Imagine the Possibilities
With visualization techniques, kids can achieve their dreams.
Once upon a time, when children “saw” scary things under their beds at night, parents would try to reduce their fears by reminding them it was just in their imagination. These days, we strive to harness the power of that imagination to enhance performance. Visualization, or the ability to see something clearly in your mind’s eye, is an excellent way to relax after a tough day, learn things more efficiently, or even formulate solutions to problems. When children learn how to control this ability, it can help them socially, emotionally and academically.
Warming up to the task
Creative visualization – forming, controlling, and animating images in the mind – is a skill that can increase mental and physical acuity, but also requires practice and discipline. Though a large percentage of people tend to naturally be visual thinkers, some children find visualization challenging at first. Here are some easy ways to get kids to warm up to it. (Adjust your approach to match your child’s maturity.)
First, get comfortable. Choose a time when you and your child are naturally calm. For many households this is the 30-60 minutes before bedtime. Try putting a chair near your child’s bedside or lie next to him.
Step 1: Begin by casually talking about the things you imagined when you were a kid. Then offer up some visualization ideas, e.g., “I wonder what it would be like to be [an animal, astronaut, dinosaur]?” After a few nights, start asking more open-ended questions, e.g., “What would you do if you were [king of an island, a ballet dancer]?” Say goodnight before the idea is talked out, allowing your child to start picturing the details on his own.
Step 2: Once your child is interested in the process, improve her focus and relaxation by using the “box breathing” technique. Visualize a box in the air: breathe in slowly as you and your child draw a line down one side of the imaginary box; hold your breath as you trace along the bottom of the box; breathe out slowly as you trace a line up the other side of the box; hold your breath again as you trace along the top of the box. Do each for a count of three. Repeat three times.
Step 3: Begin to visualize together by first focusing attention on a common household item or picture. Close your eyes and recreate the image in your mind. First replicate the image as closely as possible. Talk about it and add lots of detail. Then manipulate the image in your head (turn it upside down or change the shape and colour).
Over time your child will become accustomed to thinking in pictures or even movies, at which point he is ready to tackle his own individual concerns through mental rehearsal.
Begin with the end in mind
Ultimately, visualization is valuable because it helps children reduce their anxieties (become familiar with new situations), eliminate creative blocks (access fresh ideas), problem solve (see other perspectives), memorize (picture information) and enhance their performance (on tests, in sports, music or theatre).
To use visualization to achieve something specific, it’s best to start at the end and move backwards. In swimming, for instance, your child would picture all the winning actions in reverse: touching the wall at the finish, the burst of speed in the last lap, the rapid/even strokes, the shallow dive at the start, etc. He would imagine all the details and what it took to get him to each step.
Working backwards is particularly helpful for anxious children who learn differently and have trouble with tasks like sequencing (beginning, middle, end). It is also useful for supporting youth who are having trouble picturing themselves as successful in an unfamiliar environment, such as a new school, job or program. Visualizing with the aid of photos increases confidence and helps create a can-do attitude.
Make a vision board
A vision board – collage done on poster board – is a fun, creative way to make your child’s main visualizations three-dimensional. It will help her to focus on what is important and what she wants to achieve. Consider its overall theme (finding balance in life, succeeding at sports, enjoying school, making new friends) and various materials to use (photos, magazine images, words, paper, fabric). Gather materials over time. Consider background colours or texture. And take the time to lay it out before you glue.
The possibilities are endless. Let your child enjoy the creative side of visualization and feel empowered by it. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”