Children thrive in our world when they thrive on the inside. The inside—where personality, imagination, heart, and mind reside—often seems to receive less attention than the behaviors and interactions we observe on the outside. Yet a shift that occurs in that internal place often changes what we see from the outside.

Take imagination as an example. One way to help children thrive from the inside out is to nurture their imagination. A child will need to be able to imagine something before that something can happen. Imagery bypasses natural defenses and takes a child out of ordinary, routine, habitual ways of thinking and doing. For instance, if listening is a challenge during group time at preschool, a child will need to be able to imagine turning both of her ears on and her mouth off during carpet time in order to actually do so.

Parents can help introduce imagery to their children by asking “What if . . . ?” during day-to-day conversations. A good place to start is with external objects your child can see. Ask “What would it be like to be inside this book?” when you read together, for example. Then you can move on to using your child’s imagination without a tangible, physical object nearby. For example, “If a flower sprouted from an empty pot, what would it look like? What color would it be? How large is the pot? What color is the pot?” You could even take your child’s mind on an adventure: “What do you think it would be like to explore Africa?”

Imagination is a powerful tool. What stories does your child tell herself? What is she thinking and imagining? The answers to these questions will determine how your child reacts to events and interactions in life, and the answers also affect who she becomes. You can help your child thrive from the inside out with the help of imagery.