Last week we discussed how to connect physical sensations to emotions as one way to help children become more aware of their specific feelings. Being aware of emotions is the first step toward deciding what to do next.

Another way to help your kids make connections to their emotions and figure out how to deal with those emotions involves images. Images affect the way our children look at and interact with the world. This effect is true for parents as well.

Some images from the past may influence a current emotional feeling. An example of a historical image might be an embarrassing moment at school. The embarrassing moment is then imagined the next time or the next several times a child is in a similar situation. Other images may be fabricated, such as those from a nightmare, which can make going to sleep the following night more difficult. Even images of the future can be powerful. If a child worries about being left out at recess, images of sitting on the school steps all by himself or herself can be imagined.

If parents and other adults can help children become aware of the images formed in their minds, children can take some control over those images and in doing so reduce the images’ influence over their emotions.

As an example of how this might play out, let’s say your child has had a nightmare that involves a scary creature. When your child tells you that he or she can’t go to sleep because he or she is scared of this creature, ask your child to draw a picture of it or describe the creature for you. Validate that it would be scary to have that picture of a creature in your mind, and then add, “You know one thing you can do? You can change the picture in your mind. What if you put a clown’s nose on the creature, or a funny hat, or a mask, or a tutu, or a pair of swim fins?” It can be helpful to actually draw the picture to make the visualization and process more fun and tangible.

The same idea applies to the child who keeps visualizing the image of the embarrassing situation or the anticipation of being left out at recess. Parents can help children learn how to be in control of the pictures they create in their minds.

Empower your kids. Help your children realize that they can change the pictures in their minds. They will be learning skills to get in touch with and regulate their emotions.