Like adults, kids also get stressed out. They stress over school, bullies and fights with friends. They worry when their parents argue. They experience loneliness and have fears about many things from failing an important test to not fitting in.
In her book The Power of Your Child’s Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success, child educational psychologist and UCLA professor Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D, shares nine tools that help kids access their inner world so they can better traverse the trials and tribulations of growing up.
Here’s a brief look at Reznick’s valuable tools.
1. Use the Balloon Breath.
Balloon Breath is a deep, diaphragmatic breathing that helps kids calm down and concentrate. Reznick says that it provides the way in to your child’s private world so they can listen to their inner voice. Have your child put their hands on their belly and breathe in and out slowly.
2. Discover your special place.
According to Reznick, “There are private places within your child’s inner world where he can work out problems or take mini-vacations from the stresses of life, where he can relax, regroup, or just hang out in a healthy way.” This special place acts as a springboard for the other tools, she says, because it provides the calm environment needed to start.
In this special place — which could be anything from a castle to a garden to outer space — your child feels loved and protected. Reznick gives the example of a 5-year-old girl who felt awkward about being more advanced than her friends in class. She used her special place to feel less isolated. She told Reznick: “The way to get there is to climb on the clouds and hop from cloud to cloud. Birds fly all over. Mostly they know when I’m coming. Here I feel accepted.”
3. Meet a wise animal friend.
“An Animal Friend is an imaginary, loving protector who has a child’s best interest at heart, and helps him access inner wisdom,” Reznick writes. She gives the example of a 7-year-old boy who imagined lions at his hospital bedside keeping him safe and giving him the courage to face a tough procedure.
Ruth, a 10-year-old girl who had a hard time with change, used a slew of animals to help her transition into summer vacation. For instance, one horse would stand up for Ruth when her feelings got hurt. Another horse would suggest strategies to reduce stress like journaling her feelings.
4. Encounter a personal wizard.
Sometimes, Reznick writes, kids want magic. That’s where a personal wizard comes in. Wizards act as kids’ mentors and guides. “When your child calls on a Wizard, she is supported by a collective imagination as old as the first fairytale and as new as the latest fantasy film.”
For her clients Reznick creates magical realms where they can access all kinds of information and get their questions answered. She includes examples like the “Hall of Knowledge,” which has the book All Information for All Time.
Another helpful way for kids to access their inner wisdom is to imagine talking to their future wiser, braver selves. Whatever problem is plaguing them, kids can consult their grown-up selves.
5. Receive gifts from an inner guide.
Once your child has an animal friend or personal wizard, they can ask them for gifts. These gifts can be anything from objects to thoughts to ideas that help kids solve their problems. Reznick tells of a 10-year-old who received a rose quartz heart to heal the loneliness and sadness she felt after her friend moved away. A 6-year-old received a Ball of Focus to help him concentrate better.
6. Check in with heart and belly.
This is another way to encourage kids to listen to their inner wisdom. For instance, have your child put their hand over their heart or on their stomach and imagine listening to the conversation. Reznick says that this makes the connection more tangible and helps kids give themselves a tender touch.
7. Talk to the toes and other body parts.
This tool helps kids listen more closely to their bodies and access their emotions and physical symptoms. “Talking to Body Parts can reveal the fears and worries that turn tension into physical pain; it also makes elusive feelings concrete so that your child can work with them in creative and healing ways,” Reznick writes.
She suggests starting with two to four feelings, and including half positive and half negative emotions.
10-year-old Thomas was one of Reznick’s clients. He was a worrier but rarely expressed his emotions. With encouragement from Reznick, he found out where certain emotions lived in his body. He learned that stress hid in his head by saying things like “I have to do my homework!” or “Am I ever going to graduate middle school?” When Thomas felt overwhelmed, Calmness, which resided in his arms would tell him not to worry too much, to do his homework and to remember to have fun.
Kids can use color to reduce both emotional and physical pain. They can associate specific colors with a stomachache or use color to overcome negative feelings. For instance, Reznick says that purple Courage can calm orange Fear.
7-year-old Helena suffered chronic stomachaches, which were connected to her parents’ constant fighting. She imagined that a swirling rainbow would make her stomach feel better. She also used white light to shield herself from her parents’ arguing. The first time she used this tool, Helena told Reznick that it felt great, “Like I was in the middle of the sun with golden lightbulbs going through my body.”
9. Tap into energy.
When words don’t work, Reznick says that a loving touch can work wonders to calm kids. For instance, you can place your hands wherever your child feels discomfort. Or you can teach children to do this for themselves. Have children rub their hands together and imagine sending love from their heart to their hands. Then they can place their hands over their stomach or another area for a few minutes.
Learn more about Charlotte Reznick’s work at her website.