Monthly Archives: May 2015

The realisation that our negative thoughts are not necessarily accurate or true can be a powerful ally in building and sustaining positive mental health. I still remember the feeling of surprise and freedom I got when I read about the concept a number of years back. So, instead of accepting and acting on these thoughts, we have a choice … the simple act of checking whether these thoughts are accurate can help to stop a spiral of negative feelings and behaviours which can easily become overwhelming.

Without this realisation and mind-training, pessimistic thinking can go unchallenged. It can so easily become a habit. We all see the kids in our classes who exhibit this tendency from an early age. In his book The Optimistic Child, Professor Martin Seligman clearly shows the links between pessimistic thinking in early childhood and the onset of depression and poor achievement. This book outlines a proven programme designed for children from around age ten, who are deemed to be at risk for developing depression, as predicted by their pessimistic thinking (The Penn Prevention Programme).

Knowing the importance of this skill, I began to introduce this concept to the children in my class in a simple and child-centred way. I wanted all the children to learn about thought-challenging at an early age, so that they would be armed with this powerful tool. The question was how to explain it so that they could understand and use it when required.

Eventually, I came up with the idea of explaining this concept through linking it to the image of the Helpful Thinking Helmet. In our lesson on thought-challenging, we first learn that our mind generates thousands of thoughts every day, that’s just want what minds do. Some thoughts are positive. But many are negative - we examine our own minds and see what thoughts are being generated. Then we learn that many of these thoughts are often inaccurate or untrue, yet we accept them and that leads to negative feelings and behaviours. We discuss this and the children readily give examples.

I then introduce the children to their Resilience Tool of the Helpful Thinking Helmet. The Helpful Thinking Helmet reminds the children to ask themselves three questions about a negative thought before they decide to believe it and act on it:

  • Is this thought true? (Can I be sure that it is completely true?)
  • Is this thought helpful?
  • Is this thought kind?

The children evaluate the thought, and decide whether they want to replace it with a more accurate, kind and helpful thought. We work through many different scenarios and get lots of practise in thought-challenging.

Of course, the next question was whether or not the children could transfer this skill to real-life situations. The answer was yes - they soon started to use their new tool and report back on their successes. Once again, I was amazed and delighted at their ability to understand and apply such a vital concept to their everyday lives.

Some examples include: One boy used his Helpful Thinking Helmet during a game of rugby. He was tackled and knocked to the ground. He felt angry and upset, and immediately had the thought ‘I’m not good at rugby. I should just quit’. He then remembered to use his new tool, and asked himself the three questions. He realised immediately that the thought was not true - he knew deep down that he was good at rugby. He also realised that the thought was neither kind nor helpful. He replaced it with a new thought, that he could keep trying and not give up. He told us that he got up, dusted himself off and went on to score two tries, and win the game.

A girl in my class told us how she used her Helpful Thinking Helmet to overcome her recurrent anxiety at night-time that there was a burglar in the house. She had got into the habit of convincing herself that every little sound meant that an intruder was in her home. Then she decided to use her new tool and ask herself the three questions. She was able to accept that the thought that every noise could be a sign of an intruder was not necessarily true. She decided that the thought was not helpful or kind. To take her mind away from the thought, she decided to use another Tool of Resilience which I had taught the class about – her Lucky Dip of Distraction. She began to think about her holidays and soon feel asleep.

The children now use their Helpful Thinking Helmet regularly to help them challenge their automatic negative thoughts. They seem to find it easy to use and remember, and regularly remind each other to use it. I look forward to further researching its effectiveness as my studies progress. The Weaving Well-Being programme will also teach the children how to expand and develop thought-challenging techniques as they get older. The Helpful Thinking Helmet definitely appears to be a practical and useful introduction!

Beautiful and Uplifting Classroom Moments through Character
Strength Spotting.
We have been continuing our module on Character Strengths
over the last couple of weeks, and it has led to some really beautiful and
uplifting moments, both for me and the kids. We have learned about the meaning
of all of the Character Strengths, so now we are looking in detail at 6 per
week. We are being Strengths Detectives – looking and observing closely to see
if we can spot these character strengths being displayed in practical ways each
I decided to use sticky notes to let the kids record and
display the strengths they notice. Each morning, every kid gets a sticky note (they
can take more during the day if they need to). If they spot someone displaying
one of our strengths of the week, they write down the name of the person, the
strength and how it was displayed. They then place it in a box at the top of
the classroom, and I read them out at various intervals during the day.Then we display them on our Strength Spotting display chart.
I’ve been amazed at the effect of this simple activity – the
kids really love it and it’s provided a great boost to the classroom
atmosphere. It’s so beautiful to see the kids’ reactions when they find out
that they’ve been ‘Strength- Spotted’. When I asked them how they felt, they
said happy, proud and amazed. They also feel a sense of pride and achievement
when they spot each other’s strengths and see the impact it has.
I have been amazed at how perceptive and insightful the kids
are at this activity- it’s so uplifting to see how keen they are to boost and
recognise each other’s strengths. Some examples this week which I found
particularly inspiring were - a kid being spotted displaying optimism, because
even though he was disappointed with his maths drill result, he said it was
still a great day. A kid with emotional regulation issues spotted displaying
self-control - he didn’t disturb his group at silent reading time. A kid who is
quite weak academically being spotted on numerous occasions displaying
kindness. A kid being spotted showing open-mindedness because he said he didn’t
mind which game his friends chose at yard-time. A kid (new to the class) being
spotted displaying bravery because she wasn’t afraid to try to make friends and
speak to people. Such clarity, accuracy and emotional intelligence for eight
year olds!


I think that this activity has helped the kids to develop
their emotional intelligence, boost their self-esteem and increase their well-being.
I also feel that they are really paying attention to the power of the character
strengths, and trying to use them and strengthen them. This has a positive
impact on the whole class dynamic. I was delighted to be ‘strength- spotted’
myself a few times! I was spotted displaying kindness, teamwork, zest and
optimism, so I got to feel first- hand the effect of this activity! So simple,
so positive – another example of the power of positive psychology in the