Children can get stressed by a lot of things, such as schoolwork, a big performance, and difficult life events. Whether these are positive or negative types of stress, being able to cope with them is vital for their mental health and well-being. This is where guided imagery for kids comes in.
What is Guided Imagery?
Guided imagery or guided visualization is a form of meditation that involves imagining a peaceful place — for example, a quiet beach or a garden filled with sunflowers. By focusing your attention away from distressing thoughts, even for a few minutes each day, you can feel calmer and experience other benefits.
Therapists and other mental health professionals recommend guided imagery as one of the interventions to help kids with anxiety, regardless of the types and causes of anxiety.
A 2018 study found that people who have limited access to nature (which also lowers anxiety) may take advantage of guided imagery instead. It even mentioned that guided imagery might be more effective since an actual experience may have unpleasant aspects, which a person doing visualization could avoid [*].
How Does Guided Imagery Work?
Conjuring up mental images can change a person’s emotional state. For example, a child who doubts he can perform well in school can turn negative thoughts into positive ones through guided imagery.
The moment he starts feeling tension, he can find a quiet spot, close his eyes, and think of something relaxing — e.g. a mountain river washing away his worries. It helps to focus on the details of a scenario. What do they see, hear, smell, and feel? At the same time, the child can reflect on a self-esteem statement, such as, “I love, respect, and believe in myself.”
Visualization for kids can be accomplished with the help of scripts or audio recordings to keep the entire process organized. Such tools are a great way for kids to familiarize themselves with meditation. The more they practice, the easier it is to return to a calmer state in times of stress and pain.
Why is Imagery Important for Children?
Some might think that guided imagery only applies to adults, but kids as young as 4-5 years can already begin with the help of their parents. Research shows that guided imagery for kids may offer these advantages:
- Pain management. Children who are experiencing pain, such as muscle aches or headaches due to the common cold, can distract themselves from the pain through visualization.
- Reaching a particular goal. Another important benefit of guided imagery is that it allows them to perform to the best of their abilities. Young athletes, for instance, who imagine themselves performing well in a game are more likely to succeed. An older study found that young, healthy untrained subjects experienced improvements in their muscle strength by imagining it [*].
- Sleep anxiety. Is your child struggling to fall asleep? While sleep anxiety looks different for every child, regular meditation (using guided imagery) makes falling asleep easier. According to the Sleep Foundation, meditation accomplishes this by reducing the stress response. It slows your breathing and lowers your heart rate and blood pressure [*].
- Creativity and self-esteem. Guided meditation clears away worries and anxieties that interfere with the mind’s ability to get creative. Furthermore, it improves a person’s self-worth by promoting self-care.
- Test anxiety. For kids with test anxiety, guided imagery may reduce physical and emotional symptoms, such as headaches, a rapid heart rate, racing thoughts, and feelings of disappointment.
Examples of Guided Imagery
There are plenty of free meditation scripts and audio recordings online that help with anything, from managing stress to reducing fears and promoting sleep. Below, I’ve linked to some examples of guided imagery recordings for your child:
- Falling Leaves - Sample script: “Make believe you’re a maple tree… Pretend you have big branches full of leaves… If you have any thoughts, simply let them fall.”
- Be the Pond - Sample script: “I’d like you to imagine that you and your mind is a big lovely pond… It’s wonderful being the pond because you can watch all your different feelings just swimming by.”
- Rainbow Relaxation - Sample script: “Today, we are going to imagine that we are painting a rainbow in the sky and your fingers are the paintbrushes... Your rainbow will shine around you all day and put a smile on everyone’s face.”
- Waterfall Shower - Sample script: “Imagine yourself standing beneath a beautiful waterfall… The real you, the you who can live your life with peace and happiness… And remember you are safe, loved, and protected always.”
How Do You Explain Guided Imagery to a Child?
You can show how guided imagery works using the “rubber band” metaphor: The rubber band represents them. Explain how constantly stretching and subjecting the rubber band to different kinds of adverse situations can cause it to eventually weaken and break. And this is why it’s so important for them to relax. That way, they can “bounce back stronger.”
How to Help Your Kids Do Guided Imagery
Guided imagery for kids is best done in a quiet environment. Avoid any form of distraction, such as electronic devices. Follow these steps:
Step 1: If your child needs help calming down in preparation for the visualization exercise, try anxiety reducing activities like squeezing a stress ball and opening their calm-down kit, which can include our printable positive affirmation cards and printable calm down visuals.
Step 2: Once the child feels relaxed in his preferred position (sitting or lying down), instruct him to close his eyes. Then, breathe slowly and deeply for a few minutes.
Step 3: Start reading the guided meditation script you’ve prepared or play any of the guided imagery examples I provided above. If you are reading a guided meditation script for your child, playing soft instrumental music or nature sounds in the background can enhance the experience.
Step 4: At the end of the meditation exercise, ask your child to open his eyes and take another few deep breaths.
Step 5: This step is optional but if you have time, let them engage in a brief session where they can answer this therapeutic Changing Negative Thoughts to Positive Thoughts Worksheet or something more fun like our If I Were a Super Hero Worksheet. These worksheets will serve as a final reminder to embrace a positive mental attitude throughout the day or week!
Stress is a normal part of life, even for kids. During moments of stress, they can learn to achieve a sense of calm and peace through guided imagery. Parents and caregivers of children guide them during their meditation with the help of scripts and audio recordings. It’s a simple yet powerful way for kids to conquer any challenge and thrive.
For more mental health resources, check out our collection of printable worksheets. We have a wide range of worksheets covering different areas your child may need help with.
- Nguyen J, Brymer E. Nature-Based Guided Imagery as an Intervention for State Anxiety. 2018 October 02
- Ranganathan V, Siemionow V, Liu J et al. From mental power to muscle power--gaining strength by using the mind. 2003
- Summer J. Meditation for Sleep. 2022 December 16