Guided imagery has been an especially effective tool in alleviating many kinds of sleep disturbances. When children and adolescents have difficulty sleeping at night, imagery can offer a soothing and comforting way to drift off into dreams. Children discover their own solutions by using tools such as meeting a wise ‘animal’ friend for advice or receiving a special gift to help fall asleep.
In conjunction with yesterday’s book review, I thought I would post an article by Dr. Reznick that gives a great example of her approach to working with children. If you find this helpful, check out her new book The Power of Your Child’s Imagination.
Using Imagery to Create a Soothing Blanket of Sleep by Charlotte Reznick, PhD
It’s the end of the day. You’re tired. You’ve worked hard. The children have finally gone to bed. You’re looking forward to some peace and quiet by yourself. All of a sudden you hear the cries of your normally loving youngster: “I can’t sleep!” Or, your teen charges into the room and insists that they can’t fall asleep because they’re worrying about an exam the next day – a recent argument with their best friend – or a problem with their teacher. Wouldn’t you like them to learn a technique to help let go of worries and tensions of the day and fall asleep peacefully and easily?
For example, one 11 year old girl was afraid to sleep alone in the aftermath of the recent L.A. earthquake. (Gail* had been sleeping in her parents room since the quake.) We went on an underwater voyage to explore her feelings and she was met by a wise mermaid who had several messages for her: “You are safe”; “You are just as safe in your room as in your parents'”; “Nothing can hurt you”; and “You can be calm.” These internal messages were much more powerful than if she heard the same advice from her parent or therapist. The mermaid promised to watch over and protect her. After this session Gail began to sleep in her own room.
Gail then developed a fear that someone “bad” was going to come into her room if she slept alone; however, she was able to go “inside” and ask what could protect her if she slept in her own room. Gail imaged a “magic purple light” around her door that would keep out any harmful or scary people and only allow in friendly and helpful ones. Sleeping alone then became much easier for her.
You may choose to consider some of these techniques and adapt them to your children’s personal needs. The following “guided” imagery is very effective for deep sleep. The adolescent that this particular imagery was developed for had difficulty falling and staying asleep because of ongoing stresses in her life. She found that listening to this imagery on tape each night helped tremendously. You will notice the images are simple and repetitive. It is helpful to use a very, very slow voice with relaxing, soft music in the background. You may choose to create a tape for your children or have them make one in their own voice.
“A Blanket of Sleep”
We’re going to take some time now for you to relax … and go very, very deep inside. To a place of peace … of quiet … and of sleep. Be aware that with each breath you take your breathing gets deeper and deeper. And your body gets more and more relaxed. Imagine yourself lying down in a wonderful comfortable bed. Perhaps it’s like a fluffy white cloud that you can sink into. And with each breath your body sinks deeper … and deeper into this soft fluffy white cloud.
With each breath you bring in a beautiful golden white light to help relax and put yourself to sleep. This golden white light washes over your body … melts through the top of your head … washes over your eyes … down your cheeks … your throat. Relaxing … going into a deep sleep … deeper and deeper as this beautiful golden white light washes over your body. And each breath you take brings you deeper and deeper into sleep …relaxing.
And letting go … letting go of the day … of the week … of anything that’s being held … As you breathe this light melts through your body … through your neck … into your shoulders … down your arms … relaxing … deeper and deeper … into your chest … around your heart. Your heart opens and accepts the healing light … releasing … breathing deeper and deeper. Going deeper into your sleep. Easily breathing into your belly … allowing this golden white light to blanket you. A blanket of sleep. as it goes down into your legs … into your feet …
A blanket of sleep tucking you in … taking you back to a time that you slept as soon as you touched the pillow. Going back into that deep sleep state. Going back to a time that was easy for you to sleep … where you were comforted and safe. Perhaps it’s a long, long time ago. But there is a time where you are peaceful … and happy … and you are sleeping easily. Giving you comfort knowing you are totally safe. As you go deeper and deeper into your sleep. Dreaming … peaceful thoughts … precious thoughts.
Allowing yourself to go deeper and deeper … until there is a door in front of you. A door that leads you down … into a deeper sleep. And there is a special person waiting for you at that door. A very wise and loving person. Who takes your hand and leads you to an even deeper sleep. Where you’re comfortable and safe. And all the thoughts of the day are let go. And you’re totally at peace … in your sleep. Totally at peace and calm.
As you go deeper and deeper … the blanket of sleep covers you. You’re so comfortable you find yourself drifting into the dreams. Into the wonderful dreams … drifting in the warm blanket. Going deeper and deeper, deeper and deeper… into your sleep … easily. Colors are floating around you. And the smells of sleep and comfort. As you continue to go deeper and deeper into your sleep. Allowing yourself to drift easily. Surprising yourself at how easy it is to sleep. How wonderful. How much you deserve to sleep easily… peacefully… Releasing all the tightness in your body.
As you sleep … allow your body to rest. Cherish your body. Take care of yourself. All is good … as you sleep. ……… And each night you go to sleep it is easier and easier to fall asleep quickly. You have peaceful and restful nights … as you deserve. As you accept that … you sleep … deeply…. ……
Although we have touched on only a few, there are numerous ways to use imagery with children in times of sleep disturbances as well as with other concerns. Guided and interactive imagery have been powerful and effective tools to help children re-develop and re-member their internal resources and strengths temporarily lost during times of stress. We are only limited by our own and out children’s imagination. Their wisdom is within; we are merely guides for helping them shine their light.
*Name changed for confidentiality.
Originally published in: Awareness Magazine, November/December 1994
Dr. Charlotte Reznick has dedicated her life to helping children, adolescents, parents, and professionals. She is a nationally recognized child and educational Psychologist and Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at UCLA. Upon earning her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Southern California, she was honored with “Dissertation of the Year” for her work on the effects of parental divorce on adolescents. The Power of Your Child’s Imagination is a heart-felt guide that shows parents and professionals how to empower children with easy, effective, and creative skills for surviving – and thriving – in our stressful world. It’s an indispensable guide that provides nine simple tools to help kids access their natural strengths and resources. There’s a mini-primer for each Tool—a sample script, troubleshooting tips, and real-life examples of how it is used. The Tools are adaptable to all ages (even adults can use them), and their benefits accumulate over time.