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Guided Imagery for Children Dealing with Stress

Written by Ashia James, PhD   
Monday, 01 December 2008 00:00
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Guided Imagery for Children Dealing with Stress
Six Practical Applications of Guided Imagery
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Similar to adults, children can experience stress at home or at school. Stress can manifest in the form of anxiety, illness, or unconstructive conduct. Guided imagery and visualization can be used to alleviate tension experienced by children and produce positives outcomes.

Doctors have confirmed that stress can affect anyone, even children. Feeling some level of stress is normal but when the stressor(s) exceed the child’s ability to cope, the stress may be manifested in others ways, such as mood swings, acting out, anger, changes in sleep patterns, and bedwetting. Some children experience physical effects, including nervousness, stomachaches, headaches, and infections. Others have trouble concentrating or completing schoolwork (Lingren, 1998; Rutherford, 2002). Herbert Lingren, an Extension Family Scientist verified that children under stress change their behavior and react by doing things that are out of the norm for their usual behavior. “Reactions to stress vary with the child’s stage of development, ability to cope, and the length of time the stress continues, intensity of the stress, and the degree and support from family and friends.” The two most frequent indicators that children are stressed are change in behaviors and regression of behaviors (1998).

Preschoolers may react to stress by exhibiting irritability, anxiety, uncontrollable crying, trembling with fright, and eating or sleep problems. Toddlers may regress to infant behaviors, feel angry, fear being alone, bite, or be sensitive to loud or sudden noises. They may become sad, angry, or aggressive. Elementary children react to stress by whining, withdrawing, feeling unloved, or worrying about the future. Complaints of head- or stomachaches, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping are also indicators of stress. Preteens and adolescents may feel anger for longer periods of time, feel disillusioned, lack self-esteem, rebel, or engage in high risk behaviors, such as drugs, alcohol, shoplifting, or skipping school (Lingren, 1998). Children can learn coping skills for stress through guided imagery and visualization. Imagination is a powerful mental function that allows individuals to review the past, imagine possible futures, and do things inside their mind that they cannot do in the outer world. The imagination is the source of creativity, problem solving, and planning and sets the course in the real world, if it is used correctly. Aristotle called it the window to the soul, since it always represents the internal reality. Einstein, late in life, said “Imagination is more important than knowledge” (Rossman, 2000). Children can be guided through imagery and imagination to change their attitudes about themselves, build confidence, control negative behaviors, and to achieve a sense of wellness.

Children with ADD/ADHD are often in a state of stress in school. They can be taught various strategies at home, school, or in private therapy to help them calm down and relax. Hyperactive/impulsive children, in particular, gain the most from learning techniques that relax their minds and bodies. They can learn to recognize their internal feelings, and release inner tension. These techniques have been proven effective in helping individuals to slow down, and improve focus and awareness. The techniques have also been used to empower children with a feeling of peace and self-control (Reif, 2002). One such strategy is using imagination and daily affirmations to help children start the day.

Guided imagery and visualization empowers children by giving them a positive way to deal with the world and themselves. “From preschoolers to adolescents, guided imagery can build confidence and self-esteem, as well as help children develop their own inner resources, and learn to express feelings they generally are not able to verbalize” (Reznick, 1994).

Imagery and visualization is not only beneficial in stress management and reduction; it can also sharpen children’s ability to focus, promote self-confidence, and help children develop self-discipline. It encourages their creativity to flow; releases their fears, anger, and sadness; and allows their trust in the inner self to shine and their minds and hearts to be in synch.