Banish Belly and Other Aches...The Positive Power of a Child’s
By Charlotte Reznick, PhD
Eight-year-old Alice suffered from horrible stomach pain. In my
office she closed her eyes, breathed slowing into her belly, and asked
inside what was the cause. Stress appeared as a large square
black block in the middle of her brain. What to do? Her inner voice said
Calmness was the antidote. Pictured as a swirling lavender
ball, she breathed Calm feelings into hands, belly, neck, and
head. Stress melted and her tummy stopped hurting.
Over the past 25 years I’ve seen how the pain of chronic
stomachaches and headaches can emotionally debilitate a child. The
worry, anxiety, fear of pain, and feeling out of control can send kids
over the edge. But kids can also learn imagination techniques to help
I was therefore pleased to read about the research published in the
Journal of Pediatrics showing that guided imagery CDs relieved
children’s chronic stomach pain. Conducted at The University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University Medical Center, 30
children ages 6-15 listened to relaxing CDs several times a week over
eight weeks. The children enjoyed the CDs so much that there was virtual
complete compliance. Their results showed 63.1% of the treatment group
significantly decreased their pain, compared to 26.7% in a control group
that just received standard medical care. Once the two-month study was
over, the control group
was given the same guided imagery treatment so they wouldn’t lose
out; results were similar (61.5% improved). At a six-month follow-up,
children continued to do well.
One of their images stood out. The children imagined a special object
like butter melting into their hands making them warm and shiny, then
placing their hands on ailing tummies, spreading warmth and light inside
to create a protective barrier that prevented anything from irritating
their bellies. I often use a similar direct hands-on approach to teach
children they can heal themselves.
My focus is children and teens learning to create their own imageries
through a toolbox of nine core imagination skills to mix and match as
needed. Their personal kit includes: the relaxing balloon
breath, discovering a safe special place, meeting inner guides
(animal friends, wizards, wise people), receiving gifts from them to
assist, connecting to the wisdom of their heart and belly, dialoging
with symptoms and feelings, and using color and energy for healing and
With these tools, kids make up their own creative scenarios. Below are
five suggestions to help you with the kids you work with.
1. Teach the Balloon Breath as a Foundation Tool
The Balloon Breath is a simple technique of breathing
slowly and deeply into the belly while focusing attention about two
inches below the navel. This type of diaphragmatic breathing helps
center and calm. And being centered is a crucial step in this inner
2. Pay Attention to Wisdom of Inner Guides
An imagined Animal Friend (or Wizard or
Wise Person) can be a valuable tool to access inner wisdom.
These imaginary guides are kind, loving, and have a child’s best
interest at heart. Gifts from them are used to receive power and
assistance. One six-year-old boy’s pride of lions stood guard
around his hospital bed to give him courage during a frightening medical
test. Another eleven-year-old girl received the Gift of a
spiral-moving rainbow to heal chronic stomach pains, along with rainbow
glasses to see the world in a more positive light.
3. Incorporate Color to Relieve Pain
When children are very focused and involved with their personal
imageries, they are distracted from their pain. One seven-year-old girl
created a “color therm-o-meter” that could raise or lower
different emotions and pain. She initially worked with feelings; they
seemed easier for her then the pain itself. She increased
“blue” Calmness and decreased “orange”
Fear; then increased “pink” Love and
decreased “black” Anger. This helped her progress
directly to reducing her pain in a similar manner. A 12-year-old boy
found that by first increasing his pain, he realized he had some control
over it. He then used this control to lower his pain to an acceptable
4. Practice the Three-Question Exercise
It’s an easy imagery formula that may relieve or totally
eliminate pain. Start with doing the Balloon Breath. Ask the
child: “Where in your body do you feel the pain?” Then
- What color is it?
- What shape is it?
- How heavy is it?
Be accepting and positive of any response. Have the child continue to
breath slowly three or four times between rounds. Repeat the three
questions and your reactions to them.
Over the course of three to five to ten minutes, there is generally a
change from dark, sharp, and heavy… to light in color, round, and
light in weight. I’ve seen this work with all kinds of pain. The
length of this process depends on a child’s openness to relaxation
and the intensity of pain.
If there are any bits of pain left, suggest a conversation with
Pain in order to find out what the child needs to know,
understand, or do to let go of the rest. Or, he can imagine melting away
any leftover hurt through his body (through skin, belly button, or
whatever he comes up with).
5. Use the Power of Audio
As in the fine UNC/Duke study, a well-chosen relaxation CD can
work wonders. A favorite all-purpose guided imagery with the kids I see
is imagining planting a magical garden where they visualize growing
healthy and strong. While their garden grows, they sit or float in a
nearby healing pond, allowing the waters to wash away their pain, or
heal inside hurts by drinking from the special liquid. After one group
session, three boys were relieved of the pain of their stomachache,
headache, and canker sore respectively. You may create your own, try the
script on pages 127-128 in The Power of Your Child’s
Imagination or have your child listen to the Creating a Magical Garden
and Healing Pond CD I recorded.
Remember, it’s not necessary to have the perfect script, or years
of experience for facility with this work. What is important is your
sincerity, your respect for the children and their process that you work
with, and your allowing them to bring forth their natural inner wise
healer. You’ll find that when kids harness the positive power of
their imagination, they can not only transform physical pain, but
emotional pain, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and so much more. As a
young pre-teen discovered: “Your imagination can help you
Charlotte Reznick, PhD, is a child educational psychologist, an
Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at UCLA and author of the LA
Times bestselling book, The Power of Your Child’s Imagination: How
to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success (Perigee/Penguin).
In addition to her private practice, she creates therapeutic relaxation
CDs for children, teens and parents, and teaches workshops
internationally on the healing power of children’s imagination.
You can find out more about her at www.ImageryForKids.com.
She will be offering a full day workshop on The Healing Power of
Children’s Imagination: Nine Therapeutic Tools at the CAMFT Annual
Conference in San Diego, CA on Saturday, May 5, 2012.
Van Tilburg, M., et. al. (2009) Audio-Recorded Guided Imagery Treatment
Reduces Abdominal Pain in Children: A Pilot Study. Journal of
Pediatrics, 124 (5) 890-897.
Reznick, C. The Power of Your Child’s Imagination: How to
Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success (Perigee/