journaling process to support them in their expressions. Download the Journal here.

Good luck and take care,

Dianne

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

 

 

 

Addressing a Child’s Mental Health is Important

Mental health means having emotional, psychological, and social well-being; when we think, act, and feel from a balanced perspective the majority of the time. Having a balanced and grounded perspective helps us make healthy choices, be kind, express emotion, accept help when we need it, handle stress effectively, feel empathy, laugh, feel joy, and relate to others easily. This are true in every stage of life. As young children grow they develop these skills, and we even continue to develop them throughout adulthood.

Supporting and helping children find emotional wellness is a very important part of parenting. It’s also important for teachers, counselors, extended family, even coaches to spend time addressing emotional wellness as they surround and work with a child or teen. “It takes a village” as the old saying goes, and it’s still true today. We all can contribute to the health and well-being of a child.

But what if a child show signs of a mental or emotional imbalance? Significant mental health challenges can and do occur in young children. Children and teens can develop characteristics of anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, depression, and/or posttraumatic stress disorder at any age. These will depend on life experiences, genetic make-up, parent/family and external support, even school and social experiences. A sensitive child might have a difficult life experience that changes their view of the world dramatically, where another child who is less sensitive will just plow right through it without even a scratch. Moving for example, can be hard on one child, altering their sense of safety and self-awareness. Another child might find it easy and effortless to fit into a new place.

Know that watching a child for signs of mental or emotional imbalances is important. If they become:

  • Quiet or withdrawn
  • Agitated easily
  • Impulsive
  • Overly attached to you or someone/thing
  • Showing signs of obsessive compulsive behavior (always need things in order and having to repeat the same things over and over again)
  • Hyperreactive
  • Lacking empathy
  • Poor emotional control
  • Frequent colds or health issues
  • Anxious, sad, or depressed

Showing one or more of these behaviors could mean your child/student is not coping well with his or her current (or past) situation and could use some extra support.

Spend time with them. Just doing simple things like games, puzzles, cooking, walking or talking will show them they are supported. Ask a few questions when the timing is right (when both of you are relaxed and grounded). Use “How” and “What” questions. Avoid yes, no. or why questions. Get them some outside help either through school or an outside counselor if things doing settle down and their behaviors improve.

Addressing mental health needs in school is critically important too because 1 in 5 children have a diagnosable emotional, behavioral or mental health disorder and 1 in 10 young people have a mental health challenge that is severe enough to impair how they function at home, school, or in the community.

The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome of a child facing some level of stress and/or trauma in their lives. Know that the stress or trauma doesn’t have to be a big thing for some kids, it could be mild but they need to learn healthy coping skills. The earlier they are taught, the less of an impact difficult life experiences will have on them. Life seems to be more and more stressful as time goes on, so give them opportunities to learn good coping skills now.

One very healthy skill is expressive writing. Expressive writing is free writing, where the writer just speaks from their hearts without worrying about grammar, punctuation or spelling. The Imagine Project is one simple, safe, effective, and free way for a child, teen, or adult to express their emotions, process that’s happened, heal their hearts, and imagine a new story in its place—all using the word Imagine… Anyone from anywhere in the world can download the journal and use this process to cope. Check out our website and try it for yourself or download it for someone you love.

Happy Imagining!

Love,

Dianne

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

How Expressive Writing Helps Lessen Anxiety for Children and Adults

Most adults and children feel anxiety at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, the incidence of anxiety has increased over the last decade, and dramatically increased since the pandemic began. Anxiety is evoked by a change in life’s normal patterns or new unexpected events, challenging experiences, watching social media, even pressure from work, school, parents, friends, and family. Children may feel more anxiety because of changes in classrooms, life’s developmental challenges, feeling left out, too much pressure from family or school, and/or confusion about how life is supposed to work as they watch social media and new experiences of life unfold around them.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety can be mild or debilitating. When we are anxious we are overly concerned, our thoughts are more often negative, we compare ourselves to others more frequently, we think about failing, our confidence is low, and/or we worry excessively. Symptoms of anxiety in children will look like:

  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Not sleeping well, nightmares
  • Not eating well
  • Quick to show angry, irritability, or emotional outbursts
  • Constant worry or negative thoughts
  • Tense, fidgety
  • Fear of being alone
  • Worrying about loved ones
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, frequents colds or illnesses

Because anxiety can get in the way of being happy, functioning well in the world, doing well at school, making friends, and our overall psychological health, we need tools to cope with and mitigate anxiety. Teaching children tools for coping is imperative to their life long mental, emotional, and physical health. Expressive writing is one simple, effective, and free tool to lessen anxiety and improve emotional wellness.

What is Expressive Writing?

Expressive writing (EW) is free writing without focusing on grammar,  punctuation, or spelling. The writer sits and writes a deep and emotional piece about a personally significant experience, whether it’s is a past or present troubling event, or a topic that is currently concerning for them. The writing can be guided by prompts or simply freely expressing oneself as deeply as possible. Because people typically suppress emotions or focus on the negative they need tools to help with expression. Done correctly, EW can help the writing talk about their feelings and eventually see the positive in the situation.

How does Expressive Writing work?

For years research has shown the expressive writing reduces anxiety in adults and children (it also helps lessen depression). Although it’s not 100% clear how it helps, here are some thoughts about how it works. Expressive writing:

  • Gives an outlet for emotional expression
  • Organizes thoughts
  • Helps distance yourself from the situation
  • Helps gain control over the situation
  • Regulates emotion
  • Clears your mind and provides relief
  • Creates greater self-awareness and understanding about the situation

It also helps with:

  • Increasing feelings of well-being
  • Improving happiness
  • Improving social relationships
  • Increasing self-efficacy
  • Improving mental flexibility and ability to handle stress
  • Can improve sleep and increase memory

Using Expressive Writing

With all these positive factors, why not try it? It’s free too! One simple and easy format to use yourself, with your children, in a group, or in a classroom is called The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a 7-step journaling process that prompts the writer to write about a difficult experience and move into seeing the possibility of that experience, all using the word Imagine to begin every sentence. It’s very simple and set up in a journal format so parents, counselors, nurses, and/or teachers can use it with their children, clients, or students. The journals are downloadable for free at www.theimagineproject.org. There are 4 journals, Kinde, Kids, Teens, and Adults (there are digital versions too). Lessen plans and everything a teacher needs are available on the website www.theimagineproject.org. You can incorporate The Imagine Project into a variety of formats. It can be used once, or over and over again when children/students are faced with difficult life situations that are causing anxiety for them. Teachers benefits from it too when you use it yourself and/or you learn more about your students and give them the opportunity to create camaraderie, empathy, and a sense of community in the classroom. You are also giving them a free and effective lifelong tool to improve their overall emotional wellness.

To get started go to www.theimagineproject.org and download the age appropriate journal for you, your child, client, patient, or students. You will see their outlook on life improve, they will be able to focus better, and their overall emotional wellness will improve.

Good luck and keep Imagining!

Dianne

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

Making New Year’s Resolutions as a Family

The start of the new year signifies a time for new opportunities, goals, and reflection. While people usually treat New Year’s resolutions as an individual initiative, it can also be beneficial to set some goals as a family. Especially if you have younger children, making resolutions together can help your kids start problem solving and identifying things they’d like to work on.

Along with helping your children work on goal setting, making resolutions as a family is a great way to strengthen your connection with each other. This can give you all something to work toward together throughout the year and allows you to hold each other accountable through consistent encouragement and support. If you’re unsure what New Year’s resolutions you should make as a family, here are a few ideas to consider.

Give Back

The holidays are known for giving back and that generous mindset is something that can be valuable year long. Giving back and serving your community is a great resolution to show your children the importance of helping others and being selfless. Volunteering in your community can not only give your family a new sense of purpose, but is also a productive way to spend quality time together.

If volunteering isn’t doable for your family’s schedule, you can also collect items for a homeless shelter or make handmade cards for the elderly or others in your community. However you decide to serve others, these efforts can help teach your children gratitude, compassion, and empathy. These experiences can also encourage them to think about different perspectives and consider other people’s unique circumstances.

Improve Financial Literacy

Especially after holiday spending, improving your finances is a New Year’s resolution that many people have for themselves. However, financial wellness and literacy can and should be a family affair. Family budgeting can be difficult, but creating a plan to improve your finances can help everyone as money has an indirect influence on most aspects of daily life. You don’t want to put any financial stress on your children, but it can be valuable to teach them about healthy financial habits that they can start early on.

For instance, if your kids receive an allowance, you can encourage them to save rather than spend and dedicate a portion toward a more long term goal. You can also gradually start covering simple yet essential topics such as budgeting, debt, loans, and other principles as your children grow up and become young adults. As they mature and start to handle money more often, you can teach them about more advanced financial practices such as how to start investing early, best practices for managing a bank account, or how credit can determine whether you can buy a house, car, or other large purchases. Although these topics may seem premature, teaching your children and teens a basic understanding of financial wellness and education is a valuable skill that can help them later on in life and set them up for financial success. These practices are helpful for adults too!

Exercise as a Family

Exercise is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, and for good reason. Working out and having an active lifestyle is known for reducing stress and boosting your mood which is beneficial for your whole family. While exercise takes many forms, making this goal as a family doesn’t mean you have to do strict workouts together. This could be as simple as going on walks or bike rides after school, going on family hikes, playing catch, or even joining a sports league. Depending on how old your children are, you can set different goals like training for a 5k or simply going on a walk a few times a week. Exercising regularly can help teach your children the importance of making healthy choices and taking care of their mental and physical health. No matter your age, staying active is something the whole family can enjoy and benefit from.

Spend More Quality Time Together

Between work, school, and extracurricular activities, it can be difficult to find quality time to spend together as a family. If you feel distant or lonely with your children or spouse, this is a great goal that can help you all connect. Quality time comes in many forms and can vary depending on your family’s interests and how old your children are. For instance, quality time could simply mean sitting down and having dinner together every night. Or, it could be dedicating time each week to watch a show together or having a game night.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure to unplug from technology during this time to truly be present and cherish the moment. This uninterrupted time can show your children how much you value them and can help improve your family’s overall connection and communication skills. By spending consistent quality time together, you’re giving your children an open outlet to express their emotions which can help lower the risk of behavioral issues as well.

If your children are having trouble sharing their feelings, The Imagine Project journaling tools can give them another creative way to communicate their emotions. This exercise can help children tell their stories and move through any stress or trauma they might have. You can even do these simple writing prompts together as a family as part of your quality time to learn more about each other.

Good luck,

Dianne

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

 

Eight Ways to Minimize and Mitigate Stress for Yourself and your Children

I was recently sitting and talking with a dear friend who has successfully beat cancer. As we talked she shared that she was beginning to realize her cancer diagnosis was fueled by childhood and current chronic stress. As a young girl she was pushed hard to be perfect, basically keeping the peace in the family through her successes. A heavy toll to carry for a 7-year-old. She continued in adulthood to care for others more than she cared for herself. She ate well, exercised, worked hard and is very successful, and she has a deep faith—but it’s her emotional health she tended to neglect—something she learned as a child.

The research is clear that stress causes disease. Chronic physical and/or emotional stress will make you sick. Whatever your genetic make-up is for illness, i.e. heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, etc., it will show up if you are stressed for too long. Detrimental hormones are secreted when we are stressed, those hormones break down your immune system so eventually whatever you are genetically prone to will fight its way through and show up on your door step with an unfortunate surprise.

This is true for kids too. If kids are under too much stress, the same hormones will cause frequent illness, emotional instability, inability to do well in school, and as adults they will continue to get sick, maybe even with more serious issues. So we must find ways to help ourselves and our kids minimize stress—and use tools to mitigate it when it’s present.

How can we minimize stress?

  1. First and foremost, be honest with yourself and teach your children to do the same. Ask yourself, is this lifestyle causing too much stress? Do I have at least a couple of hours of downtime 5 days a week (everyday if possible). If you are rushing from here to there, not taking any time to relax and let your body unwind, think about how and what you can change. Give yourself a time frame to change the crazy schedules. In 2 months, if things have not settled down, make some hard decisions as to what can be different. Waiting for years for things to change is not good for anyone’s health.
  2. Schedule downtime if it doesn’t naturally fit into your schedule. Two to four hours a day should be spent chatting, hanging out, going for a casual walk or bike ride, working on puzzles, etc. This is critical to teach your kids—and so very important for their nervous systems! Relaxing is part of healing any stress you/they have been under.
  3. Evaluate your work/play balance. Take a hard look at how you feel about this balance. Does it feed your soul, or wear you out too often? If the latter is true, it’s time to change something somewhere. You don’t want to end up with a diagnosis where you wish you would have thought about these things. Your kids feel your stress too—help them by helping yourself.

Tools for mitigating stress:

The truth is, stress is present in everyone’s life. The hope is it’s only occasional, but in this fast paced world, it can be brutal sometimes. Please do everything you can to minimize stress, and when stress is present, do things to offset it’s ill effects.

  1. Self-care, self-care, self-care. I know, some of you are saying yeah right. Well remember, like my dear friend, if you don’t practice enough self-care—an ugly diagnosis will let you know about it. Schedule it in if you have to. Go for walks, chat with friends or neighbors, read a book, get a massage, meditate, cook/bake if you like to cook, look at the stars, etc. You can find things that feed your soul that do or don’t cost anything. Stress and trauma stir up our flight or fight responses in our bodies—we must offset those by practicing things that relax us—fully relax us. Teaching our kids self-care is also critical to their well-being—and if you do it together—what great memories you will create.
  2. Take a hard look at your ability to relax and destress. If you truly can’t relax then see a chiropractor, massage therapist, or energy worker to help your body shift, there could be a nervous system component that you alone can’t fix. Yoga, exercise, Qigong, and meditation will all help your nervous system calm down.
  3. Talk to someone about your emotions. Those old, deeper emotional issues can cause us to have a difficult time relaxing. Talking with a friend, loved one, or therapist can really help us see ourselves more clearly. Use The Imagine Project Journaling process to help guide you through understanding your situation better. Have your children do it with you. You will find it to be a powerful process and possibly even the key to mitigating your stress.
  4. Play, play, play! Laugh, laugh, laugh! Dance, dance, dance!
  5. Give to others. Find a way to help someone else in your world (or even in another part of life you aren’t familiar with). Helping others not only helps them, but it fills our buckets with love. Teaching this to kids when they are young will only make the world a better place and make them smile at the same time.

It’s time for all of us to look at our stress levels, see how we can minimize them, help mitigate them when we are stressed. Use the tools above and consider downloading The Imagine Project Journals to help you on your journey. They are free and powerful—you and your family will love it!

Take care and good luck,

Dianne

Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN is a thought leader in the area of stress and trauma in children. She is nurse, speaker, and author of multiple award winning books including The Imagine Project: Empowering Kids to Rise Above Drama, Trauma, and Stress (Yampa Valley Publishing, 2017). For more information go to www.theimagineproject.org. Dianne is the Founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children heal from stress and trauma. 

Teaching Gratitude to Children

Gratitude is so simple, yet most people overlook its 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 the 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

  1. Greater sense of well-being
  2. Improved physical health
  3. Improved self-esteem, resilience, and empathy
  4. Decreased aggression
  5. Increased optimism
  6. 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. 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. In our family, we play The Gratitude Game in the car or at mealtime. Particularly if someone has had a bad day, this can help them boost their spirits and feel better.

The Gratitude Game:

Each person takes a turn saying what they are grateful for, beginning with, “I am grateful for…”. You can also use, “I love…” saying what you love about each person or life in general.

Everyone takes at least three turns. 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.

If a child, teen, or adult is struggling to express their emotions and move forward into gratitude, they might need a tool to talk about how they’re feeling. The Imagine Project journaling tool will give them an opportunity to say what has happened and even express how it’s made them feel. It’s a simple, powerful, and free process you can download from anywhere in the world. Please click here to download the journal and learn more about The Imagine Project.

I’m grateful for you,

Dianne

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

Teaching your Child to Listen to their Intuition

Intuition is not talked about often, but we all have it and we all feel it from time to time. Intuition is important because it’s attuned to your subconscious and can point you in the right direction in any situation, short or long term. Trusting your intuition, and teaching your children to listen to and trust it, can be very valuable in life. When you don’t have enough information about a situation you are in and the resources to learn more about it are unavailable, trusting your gut can help.

I believe I’ve dodged a few potentially dangerous situations because I listened to my gut. I made it a point to teach my kids to listen to their intuition, particularly if they are in situations where they aren’t sure what to do. My middle son loves extreme sports. When he’s headed up to the top of a mountain to ski terrain most skiers won’t even consider, he always reassures me that he’ll follow his gut feeling on where and how to ski down. He’s intelligent and knowledgeable about back country skiing, but he also depends on his intuition. My daughter recently told me that at a gas station, she saw a man who didn’t seem right. Her gut told her to stay in the car; she did and left. Intuition is a key component of life and trusting it is a must to teach your children.

What is intuition? There is a part of us that just knows more than what our conscious minds can evaluate. Recent brain research reveals that intuition can be the result of specific brain activity. Outside of your conscious awareness, your brain constantly takes in vast amounts of information as it scans the environment or a situation and it continually responds by releasing hormones that either maintain your calm or launch you into a stress reaction. So listening to your body/gut can be critical in life—and teach your kids to listen to it too—it’s typically right on the mark!

Listening to your intuition: Listening to your intuition means paying attention not only to what your head thinks, but what your body feels. When you think about doing something and your body feels soft, light, comfortable, or easy, then it’s the right thing to do. In contrast, when thinking about it makes you feel tense, tight, uncomfortable, and unsure, then don’t do it. Why? Because the tension in your body is triggered by your limbic system, which is pumping stress hormones into your blood stream at the prospect of making the wrong move. Your thinking brain or conscious mind may be unaware of the potential, but your body can feel the effects of your brain’s assessment. So tune into how your body feels. Another way of saying this is “listen to your gut,” which is considered to be our “second mind.”

So if you’re detecting a tense reaction in your body when doing something or making a decision, either go the other way or delay the decision until you can think through what you need or want to do. If what you are facing is stressful, really listen to your gut and ask yourself what the next step might be, and if you should keep going with what you are doing. Keep listening and you will figure it out. If at any time you feel clearly uncertain and uncomfortable with a situation, consider moving in the other direction.

Teaching your children about intuition?

The first step is to teach children how to tune into their bodily sensations. (See below for an important cautionary note.) Ask them to imagine something happy and talk about how that feels in the body. Then move to other emotions like excitement, sadness, fear, worry, shame, and anger. Not only does this teach emotional self-awareness, but also gets them in touch with what their gut is telling them about a particular decision, person, or situation. Talk to them about making decisions not only with their minds, but with their gut feelings too. Teach them that when they feel easy and comfortable with a decision to follow it, and when they feel tense and unsure to wait or do something different.

Of course, sometimes we are fooled, such as when we make fearful assumptions about unfamiliar situations or people who look different from us. But it can pay to listen to your intuition, especially when you have persistent or mysterious physical symptoms, or there is a gnawing sense in your gut that “something isn’t right.” In contrast, when you’re feeling effortlessly calm, excited, or happy, you can bet that this sense of ease indicates that you’re on a good path or perhaps in the right place, at the right time, or with the right people.

Please note that it is inadvisable to do body-awareness exercises with children who are suffering from untreated, moderate to severe trauma, as tuning into their hypervigilant, stressed-to-the-max bodies can create an acute crisis. These children first require professional treatment for their trauma. However, for only mildly- to moderately-stressed children, guided body awareness can be safe. Do stay attuned to each child and back off or provide another activity whenever a child doesn’t want to explore or play along with body- awareness exercises.

If you’re child or student is struggling with a difficult life experience, even if it happened in the past, you can help them express their emotions and move through their stress and trauma using The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a simple (free) writing process using the word Imagine to tell their story. It’s easy, powerful, and kids love it! Go to www.theimagineproject.org for more information.

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.

Helping Students Cope with Stress in the 2021 School Year

It’s back to school time 2021 style and it’s just plain stressful for students, teachers, parents, and admin. The reasons are obvious and endless. I feel for all of those dealing with these unique and yet common stressors in schools.

We don’t need research to show us how stressed students are but here’s a few important points. Three quarters (75%) of American high schoolers and half of middle schoolers described themselves as “often or always feeling stressed” by schoolwork. A PEW survey shows that 70% of teens say anxiety and depression are a major problem among their peers. There is very little research regarding stress with elementary school students, but it’s definitely present. Watch the concern in their eyes, notice the increased behaviors of clinginess, unable to sit still, or even extremely quiet and a bit reclusive. Everyone is feeling it, no one is immune.

So how do you/we deal with this overwhelming stress? Beyond the common recommendations of deep breathing, exercise, eating healthy, yoga, laughter, and even a little bit of wine here and there (adults only), I suggest a beautiful, simple, and effective tool you can use yourself, with your students/children, and even as a family or group. It’s even FREE. Just go to www.theimagineproject.org to download the 7-step journal (for free).

The Imagine Project is a writing tool that gently asks kids K-12 (and adults) to write about a stressful event in their life—beginning every sentence using the word Imagine…

Imagine…coming back into a classroom after being gone from your school for over a year.
Imagine…being afraid.
Imagine…not knowing if your friends will be there.
Imagine…wearing a mask and not seeing your friends and teacher smile.
Imagine…being scared you might have to go back to virtual learning.
Imagine…not being able to focus because you’re scared.
Imagine…your teacher being kind and friendly.
Imagine…your friends feeling the same as you.
Imagine…relaxing and having fun in school.
Imagine…hope.

There are 7-steps to The Imagine Project (download the journals to follow each step in the journal format):
1. Write down something you love about your life.
2. Write down something that’s been difficult in your life, recently or in the past.
3. Take the event you wrote down in step 2 (a difficult event) and write a story about it using the word Imagine… to begin every sentence.

After Step 3 you can ask those writing (students in a classroom, participants in a group, or even as a family) to read their stories out loud. This is a powerful part of the process (and completely optional), it helps those reading to own their stories and feel heard by others around them.

4. Now write down how you want that story to end? Or what you learned from it if it’s already ended, all using the word Imagine…

Step 4 is a change in perspective, creating resilience and hope. (Click here to see the last 3 steps)

These steps give students the opportunity to express what’s in their hearts, share it in class if they’d like to, and then move forward beyond their difficult story. Some teachers might fear kids sharing their difficult stories in a classroom setting. It can be hard emotionally, but so powerful in creating comradery and a sense of family among students. With over 350,000 kids reached through The Imagine Project, we have not had any reports of bullying from this process. The opposite happens, compassion and kindness is cultivated.

The Imagine Project can be used once a semester or even once a week. Then when kids are facing a difficult situation in classrooms, at home, in school, or community they have a tool to fall back on to help them cope. Listen to 31-year veteran teacher Todd Daubert talking about using The Imagine Project in his classroom. He used The Imagine Project once a week as a tool for students to process their emotional challenges.

Research on Expressive Writing, and our research shows using The Imagine Project is powerful in decreasing stress and creating resilience. It’s simple and free!

For more information about The Imagine Project and helpful information on using it (videos, lessen plans, books, etc.), go to www.theimagineproject.org. Feel free to email Dianne through the website with any thoughts or questions.

Thank you and happy writing,

Dianne

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

3 Tips for Raising Healthy and Caring Children

Whether you’re planning a new family or raising children from ages one to eightteen, having great parenting advice can really help you make healthier and better decisions. It’s no cakewalk, either. Parenting can be very challenging, especially parenting with the goal of raising well-adjusted and healthy people. Luckily, there are some amazing resources out there for new or struggling parents. We found our top three pieces of advice for raising children at any age that we’d like to share. Take a look at three picks below, presented by The Imagine Project, Inc.

Be Proactive and Healthy with Discipline

Discipline is a big part of a child’s upbringing. It helps them learn what is socially acceptable or what is safe to do without hurting themselves. However, far too many parents approach discipline the wrong way during the formative years, especially during the Terrible Twos. Toddlers have a tendency to be quite impatient and, as a result, become frustrated when they are unable to do something or have something happen. Because they cannot verbalize their emotions at this stage of development, coping with stress is almost impossible. With this in mind, “punishing” your toddler for having a fit will do nothing short of creating trauma. To discipline a toddler, simply physically remove them from the situation. This isn’t always super simple, but it is the best way to communicate that behavior like this isn’t acceptable while still being empathetic to the fact that they physically cannot cope with stress at this stage.

As your children grow older, it will be challenging in different ways. Some days will be easy and smooth, others will test your nerves and drive you to the brink. Enjoy those easy days, and when the tough ones come along, know nighttime will come. Listen and hear what your child is saying. If you are so frustrated you want to scream, then take a break. Go outside, in the other room, or just sit down and take a few breaths. Hard days are a normal part of parenting and they too shall pass. Don’t beat yourself up, tomorrow is a new day with new possibilities.

Always Be Consistent

Parenting is exhausting. However, it is so important to be consistent in the way that you communicate with and discipline your child through their school-aged years. Preschoolers in particular have a real knack for throwing tantrums that last forever, so many parents will simply give up and let them have their way. (Luckily, they are also very fun and sweet during preschool years as well.) It is key to be consistent in your discipline and “nos” despite your child’s Olympics-level resilience. Just as well, be consistent in how you positively reinforce behaviors and reward your children. Kids between two and four are absorbing a lot about the world around them and formulating their own personalities and opinions. By being consistent in praise and rewards, you’re letting your child know that they are doing their best. The more you listen, stay consistent, and stay positive in the early years, the easier it will be in the teen years.

Lead By Example

Believe it or not, parents are their children’s greatest role models. They will watch you carefully and learn who they should be in life primarily from you. To help them, be kind to others, show gratitude in different areas of your life every day, and be interested in learning yourself. If you are curious and want to learn new things in life, they will too. Eat healthy, go for walks, and take time for yourself so your children know these things are as important as working hard.

This is by no means a complete guide to raising a child — but every little bit can help in the long road. Above everything else, remember to love and listen to your child at every step along their journey toward adulthood. If your child is struggling, having them write their Imagine Story (you can write one with them) will help open up the doors of communication and give your child a voice to speak what’s in their hearts, especially if they aren’t able to express what they are feeling. You both will love the process—something you can do often.

Take care and thanks for listening,

Dianne

(Thank you to Amanda Henderson for your contributions in writing this article.)
Photo Credit: Pixabay.

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.