Helping children to use their active imagination to build up their confidence, to cultivate a positive mindset and even improve simple motor skills is an incredibly easy and worthwhile thing to do. It can be a fun and rewarding activity for children of any age.
Guided imagery and visualisation techniques are especially valuable ways of helping children develop a positive mindset because all kids naturally have a vivid and active imagination. Helping them to paint pictures of success in their mind’s eye can be a great way of keeping them focused on positive outcomes, as well as helping them to come up with their own solutions.
Think of the word imagination as image-in-action. It’s that ability to see yourself in your ‘mind’s eye’. It’s a natural ability that we all have and it’s a mental skill that can easily be cultivated to help prepare for positive experiences in real life.
One of the reasons why visual imagery works so well is because when you imagine yourself completing a task to perfection you are also creating and strengthening the same neural pathways in your brain, just as if you had performed the physical action itself. This is known as mental rehearsal and if your child would benefit from improving their motor skills such as dexterity, or any sports related performance, then this is a wonderful skill to teach them.
Mental rehearsal is a technique used by athletes and sportsmen the world over to help improve their performance. In the next chapter, I will be giving you a few simple and practical tips about how you can help your child practice this skill for themselves. This is something that is also very easy to research for yourself on the internet if you would like to know more.
Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes but there is also a lot to be said for “perfect practice” in the imagination at least, and there is a wealth of research to prove that experiencing success, even if that success is only imaginary goes a long way to improving confidence.
Of course, mental practice also needs to be accompanied by physical practice too but there is real evidence that mental rehearsal and visual imagery can go a long way to both supporting the learning process and improving practical skills.
So how do guided imagery and mental rehearsal actually work?
Essentially these techniques work so well because our minds and bodies are connected. Your body is constantly responding to the thoughts in your mind, as anyone who has ever experienced stress will know very well.
If you have any doubt about this try the simple visualisation exercise below and then have some fun doing this with your children too, you will probably be surprised at just how easily your body responds to your thoughts.
Exploring your mind-body connection
Find somewhere where you can sit quietly, making sure that you will be undisturbed for a few moments and close your eyes.
Imagine holding a freshly cut wedge of juicy lemon in your hand, notice its vivid yellow colour and feel it’s dimpled waxy texture beneath your fingertips.
Smell the sharp clean fragrance and notice the beautiful clear droplets of pale lemon juice forming as give that piece of lemon a gentle squeeze.
Now imagine putting the lemon up to your mouth and squeezing a few drops of its sharp tangy juice onto your tongue. Really taste that lemon juice.
As you do this, notice what is happening in your mouth.
The chances are that you started to salivate just at the thought of the lemon juice on your tongue because images created in the mind are often taken literally and perceived by the body to be real.
This is one of the reasons why television adverts aimed at selling food and drinks work so well. As you watch them, providing you pay attention of course, your mind is constantly constructing images of the food, how it looks, tastes and smells. You might even find yourself imagining the sounds of the food cooking or the feel of its texture as it’s being chewed.
The fact that the body is so responsive to the thoughts held in the mind makes it hugely important to teach children to hold positive images in their imagination throughout the day.
You will be teaching them a very practical self-help tool that they can use to manage their stress levels and improve their performance just by consciously and deliberately choosing which thoughts they give their attention to.
Guided imagery techniques are also an excellent way of helping your children to have a healthy sense of being in control. Feeling in control naturally leads to higher optimism, self-esteem, and ability to cope with stress. In short, the better we feel about ourselves the better we perform and it is the same for children too.
There are many ways that imagery can be used to help your children develop a positive mindset and it is helpful to keep an open mind, explore many options and see which ways your child naturally prefers.
Remember, to be effective practice is essential so it is important that you can find ways of sharing and encouraging the use of imaging techniques that are fun, quick and appealing to do.
Helping your children to use their imagination to learn a new technique, or boost their confidence is nothing new. Whether you call it visualisation, guided imagery, mental rehearsal or even just active daydreaming, the basic idea is that accurately and vividly imagining the performance of a skill will activate almost the exact same neural pathways in the brain as physically performing it.
This is a great way to help your child become more confident or skilled in some aspects of their performance. All you need to do is gently direct their attention to positive and vivid images of success that their body can perceive as real.
Which is a wonderful skill to have if you think about it!
We awaken in others the same attitude of mind we hold toward them.