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A Pediatrician Requests Tips for Using Guided Imagery with Children

06 Dec

What bits of wisdom or generalized instructions can you offer to parents and families who want to begin using guided imagery with their children?

Greetings Belleruth,

Thank you for making your guided imagery resources accessible.
 
As a pediatrician, I thank you for recommending kid specific recordings - Magic Island, Sleep Fairy, I Am the Sky and Mindfulness for Teens.  I've looked each of them up on your Health Journeys website and am eager to share them with my patients!

As I am new to the practice of recommending mind-body resources in a conventional medical setting, I was wondering if you had any guidance on how I might convince families to give it a try.
 
In my general pediatric practice, often in a well child office setting, I see so many children who suffer from excessive, generalized worries/anxiety in a range of different ages, starting from toddlerhood through adolescence.

I am eager to point them toward guided imagery, and now that I have some resources I can point them toward, I was wondering what you recommend to families/patients in terms of specific instructions on how to begin listening to guided imagery.
 
Although I realize that meditation and guided imagery should be a practice, parents often want to know how frequently, for what duration, and when they might expect to see positive "changes", etc.

Many times I find that families may not be convinced to try new modalities unless I offer somewhat concrete instructions, especially since they are not necessarily seeking this out in the setting of a routine well child visit. 

Any general bits of wisdom based on your experience is appreciated.  

Theresa Thomas
 
Dr. T,

Thanks for a great question.

I agree - most people are more comfortable and motivated if they have some 'rules of the road', to feel they're doing things right, and there is some structure involved (even if all they really have to do is get comfortable and press play).

And, by the way, there's nothing wrong with offering a meditative practice with very targeted goals, even if that's not considered 'spirutally pure' by some. A mindfulness practice that teaches us about being in the moment without judgment - no praise, no blame – is powerfully good for peace, perspective, compassion and kindness, opening spiritual gates and a greater sense of wholeness.  
But sometimes we do have desires for a certain, specific outcome that we judge to be in our best interest.

In fact, you could say guided imagery is often a matter of voting for a bunch of targeted outcomes with your imagination.. It can be aspirational and strategic, to help children with anxiety, night terrors, performance fears, scary procedures... that is perfectly legit.

I usually suggest people listen once or twice a day for starters - more if there's a need or desire for greater frequency.  After a couple weeks, it gets pretty embedded - like a depth charge that's been dropped deep into the bodymind, that keeps on pinging positive, reassuring messages, whether the person is aware of it or not. (There is impact with or without awareness.)
 
Often the most effective way for parents to start is by listening along with the child as they're falling asleep, to set them up for some rich, nourishing sleep, or when waking up, to set them up for a calm day. These are naturally conducive times for an immersive technique, because the brain is in a trance zone upon waking or falling asleep anyway. But kids and teens are good at this any time of day, and anxious kids even more so.
   
By listening with their child, parents are also affording them some healthy, non-demanding time, where there's a shared experience and effortless closeness, without any of the daily push-pull that normally goes on between parents and kids during the day.  And that might be the biggest pay-off of all.  For many families under stress, this becomes a special time-out that everyone looks forward to.

I also suggest that the children use the same hand positioning each time they listen, (hands folded over the stomach or midriff, for instance – something easily replicable in public) so the kid can have an 'anchor' or conditioning cue to use during the day, when there's a need for some quick self-calming.

In the altered state, this cue gets set up pretty rapidly, and it's a great tool for an anxious child.

Make sense? .Hope this helps.

 All best,

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Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award