Archive for trauma informed school

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you and take care,

Dianne

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

Why Play is Important to a Child’s Mental Health

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

Global Play Labs

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

Global School Play Day

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

Therapeutic Play

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

Teaching your child (or yourself) to play

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

Ideas for Play

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

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

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

When Trauma Happens in a Classroom or School

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

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

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

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

Imagine having a friend who was incredible.

Imagine that friend becoming very sick.

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

Imagine that friend dying.

Imagine seeing his body and signing the casket.

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

Imagine knowing he’s in a better place.

Gavin, 4thgrade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or Tapping)

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

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

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

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

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

“I miss Drew a lot” (collar bone)

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

“My heart is sad” (top of the head)

“I hope I feel better soon” (eyebrow)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you and happy Imagining!

Love,

Dianne

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.