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An Interview with Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D. on Helping Children Cope with Anxiety and Stress Via Imagery

David Van Nuys, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 14th 2010

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Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D.In this edition of the Wise Counsel Podcast, Dr. Van Nuys interviews Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D. on the topic of Helping Children Cope with Anxiety and Stress. Dr. Reznick, a child educational psychologist and author, talks with Dr. Van Nuys about her counseling work with children which heavily utilizes playful imagery techniques as a means to help children cope with various anxieties. In a series of anecdotes drawn from clinical experience, she describes various techniques, including encouraging children's development of imaginal "helpers" (in animal or wizard form) which function as wards against fears, as sleep aides, or as translators through which difficult-to-process messages can be filtered. Adults wondering how such imagery might work to benefit young children need look no further for an illustration than the recent (2009) film adaptation of "Where The Wild Things Are" which features a similar set of imaginal helpers and a young child using them to work through a difficult home life.

David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by, covering topics in mental health, wellness, and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host.

On today's show, we'll be talking about utilizing children's imagination as a tool for reducing their anxiety and stress with my guest, Dr. Charlotte Reznick. Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D., is a child educational psychologist and associate clinical professor of psychology at UCLA. She is author of The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success. Upon earning her Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Southern California, Dr. Reznick went on to become a licensed educational psychologist and for over 20 years has maintained a successful private practice in Los Angeles serving children and adolescents. She's best known for the positive coping skills program she developed called Imagery for Kids. Imagery for Kids teaches children how to use the power of their imagination to understand and manage their feelings, creatively solve problems, and strengthen their self esteem. Dr. Reznick has shared her techniques with audiences throughout the world, including parents, psychologists and health practitioners, teacher groups, and other professionals. She is passionate about teaching adults how to use imagery to help kids tap into their own inner resources and to develop emotional skills necessary for a happy, successful life. Dr. Reznick has been a guest on NPR, NBC News, and Lifetime, and has been quoted and featured in a wide variety of print and online publications.

Now, let's go to the interview.

Dr. Charlotte Reznick, welcome to Wise Counsel.

Charlotte Reznick: Wonderful to be here and speaking with you.

David: It's good to talk to you because, just before turning on the recorder, I discovered that there are people that we know in common even though you and I haven't met. I noticed, in the acknowledgements to your wonderful book, Ron Alexander and Judy Orloff, both friends and people who I've interviewed.

Charlotte Reznick: Yes, I know Judith for many, many years, and Ron and I are good friends, and his book came out a month after mine.

David: Yes, that's wonderful.

Charlotte Reznick: Yes, we're all on the same path.

David: Yes, we are on the same path, and I guess we're all kind of in the same bailiwick of psychology. I come out of a background in what you call humanistic, transpersonal, existential psychology, I guess, trained as a psychotherapist. And as a consequence, I've been involved with the world of imagination and guided imagery and things like that for many years, and having said that, I have to say I'm really impressed by your book and the wealth of material that you've pulled together in a very understandable way.

Charlotte Reznick: Oh, thank you. I appreciate that. That was my intention. I hope a lot of parents and therapists can learn from it and be inspired.

David: Well, I really think that they will be. What was your goal when you decided to write the book?

Charlotte Reznick: Well, my goal was actually to have every child have the resources and know how to get to the resources inside themselves, using their imagination. It's right there; all they need is a little guidance. And so I'm hoping that all the parents and the therapists and educators could glean some information and just teach these kids very easy, simple tools. It's easier than we think.

David: Well, it makes so much sense because all of my experience has been with adults in the context of workshops or classes I was teaching, or workshops I was either teaching or taking, and as adults, sometimes, we struggle to get into those imaginative spaces, but for children it's so totally natural.

Charlotte Reznick: Yes, they're living half the time in that world anyway, and so they really like it when I'm just right there with them.

David: I can really believe that. That makes so much sense to me, and a lot of this stuff has seeped out into the culture, certainly into our subculture, but I'm wondering: is there research backup about the use of these sorts of tools in relation to the imagination of children and working with the sorts of difficulties that they might be confronting?

Charlotte Reznick: There's a lot of research these days, I'd say in the last 10, 15, maybe 20 years. Before that, the research was geared toward adults, as you know, with imagery, with Carl Simington and cancer, and Bernie Siegel, but these days, I'm so happy to find lots and lots of research with kids. And it started mostly in the medical field, so there's a lot of research on migraines, on stomach aches, on asthma, because that's where the funding is, say, from the NIH.

There's wonderful studies to show that when you use the power of your imagination through self hypnosis or guided imagery or self imagery, that you can achieve less pain, less frequent headaches, people have lowered their medication with asthma across the board. And there's some research in academics to show how using positive visualization improves academics, decreases behavioral referrals - in fact, that's what inspired me.

When I was at a conference once and these people from Paradise Unified School District - I love that name - talking about a study they were in the middle of, and they were going into classrooms once a week, which inspired me to do the same, and they found that, over the course of a year, the kids' academics improved on standardized tests, and the behavioral referrals decreased. And they would just take them to a calm, special place.

And what they did with me that impressed me and the other people in the conference was they first had us draw a picture - and mine was no big deal - and then they led us through this beautiful, evocative imagery with rich language, and then they had us draw again, and the difference was unbelievable. And because I also studied art as well as psychology, it really touched me, and at the time I was working in the inner city in Los Angeles, and the kids were just not going to respond to regular counseling techniques. I knew I needed to touch them in a way that would really touch their heart or their soul. So this really felt the way to go.

David: Yes, and I'm glad to hear that there's been so much research done in the past 10 to 20 years because, as you know, everything seems to be moving in a very evidenced based direction, and so having the research is essential.

Charlotte Reznick: Yes, in fact - you're probably aware of it - a couple of weeks ago, there's a study that was hitting the news all over the place from Duke University and University of - is it South or North Carolina where Chapel Hill is? - and they used the guided visualization to help kids overcome stomach pain, and they were working with kids with chronic stomach aches, which is called RAP, and there's no real cause for it, and the kids are in pain a lot. And what they found was that the kids - and these were from age 5 or 6 to 16 or so - who listened to these imagery guided meditations CDs, that they improved. Their pain decreased almost three times as much as the children that didn't listen.

David: Wow. I somehow missed that study, so I'm glad to hear about it. Now, as I say, you've kind of boiled down and synthesized a lot of information; you've got a lot of good lists and tools and stories, case histories, in your book. One of them is you've developed a program using nine imagery tools, which you've been using in your private practice as a child educational psychologist and teaching others with for 20 years. Maybe you could go through those nine tools for us.

Charlotte Reznick: Sure. Now, the idea is that we want to have the kids learn to access their inner wisdom, so to get in that state, I start out with what I call the balloon breath, which is imagining there's a balloon in your belly about two to three inches below your belly button, and breathing slowly into it so that it gets larger as you breath in and flattens as you breathe out. And this is a basic form of meditation breath, but because I've been doing this for so many years and we didn't really talk about meditation so much back then, I just basically called it balloon breath, and it's a nice image for kids to imagine, so you could start it when they're very young and actually show them with a balloon or put their hands on your belly as you do it. And as you grow older, I'll just call it deep breathing.

David: Yes, sure, I recognize it from yoga training that I've done, but you've boiled it down in a nice common sense way - balloon breathing.

Charlotte Reznick: Right, very common sense, and then that calms and centers you; it's in the middle of your body. If you're angry, it'll just calm you because when we're angry and upset, we're tight in the upper chest. So once you have that breath, you could go inside. Then I have kids create a special place, any place they want. It could be outside, inside, wherever they could be happy. They could put anything they want in it. They can invite any person to their special place. I have one caveat though, that whoever walks through your door, they love and accept you just the way you are, and that helps take care of all the problems when you have fights with people, and that way you could have your loved ones there and not have any extra baggage there.

So you have a special place where you could use it as a little respite from stress, but you could also do your inner work, and so kids often create these lush couches or beautiful meadows, and then once you're in your special place, we do your inner work. Then you invite in helpers because it's so much easier for people, kids and adults sometimes, to get information, to get answers from someone else. But this someone else is really a part of yourself.

David: Right.

Charlotte Reznick: And it's like a trick, but it's fun. So invite in animals friends and wizards, and animal friends have your best interests at heart - they're kind, they're loving, they protect you - whereas wizards are sort of like a magical mentor in human form. And they might address different issues, but once you have both of them, all you have to do is call in a helper and see who shows up.

So for example, I had a girl who had an awful time falling asleep; she just couldn't fall asleep, driving her family nuts. And she called in an animal friend, and a unicorn appeared - Sapphire, I think she called her, because she had sapphire eyes, Miss Sapphire - and she gave her a gift, which is another tool because our helpers give us gifts to help us. And she gave her gift of sleeping potion, sleeping powder, in a crystal perfume jar. And how it worked was that she was supposed to sprinkle the sleeping powder over her head and as she did, say to herself calmly, "Falling asleep, falling asleep." And so that helped her fall asleep. So she basically was putting herself into a relaxed state without any drugs, without her parents having to be there, just with the help of her animal friend.

David: And she came up with the contents of this fantasy on her own?

Charlotte Reznick: Yes, exactly. I might lead her and help her to imagine a special place and suggest that a kind, loving animal friend appear and then see what pops up into her imagination.

David: Well, what are some of the other nine tools?

Charlotte Reznick: Okay, so we got the personal wizard, which is also very helpful. One boy had trouble with spelling - he would get 27 errors wrong in a paragraph - and so he called in a spelling wizard, because sometimes you can have a general, all-purpose wizard, and some kids need specific wizards. So the spelling wizard would help him with flash cards, would clean out his brain so he'd be able to learn better and would whisper the correct spelling words in his ear. So then, after a few months, the spelling errors decreased from 27 or 26 to three or four. So for him, that was a great improvement.

So we see that we have the animal friend, the wizard, that gives us gifts, and then one of my favorites is checking in with your heart and belly, because our heart and belly have so much wisdom. It's just common sense: we say how does your heart feel, what do your gut feelings tell you. So this is just quantifying it or putting it in a little more formal approach. And there's some research that shows that there are cells in our gut that are similar to some cells in our brain, so it's like our belly has its own intelligence, and the same with our heart. This organization HeartMath has done a lot of research on that. And think of - it's an antidotal - but think of people that got heart transplants. Some of them do report that they have a craving for the same ice cream their donor heart person had, or they start liking things they didn't before, so our hearts have its own intelligence, and my goal is help kids to integrate their heart, their belly, with their mind, because the mind is wonderful - our intellect is wonderful - but it's not everything.

David: Yes.

Charlotte Reznick: And, in fact, I'll suggest to parents, to kids, just in the morning when you wake up, just take a few breaths, connect and ask, "What's my heart message for the day?" "What's my belly message for the day?" I've done this with kids as young as three. One three-year-old boy connected and his message was "to share," to share with his preschoolers, so even little kids you get information from, all the way up.

David: Now, I can imagine that there might be some listeners out there who are rolling their eyes and just thinking, oh, this is just so California. Do you run into skeptics and…?

Charlotte Reznick: I grew up in New York, so I have both coasts covered.

David: Okay, so you know that consciousness.

Charlotte Reznick: Yes, absolutely.

David: How do you deal with it? How do you deal with that if it ever comes up?

Charlotte Reznick: Well, you know what? We all use our imagination. We have, what, 60-80,000 thoughts a day? That's using our imagination. Why not make them positive thoughts, and I'll often have kids talk about where they are now, their misery, and where they'd like to be. And the idea of imagining where they'd like to be is not some magical thought, it's the idea that once you know where you'd like to be, you could take the steps to get there. I'll even have kids imagine where they are in their path to their goal, and thinking about a boy who was bedwetting - which, you know, it's common, not to worry until age seven - but when you're nine or ten it can be quite embarrassing. So he would imagine his path, and he'd tell me exactly where on his path he was to being dry. And that helped him know what he has to do next, because we need an obstacle: okay, what's the next obstacle? Well, he had part of him that liked staying wet because it kept him like a baby. It kept him young and got more attention from his parents. So then we could have a conversation with that part of him.

So I'm not really worried, because when you work with kids anyway, you're doing a lot of play and imagination, and what really sells people is if I'm doing a workshop, because I'll do it with adults, I'll do it with therapists and parents and teachers or educators and take them through and have them experience for themselves what it feels like. I had, when I was doing a talk for my book, one grandmother said, "I'm going to go home and get myself a wizard. This is too good."

David: Now, speaking of grandmothers and little kids, are there certain ages that respond best to these techniques?

Charlotte Reznick: I find that it depends on the individual child because you want to start I used to say five, when the kids have enough language, but as I mentioned there was a three-year-old with enough language to go in there with his imagination. And then some teenagers might be turned off, so then what I do is I just hook them with what's important to themselves.

They're really tools for life. The idea is to connect with your own wisdom in some form, to check with yourself, to understand where your feelings are, like another tool - I call it talking to toes and other body parts, and that's basically seeing where you keep your feelings. Where do you keep your stress? Where do you keep your calm? Where do you keep your anger? And then you could even use color, another tool, to heal that.

For example, one boy was so angry - his anger was red; it was in his gut - and so we got in touch, well, where are his calm feelings? Well, they were blue in his shoulders, so he imagined with his intention and his breath, breathing in his calm feelings to his anger, and he noticed it covered the anger. So then we tried love. Well, love was in his heart and was white, and when he breathed in love to his anger, it just dissipated it. The anger sort of just burst and disappeared and filled himself up with love.

David: Well, I'm glad you're throwing in all these stories. They're really good ones, and you mentioned being able to sometimes hook teenagers. I'm one of these adults who's kind of intimidated by teenagers. Do you have a story about how you hooked a teenager who was maybe resistant?

Charlotte Reznick: Yes, you want to find out what's important to the teenager; like one boy wanted to get a girlfriend. He was kind of shy, and he wanted to get the attention of a girlfriend. So we worked on that through his visualization. We worked on imagining how he felt when he was talking to the girl and how she was smiling back at him. And what happened, it helped him build his confidence, so then we increased his confidence, and he can imagine himself talking to her and imagine maybe even asking her out on a date or going to a dance with her. And then he - again, it was all building up his confidence, and that helped him actually to speak to her. And it was easy to do because she was sitting right next to him in science lab, and he actually was able to have a conversation, and from that he felt more and more comfortable to hang out with her.

Or another girl who was totally into sports and a real soccer fiend, so I worked with her on that even though my ultimate goal was to help her get along better with her siblings. Because soccer was important to her, we helped her hone her skills there with the imagery. I'll even tell kids of studies. There was a study with basketball which is a really easy one to remember. There were three groups; they were shooting from the foul line - it was over three weeks - and one group shot from the foul line, actually practiced every day for 20 minutes. Another group didn't do anything, and the third group visualized - didn't actually play, but just visualized the ball making the curve, going in the basket. And you know what happened?

David: I do. I know that study, but go ahead.

Charlotte Reznick: Well, the group that visualized and the group that actually shot the baskets did just as well, I think it was 23 and 24 percent improvement, while the group that didn't do anything didn't improve at all.

David: Yes, I think a lot of sports psychologists have taken that to heart and have integrated those sorts of visualization techniques into the trainings that they do.

Charlotte Reznick: Absolutely. I believe most Olympic teams, most college sports teams, have a sports psychologist helping them with imagery. Think of Michael Phelps when he won those impossible eight gold medals at the last Olympics. He said, "When everyone said it couldn't be done, all it took was a little imagination." So it's right out there. So you just hook them with what's important to them, and then you go in the side door, and then you go, "Oh, do you think you might like to try using some of that with your brother who's bugging you so much?"

David: The side door - you sound like a psychologist. Let's focus in on a couple of areas that are of concern to people. For example, sleep issues are a major concern for kids today. How can a parent maybe use imagination to help their child fall asleep quickly and easily?

Charlotte Reznick: There are so many ways. I'm thinking about a girl who was terrified someone was going to break into her house even though they had an alarm system, and she was just afraid to go to sleep. And she was sleeping in her parents' room and in their bed, and they were fed up - they'd had enough. She was 11 years old. And so we started out with her - she couldn't imagine being safe, because I try to ask them, "Can you imagine what it's going to be like when you can sleep peacefully?" And she couldn't even go there, so I knew that she was really in a fear state. So we called in, "Who could come in and protect you?" And she imagined this giant white dragon called Valkore that wrapped around her bed and would protect her at night, and she also put a tiger at her door. And interesting, what helped her - because she was a very bright girl - was that she knew that her fear wasn't really real, because she knew there's an alarm system, they had dogs in the house. So she knew it was coming from another realm, so that made it easier for her to tap into this "mythical" realm, she called, and bring in the tiger and bring in the dragon, because the fear was coming from that realm so we had to go there to fix it. We had to go back in the magical realm to do away with this fear. So when she had Valkore wrapped around her bed, she actually started feeling safer. She also - I have to admit sometimes I'll make CDs or I have CDs and then the kids listen at night, and my voice could be so boring, I would say, that it puts them to sleep anyway. But it helps relax her, so that really helped her. And then what she started doing is she started worrying about her brother and her parents, so she just sent in Valkore's relatives to take care of them.

David: Ah, that's great.

Charlotte Reznick: And so again, whatever problem comes up, whatever little form of resistance we might call it, there's always a solution, and all you have to do is help them go there. One girl - I mentioned the girl with the sleeping potion, that really helped her. Or some kids have trouble - they're able to fall asleep, but they wake up in the middle of the night, and then they go into their parents' room where they're up for hours, so they could use similar techniques. What happens in the middle of the night is that they get more scared because it's dark, so then they'll either put on one of their CDs or they'll just focus on their breathing. One boy said, "If you believe you're sleeping, you'll be asleep in a minute." And I thought that was really clever.

David: Yes.

Charlotte Reznick: Because he saw he had to put himself in the position of what it feels like to be sleeping, and then he could be sleeping. Or I had another girl draw what she looked like when she can't sleep and what did she look like when it's imagine easy to sleep. And even in her drawing there was such a difference in the body stance, in her face - it wasn't so tense. So then she practiced being in that sleeping state, and that helped her to sleep.

David: Wow., You know, the depth psychologist in me is still back with the girl with the dragon and the tiger and the name that she chose for the dragon, Valkore, and I can't help but think of core values or values down at the core.

Charlotte Reznick: Oh, wonderful.

David: I have no idea if that would have had any utility at all, but that's where my mind went right away. I just think it's a very intriguing choice of a name, unless she heard it somewhere else.

Charlotte Reznick: Brilliant, yes. I don't know. Because she's totally better, I don't see her anymore.

David: Well, good for both of you. What about a parent, maybe, who needs to work with a child to help build up their self esteem? How would you approach that?

Charlotte Reznick: I think that happens a lot because, even if we do the best job we can as parents, it's always the world that knocks on our kids' hearts and tears at their little, fragile self esteem. So I think all kids could use a little bump. Now, I have to say self esteem is a real hot word because there was some research from a researcher in San Diego that didn't like the word self esteem, and she's afraid that it's turning kids into narcissists.

David: Yes, there's been a lot of debate about that, that it's led to a generation of entitled youth.

Charlotte Reznick: Right, but when I look at self esteem, I look at the old definition from the California Taskforce on Self Esteem because what they include there, it's not just liking yourself, it's respecting and appreciating yourself enough so that you respect and appreciate other people. So there's an element of responsibility in there because we're here to not only to help ourselves, but to help other people because we're part of a large planet that needs a lot of assistance. So I always tie that in, and I see kids that, say, tease other kids; I see that they're not feeling good about themselves, because if they were, they wouldn't have a need to try to bring another person down to their level.

David: Right.

Charlotte Reznick: So when the parents are bringing the kids in, they're saying, oh, they're misbehaving or badly behaving, I always look for the reason underneath. And we have to help the kids build their own sense of self up into a sense of self worth because they're going to be living with themselves the rest of their life; they're in their body the rest of their life. So I use all these tools.

For example, one girl who was, I guess, five, six, or seven - you know, the ages run together - probably more like seven; the kids at school she thought were snubbing her and weren't eating with her at lunch time, and she was feeling rotten and hated herself. And so she called in, and we called in a helper, and who showed up was a wizard, a young crystal wizard, who gave her gifts. One was a star crystal to help her remember she's a star no matter what. And in her case, that was helpful because she was feeling so down on herself. And then her crystal wizard also gave her another crystal of a heart crystal to love herself and to also be open to liking or loving the kids that she thought were mean to her. And what that did was it opened her heart a little bit, made her feel a little bit better, and the next day she went back to school and approached the girls again. And they had no problem accepting her at lunchtime, so I'm not sure whether it was in her mind or whether, you know, girls can be fickle and one day they're with you and they're not, but it helped her feel better about herself and take the next step of action, of reaching out again to the girls.

David: Well, that raises the flip side, which is a child who's suffering from bullying - well, it's not the flip side; I guess it's a variant of what you're talking about. How would you or how would you recommend a parent deal with a child who's being bullied at school?

Charlotte Reznick: Bullied. What happens is kids that are bullied are also often vulnerable, and they're an easy target because it's like the bully could sniff it out and say, oh, she's not going to give me a hard time; he won't bother me, let me just crush him. So we want to build up the confidence of the child that's being bullied and have her get in touch with that she's really or he's really okay and help her or him speak up for himself. Because you won't get bullied if you won't take it, if you'll go over and say don't bother me anymore.

David: Have you ever been brought in to work with bulliers?

Charlotte Reznick: Yes, and I write about one of the boys in The Power of Your Child's Imagination. He didn't know he was such a bully, but he realized the other kids didn't like him and didn't want to play with him, and he was really a real pain in the neck, and he would always have to have rules his way and would put the other kids down if they didn't do what he wanted to do. And he had no awareness, so I wanted to help teach him some empathy, and so we brought in an animal friend that could help explain to him why the kids didn't want to be around him. And it was really interesting, because he actually knew why. The words that came out of his animal friend's mouth could have come from his parents or his teacher or myself, but coming from any of us didn't mean anything to him, but when it came from this animal friend who said, "The other kids don't like to be around you because you're mean." It was like, "Oh." Then he really got it. So then he tried to imagine a different version of himself actually playing with the kids and what that boy was like, and then he saw that that boy was kinder to the kids, and so it helped him start to shift.

David: It's great that you have so many stories here at the tip of your tongue. It must have made writing…

Charlotte Reznick: It's all these years.

David: Yes, must have made writing the book easy. I've gone through all these years, but I don't remember hardly anything.

Charlotte Reznick: Well, in the process of writing, you do a little research and they come back. And also, they're happening every day. Some of the stories might not have been in the book because I'm thinking - like Valkore is not in the book because it happened just this past spring. So every week I'm learning so much from the kids.

David: Well, divorce is very rampant, as we all know. It's somewhere around 50%, I believe. Are there tools that are useful for a child caught in the middle of a nasty divorce or custody battle between the parents?

Charlotte Reznick: Yes, I think it's really important at those times. I had one girl who was so distraught by her parents' bad divorce, that every night for four years, she listened to Discovering Your Special Place CD - and the script for a shortened version is in the book - because she needed something to comfort herself.

I happened to do my own dissertation research years ago on the long-term effects of divorce on kids, so it's an area that's dear to my heart. And although I tell parents there are three things to remember - don't fight in front of the children, encourage a good relationship, and don't say anything bad about each other - sometimes it's hard because parents are emotional, and they get caught up, so I want to help the kids have the tools to be okay no matter what.

Like one girl had terrible stomach aches because her parents were fighting and they were about to get divorced. So we did work on helping her with the stomach ache, and she imagined - I asked, well, what color could help - and she imagined kind of a swirling rainbow. And just imagining the rainbow swirling through her body settled her, and it helped pull out her stomach ache. It doesn't take away the problem because the parents are still fighting, but she learns to self soothe herself, and that makes her feel better.

And that's part of it, is for the kids to learn that they're still okay, they're not the cause of the divorce - which a lot of especially younger kids feel that way - and to have a little respite from the stress at home and to learn to be okay in the two homes because, of course, Mom and Dad will always be their mom and dad, and the parents love their child, and so it helps make the transition sometimes. If they can't have their favorite animal at Dad's house, they can have their favorite imaginary friend with them all the time, or they can have their wizard guide all the time. And they have their heart there with them all the time, and they can always check in and see how they're feeling and where they're keeping their feelings and learn to say how they're feeling.

David: Well, that suggests an even more extreme problem which is when a child has lost a parent due to war or to illness. How might the surviving parent help the child using these sorts of techniques?

Charlotte Reznick: I often start with what the child believes in. In other words, some kids believe there's a heaven, and their mom or dad went to heaven, and sometimes that makes it easier for them because then they can connect, and they could imagine Dad in heaven and imagine what they want to say to Dad as if he were here, and what Dad says back. One girl imagined her dad putting out his arms from heaven and sending her love and hearts and kisses, and that really comforted her because she still felt connected.

And if a child doesn't believe in any afterlife and thinks this is it, well, then you focus on the parent in their heart, and how they could talk to their mom in their heart, where they could connect through their heart and their memories. And they'll often remember beautiful experiences and maybe draw them or paint them or write about them, and that again gives them some connection.

David: Yes, that certainly makes sense to me. What advice would you give to a parent or school counselor who wants to help an angry child who's acting out a lot?

Charlotte Reznick: Oh, I see a lot of those.

David: If you work in the schools, I'm sure you do.

Charlotte Reznick: Well, I'm not in the schools anymore, but I certainly speak at schools still, and I hear about it. But it's all - oh, my gosh. Well, everyone gets angry; it's a natural human emotion. It's what we do with it. And I often like to see what's under the anger, and often the anger is covering up for sadness or hurt or disappointment, and it's just that the anger comes so quickly afterwards because you're so vulnerable when you're hurt and disappointed that it's easier to feel anger than to actually feel those sad or hurtful feelings. So I'll help the kids explore - and parents could do this too - where their anger is, what it wants to say. And one girl didn't want to get rid of all her anger because it served her. In fact, she had a giant red bull in her left knee, and she said it protected her from the bull in other people. So in other words, when people were mean to her, she would be meaner back to them, but it wasn't serving her really well.

David: Amazing that kids can articulate things like that.

Charlotte Reznick: Yes, and I'm fortunate because I have a lot of their drawings, so when I speak, I'll share all their wonderful artwork. And so what she imagined, to help her, was a filter that she put in her neck. And the idea of the filter would filter the anger out so that when she spoke, it didn't sound so mean, didn't sound so angry. And that was great; that really helped her, but then she got something even better. One of her animal friends gave her a love potion, and that was in her heart, and what she would do was sprinkle the love on the red bull and it would put it to sleep. And it turned it from this red bull to this blue, peaceful, snoring, little, cute little creature.

David: That's so neat. Now, closely related, sometimes siblings fight with each other a lot. What advice would you have for parents trying to deal with that sort of a situation?

Charlotte Reznick: Well, it's a good thing when siblings fight because it teaches them how to get along with other people. In fact, there's research that shows kids that have a sibling in kindergarten are better socialized than the kids that didn't have siblings because they had the practice. So, not that I'm for fighting, but it does serve a good purpose because it's a great teaching.

David: This sounds like the New Yorker in you.

Charlotte Reznick: Yes.

David: Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Charlotte Reznick: Yes, I grew up on the streets of Brooklyn. But you could definitely use the imagination. What I'll do is I'll have siblings together - we just had a brother and a sister together, and they were driving, again, driving their family or parents nuts because it was just too much fighting. So I basically ask them how would you like it to be? And they both wanted to get along better. So once they both said they wanted to get along better, then they bought in, they're buying into the program. So what's it going to look like? What do you imagine it's going to look like when you do both get along together? And it was a much better place: everyone was getting along and feeling good and playing. And so you want to start where they're at and then lead them slowly to where you want them to be.

David: Well, that makes a lot of sense.

Charlotte Reznick: Yes, so then they start using the animal friends with each other, or mostly they give a lot of information. Like one girl received - her animal friend told her it was a horse and told her in order for her sister to be nicer to her, she had to be nicer to her sister. And so, again, that's another epiphany that we couldn't tell her. It had to come from her. Or another girl who had a younger brother who she was really looking forward to being a big sister, but once it came, she felt all this pressure. In fact, she felt like there were locks just tightening her up all over her body. So a monkey came who had the keys, and he unlocked her locks so she could be a good sister.

David: That's great. Well, as we wind down here, parents face so many challenges today, and as we wrap up, I wonder if you could give us your advice for parents who are trying to help their kids succeed in life - just a little question.

Charlotte Reznick: I would say trust yourself, believe in yourself, and stay as calm as you could be. Give yourself a little break. I have the top ten things kids most want and need from their parents - I didn't make this up, it's things that kids have told me over the years. And on the top of the list is patience. I always say the reward of patience is more patience because we want our kids to do well. We want them to learn and listen to us right away, but the truth is, it takes time. And one mom felt, instead of looking at her 12-year-old as a 12-year-old, she thought of him as a 3-year-old. So she slowed down her expectations and talked to him more simply. He was happy, and she was happier also. So that really helped. And just put yourself in your kid's position; it's so easy to forget what it was like to be a kid, and they really appreciate when you understand them. I could go on forever, but you know what? If your listeners want the top ten, they could just go to my website and sign up, and they could receive them. Or they could read about it.

David: Yes, and I'll put a link to your website in the show notes, and I'll be sure to recite your website in my comments at the end. So Dr. Charlotte Reznick, thanks so much for being my guest today on Wise Counsel.

Charlotte Reznick: Thank you for inviting me. It's a pleasure.

David: I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Dr. Charlotte Reznick. I'm sure you can tell that I did. If you're a parent or therapist, I highly recommend her book, The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success. As you heard me say, it's packed full of practical information for both parents and mental health practitioners of all stripes. Moreover, she has a number of CDs for sale, as well as useful free information, on her website, which you'll find at

You've been listening to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by If you found today's show interesting, we encourage you to visit, where you can add a comment or question to this show's web page, view other shows in the series, or simply page through the site, which is full of interesting mental health and wellness content. Access the show's page and show archive information via the podcast box on the home page.

If you like Wise Counsel, you might also like ShrinkRapRadio, my other interview podcast series, which is available online at Until next time, this is Dr. David Van Nuys, and you've been listening to Wise Counsel.


Links Relevant To This Podcast:

About Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D.

Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D.Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized child educational psychologist, an associate clinical professor of psychology at UCLA, and a compelling speaker and media personality who has inspired parents, professionals, educators, and psychologists throughout the world with her original therapeutic approach to helping children and adolescents heal themselves. She is author of The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success (Perigee, 2009, $14.95).

Upon earning her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Southern California, Dr. Reznick went on to become a Licensed Educational Psychologist, and for over 20 years has maintained a successful private practice in Los Angeles serving children and adolescents. She is best known for the positive coping skills program she developed, called Imagery for KidsTM: Breakthrough for Learning, Creativity, and Empowerment, and therapeutic CDs for kids and teens. Imagery for KidsTM teaches children how to use the power of their imagination to understand and manage their feelings, creatively solve problems, and strengthen their self-esteem.

Dr. Reznick is a dynamic speaker who has shared her techniques with audiences throughout the world, including parents, psychologists and health practitioners, teacher groups, and other professionals. She is passionate about teaching adults how to use imagery to help kids tap into their own tremendous inner resources and develop emotional skills necessary for a happy, successful life.

Dr. Reznick has been a guest on NPR, NBC News, and Lifetime, and has been quoted and featured in a wide variety of print and online publications, including USA Today, The Charlotte Observer, Nick Jr.,,, iVillage, and

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

For adults, too - Douglas Eby - Jan 29th 2010

The value of imagery is not just for childhood, of course. Visualizing, imagining, creating images and ideas of how to work with our fears – or what we want to accomplish in life – can be a powerful strategy for achievement and growth, according to many writers, coaches and artists.

“Fairy tales were created not only to entertain, but they addressed spiritual subjects for me. Not to any canon or religion, just what it is to be human. They made manifest troubles that happen inside the soul of the human being.”

That is a comment by director Guillermo del Toro. More in my post [which also quotes Dr. Reznick]: Visualization, protective dragons and higher achievement.

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