Being able to imagine, create pictures in our minds and visualize are what research is showing to be crucial elements to healthy brain development in children. Today I will be discussing chapter 5, “The Third Essential Need: Image Making” in the book Parenting Well in a Media Age by Gloria deGaetano. In this chapter she highlights just how important this is and how living in this media / industry generated age can rob children of the capacity to develop these key skills.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” – Albert Einstein

For the following reasons DeGaetano believes that image making is paramount to all of our thinking process:

  • Images weave a tapestry of thought and feeling that enable us to integrate knowledge with experience
  • They provide an impetus to action
  • They influence behaviors and decisions
  • The ground floor of knowledge lies in our image-making capabilities

According to the author we can facilitate this image making process:

1. Listening to Language:

It can be achieved by reading to your children and by developing and enhancing their listening skills. Asking thought provoking questions that encourage them to think about what they see in their minds when they listen to a story is another way of doing this. Encouraging open dialogue around the books they read or playing imaginative games like puppets and word games are other excellent ways to achieve this.

2. Pretend Play:

Pretend play is how children turn the images they have in their minds into actions. They copy the adult behavior that they see in their real lives and imagine what it would be like and feel like when the various pretend role plays are played out ie. playing Doctors and Nurses, Policemen, Carpenters, Farmers, Mummy’s and Daddy’s. Doing this allows them to turn an internal image into an action.

The author gives lots of other examples for encouraging this process with older children as well. These are more focused around remaining curious and inquiring as to what they see in their minds when they are in various situations and encouraging them to vocalize it or at least think about it.

How living in today’s world makes this process difficult:

In today’s image dominated world, children are bombarded with so many images that it can deny their brains the opportunity of creating the image for themself: “off the shelf” images essentially replace any potentially self-created ones thus robbing the brain of the chance to develop the skill of doing so for itself.

“In our overly-visual world, auditory input gets shortchanged…With TV, video or computer games, a picture is linked to any language that is heard. Visual images dominate the spoken words, especially with children whose own language abilities and vocabulary are not yet developed.” Gloria deGaetano

It is also extremely important that the images children are exposed to be appropriate for the age and stage of the child’s brain development and in today’s world shielding children from inappropriate imagery can be challenging. According to the research this should be a priority for parents.

“We have to be very careful of exposing young children to images they can’t handle” Gloria deGaetano.

To put this in the context of the chapter, the inappropriate images that an 8 year old may be exposed to simply cannot be processed as they would in an adult because the 8 year old brain is not yet developed enough and capable of doing so. Research is proving over and over again that repeated viewing of inappropriate images has negative effects on brain development and emotional health and well-being.

Can we use “positive image making” in our parenting?

In the sporting world the act of using positive mental imagery to encourage strong performance is gaining rapid popularity and the general public is certainly becoming more aware of this effective practice. If the athletes are doing it effectively, then essentially anyone should be able do it and the concept be applied into any situation. Research has proven the positive effects of using the “positive psychology” model over and over again. As parents, we can learn to use this model with very effective results in our parenting practice.

DeGaetano lists some of the benefits that this practice can offer parents:

  • Help them see the bigger picture and not become embroiled in the detail. Eg. Can we change our focus and “see” our child in a positive light, perhaps as a successful lawyer as he asserts himself in the home to ensure that the process is fair rather than the irritating 10 year old he is while arguing over portion size at the dinner table?
  • Take them out of an irritating present situation and into an imagined preferred reality
  • Help them worry less when their children encounter struggles
  • Convey a “can-do” attitude to their children
  • Show their children that they believe in them and they in turn then believe in themselves
  • Change the way they perceive our children, they suddenly see them as being more capable
  • Help them help their children see what is in their head
  • Help them and their children morph or re-frame any negative images into positive
  • Help their children link to the feelings of the images they hold in their heads and amplify the positive ones to them
  • Picture themselves with the characteristics they would like and encourage their children to do the same
  • Help them see themselves doing things differently

With the use of hopeful and encouraging language and a focus to what is working and what is positive in our lives, the positives will grow. We can therefore help ourselves by increasing our capacity to create more positive mental images and thus positively influence our state of mind and be energized by it.

Imagination, creating mental pictures and being able to visualize are skills that allow children to imagine alternatives hence problem solve and find solutions, critically analyze the things they see, build resiliency, be adaptable, develop perseverance and delay gratification but they can only develop these skills this provided that their “image making” capacity has been given a chance to do so. For younger children the evidence would suggest READING TO THEM IS HUGE, bigger than we could every imagine and for older kids, helping them spark their imagination to help them increase their image making capacity and create positive mental pictures will go a long way to helping them develop the skills listed above.

“An internal image acts like the North Star, guiding us and keeping us on course for what it is we wish to attain. While the concepts of visualization can seem miraculous, there is nothing hocus pocus about it. It’s grounded in how human brains act. They are future orientated. Like a movie projector, they project the reality that we move toward. As we move toward that inner reality, we take actions that align with it. Our external reality then complies.” Gloria deGaetano

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