"They were thinking about their children."
Translation:Ils pensaient à leurs enfants.
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Unfortunately there is not, especially when it comes to verbs that can use either preposition to change their meaning. It's best to learn these verbs individually with their preposition.
- penser à = to imagine, to consider
- penser de = to give an opinion about
In a sense, English is the same way. Take, for example, the verb "to get." Add a preposition and you get a lot of different verbs: get by, get along, get around, get to, get from, get in, get out, get for, get off, etc.
Because that's not the imparfait/imperfect tense. That'd be passé composé and implies the action happened and then ended. The imparfait ("were thinking") implies the action was a continuous one. They kept thinking about their children and not just thought about their children for a second then stopped suddenly.