Our imagination is at work constantly, and the same is true for our children. We often don’t realize it, but when we worry we ‘misuse’ our imagination, and children do the same thing. The imagination, out of fear, creates a fictitious future scene and then we think about it in worrisome ways. This we call anxiety.
Yet, this imagination is prepared to serve us in much more productive and useful ways. With children, their capacity to use their imaginations is often untapped, as we tend not to teach them how to unleash the full potential of their imagination. Most of us know that their imaginations can be used to be creative. Yet, this creative power can be applied in a myriad of ways. This includes solving problems, getting through difficult times, changing behavior patterns, and even optimizing athletic performance.
When we vividly and repeatedly visualize our responses in specific ways, it’s like real practice to our brain. Imagination is very close to the real thing. We get virtually the same benefit from “mental rehearsal” as we do from actual practice. It can be done anytime, and the imagined scene can be edited and replayed as many times as desired. With each replay, children can observe and correct problems, and confidence builds with each of these rehearsals. Dozens of practice sessions can occur in just minutes, given the speed with which the mind works.
Just take a moment and notice how the imagination can destroy confidence in just seconds, as you ‘rehearse’ some future moment where things go poorly. Again, this is fear-based and children do this to destroy confidence with ease, just as adults can do.
What children and adolescents need is guidance to use that remarkable creative power to focus on rehearsing what they WANT rather than what they do NOT WANT. This is the secret.
Eliminating Anxiety Over Future Event
If your son or daughter has expressed anxiety about a school or sporting event, academic challenge, or even a social situation, it’s very likely that they’re creating “mental movies” that make them feel anxious. Even if this is based on some past history, they must still learn to face their fear and imagine a different and better future outcome.
Try this: Sit in front of your TV with your child, but turned off. Have your child begin to practice imagining themselves from a third-person perspective, like they were the actors in the movie. Then, ask them to see that ‘actor’ facing the feared situation but getting through it. (This is key, as they must get all the way through the feared event.)
Then repeat this, and have them imagine this over and over…each time getting better and better, gaining more and more mastery over the task. It’s okay to see themselves getting a little distressed in that imagined movie, but repeatedly have them imagine getting through it, and everything turns out okay. Only after they have become confident in the third-person movie are they to imagine this in a first-person (from their eyes) perspective. In this way, they can quickly learn to use their brains to get stronger and better rapidly.
Handling Difficult Peers and Bullies with Confidence
If your child is experiencing a situation with challenging peers or bullies, the best strategy is for them to learn to deal with difficult kids. In extreme situations, this may not be possible. But most kids who become habitually feel victimized by their peers usually tend to react in helpless ways, showing that they are hurt emotionally. Bullies love this.
To overcome this, children need to develop an internal sense of resilience, where the unpleasant words of bullies have little effect emotionally. This is true power, where the moods and ugliness of others are not taken personally.
Again, you can use your child’s imagination to build their personal resources. Set up the “mental movie” as above. Take a few minutes every day, and have them imagine looking at a self-created mental movie where they see themselves being picked on. Each time, have them visualize smiling as they walk away from the unpleasantness and going on about their day. With each mental rehearsal, they can see themselves getting stronger and more confident. If it’s severe, they can even see themselves reporting the incident to a teacher, but without being upset
Enhancing Athletic Performance
There is a reason why many professional athletes have their own sports psychologist, and the ‘bread and butter’ of this niche profession is mental rehearsal. Why not give your young athlete this tool?
Your child’s brain can be conditioned to learn faster. The key is to commit five to ten minutes per day, visualizing themselves getting better and better in their chosen sport.
Here’s how: In the daily “movie” they do not start out imagining perfection, because their brains won’t believe this. Instead, encourage your child to create mental practice sessions where things get better and better each day they practice (like real life). For most of the session, this rehearsal is again third-person. Then, have your young athlete “step into the movie” at the end of each session and imagine the same performance as if they are now in the actual situation.
Watch their confidence grow with only a few days of practice. It’s quite remarkable.
This is only a sample of the ways in which you can teach your kids to use their imagination to solve problems, reduce anxiety, and achieve their best performance. Their imagination is bizarrely powerful and can thwart their success or enhance it. Teach them how to take control of this power, and watch them grow.