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Guided Imagery for Children

written by: Diana Cooper • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 3/31/2010

Guided imagery for children is a safe form of healing, decreasing anxiety and many other problems. Learn how it works, find suggestions on how to use it, and see what the results of one study show.

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    Guided Imagery

    Guided imagery can be a powerful healing tool. It is based on the concept that the mind and body are connected (what the mind imagines, the body perceives as real). For instance: Close your eyes and picture a lemon, including its shape, texture, and color. Imagine its smell as you cut it open and its sour taste as you bite into it. Many people who do this will salivate as though they were actually eating one.

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    Guided Imagery for Children

    Children have great imaginations and can benefit from guided imagery. They can learn to reduce stress, promote healing, manage pain, lose weight, take control of their emotions, and enhance their ability to learn, create, and perform. Guided imagery is used to help treat many problems, including those that are as simple as a stomach ache to those more serious like cancer.

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    Study

    In one study (conducted at the University of North Carolina and published in the November journal of Pediatrics) involving children ages 6-15 with chronic stomach pain, those who used guided imagery had significantly better results than those who received standard medical care. The children who used guided imagery would imagine something like warm butter melting in their hand, then placing their hand on their stomach to spread the warmth and protect it from being irritated. After 8 weeks, 63.1% of the children using guided imagery had a significant decrease in pain compared to 26.7% of those who didn't use it (after the study, these children used guided imagery and 61.5% of them improved). The children continued to do well according to a 6 month follow-up.

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    Suggestions

    The following are some suggestions on guided imagery for children by Charlotte Reznick (an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at UCLA and author of The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success):

    Balloon Breath - This is a type of diaphragmatic breathing that will help center and calm children. The child will learn to breath slowly and deeply while he or she focuses his or her attention on an area below their belly button.

    Wisdom of Inner Guides - This technique will help children access their inner wisdom. A kind and loving imaginary guide (an animal friend or wizard) can help them through a tough time. For example, a child having a blood test can imagine a lion standing guard next to him or her, offering courage as the procedure is being done.

    Color - Focusing on colors can help children control emotions and pain. For instance, a child can imagine a "thermometer" and raise a color which he or she perceives as calming (like blue) and lower a color associated with fear (like orange).

    Questions - Asking the following questions while the child breathes slowly and deeply can be an effective method in eliminating pain: What color is it (the pain)? What shape is it? How heavy is it? After a short period (while the child continues focusing on their breathing), the questions are repeated. Over time (depending on the child and problem), the child's answers can go from "dark", "sharp", and "heavy" to "light", "round", and "light".

    Audio - Relaxation CDs are an excellent way to help children with guided imagery.

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    Conclusion

    Guided imagery is safe and many children will have fun doing it. It is best to learn from a person trained in it. The more one practices, the better the results. For serious problems, consult with your health care provider.

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    Sources Used

    Guided Imagery - Topic Overview: http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/tc/guided-imagery-topic-overview

    The Power of Imagination: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-imagination/200910/banish-belly-and-other-aches-guided-imagery-helps-kids-ease-tummy-

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    Disclaimer

    Please read this disclaimer regarding the information contained within this article.