Author Archives: Fiona Forman

90 second ImageResearch shows us that emotional regulation is one of the key factors for the development of resilience and wellbeing. This makes sense when you think about it; being able to understand and manage our emotions, particularly those strong emotions which can hijack and threaten to overwhelm us, can allow us to feel more in control and respond, rather than react, to difficult situations.

There are many strategies which may help the development of emotional regulation in children, and teaching them about the 90 second rule is one of them.

First, it is helpful to understand some of the neuroscience behind emotional regulation. In my experience, children from around the age of eight and upwards really enjoy learning about their brains. I think that it is vital to equip them with this knowledge, as it can build their self-awareness and self-efficacy. We can teach them that intense emotional response is triggered by the amygdala, which is the emotional centre of the brain. When we feel under stress or perceived threat, the amygdala literally hijacks the brain, leaving us without access to that part of the brain which is involved in higher -order reasoning – the pre-frontal cortex. When the amygdala is in control, our impulses take centre stage and we often do and say things we later regret. When discussing this with children, they usually give plenty of examples of when this has happened to them. It’s really helpful if we adults can also share our experiences of ‘amygdala hijack’ – the children will certainly enjoy reminding us of any they witnessed anyway!

So, what is the 90 second rule? This comes from the work of Dr. Jill Bolte, a brain scientist who, after suffering a stroke, gained a unique understanding of the inner workings of the brain and mind. Her TED talk and book are well worth a look for more information on her insights. She discovered that when we have a strong emotional response, it only takes 90 seconds for the stress chemicals produced by this response to be flushed out of our systems at a biological level. This is such an empowering fact, as it means that if we allow the strong emotion to surge through us for those ninety seconds without interference, it can pass and we can then respond on a calmer level, from a position of more self-control. On a neurobiological level, these 90 seconds give us time to access the pre-frontal cortex, and choose a more adaptive response.

This is easier said than done, as once the emotion takes hold on a physiological level, it is our interferences on the thought level which can perpetuate it. This is where a spiral of automatic negative thoughts can often kick in, and our self-talk becomes destructive and damaging. Our minds can go into overdrive at this point, remembering similar incidents from the past or imagining future implications. The amygdala doesn’t get a chance to become inhibited, and so our higher order brain remains out of reach. If left unchecked, this pattern of response can become habitual, with subsequent damage to so many life domains, including relationships, self-esteem and overall well-being.

To help children to use and remember the 90 second rule, I have devised a strategy for dealing with stress and strong emotions called N.A.B.B. Each of the letters stands for an action which the child carries out; in doing so it allows 90 seconds to pass without negative thought interference. The strategy works as follows:

N: Name the strong emotion. Research has shown that the act of naming an emotion engages the prefrontal cortex, thus allowing higher order thinking processes to become engaged.
A: Accept the strong emotion. The emotion has occurred, so there is no point trying to suppress or question it at this point- these actions can engage automatic negative patterns of thought.
B: Breathe! By bringing awareness to the breath, the waves of emotion can be surfed and allowed to pass. Keeping attention on the breath also helps to keep negative thought processes at bay.
B: Body: Connect to your body as you breathe. Try to feel your breath going right down to your feet!
I have found that children readily understand the steps of this strategy, and the four letters are easy to remember, which is vital when in the midst of an intense emotion. Linking it to a lesson on the brain deepens understanding. Having a poster on display as a reminder is also helpful. Of course, that’s not to say that this is an easy process, it takes time and repeated practise. However, I feel it is a powerful self- calming technique which is well worth arming children with. Modelling this response ourselves is probably the most effective way of helping our children to use it – we have to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk! The Weaving Well- Being programme contains more information on this and other positive mental health strategies for children.

References:
Bolte Taylor, J. (2006). My Stroke of Insight.
LeDoux, J. (1998). The emotional brain: The mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. Simon and Schuster.
Creswell, J. D., Way, B. M., Eisenberger, N. I., & Lieberman, M. D. (2007). Neural correlates of dispositional mindfulness during affect labeling. Psychosomatic Medicine

Developing resilience is one of the key elements in mental health and wellbeing. So it’s good to know that research now shows that resilience is a skill which can be developed, rather than a specific inbuilt disposition. This is a really empowering insight, particularly for parents and educators.

It means that we can start developing these skills in our children from an early age. Of course, the question is how to do this in a practical and child-centred way.

One of the ways is to look at the current research and use it to inform our practices. Studies show that one tool that can be beneficial at times is distraction. Of course, the word distraction usually has negative connotations. Being distracted from a task which we are trying to focus on can cause us to lose concentration.

Healthy distraction is different however.

Distraction - Worried child
Ruminating leads to low moods

This is when we deliberately change our focus of attention away from anxieties or worries which we can’t do anything about. Sometimes we feel that pondering and mentally going over problems and anxieties can help us to solve them; of course this is only true if there is something concrete we can do. Otherwise we may find ourselves ruminating- going round and round in mental circles with no solution in sight, leading to low mood.

Prolonged and excessive rumination has been linked to a variety of negative outcomes including increased likelihood of depression. So it’s really important to give children strategies to prevent negative patterns of thought, such as rumination, from developing. Even from an early age we can spot the children who are more prone to this type of thinking.

Using Healthy Distraction has been shown to be a great strategy to prevent rumination and break patterns of negative thinking or anxiety. To teach children about using Healthy Distraction, I first have a discussion about the types of problems or worries which are outside of their control and which they can’t do anything about.

For example, it may be that a grandparent is in hospital, or maybe they are disappointed about some event that hasn’t turned out as they would have liked. Then the children learn that they can take a break from these worries by using some healthy distractions for a while. They can design their own ‘Lucky Dip Of Distraction’ which is a list of their own selection of enjoyable activities which can absorb their attention. The Lucky Dip of Distraction is one of the tools in our Weaving Well-Being: Tools of Resilience Programme. Examples include playing a favourite game, being creative, reading, listening to music, helping someone else etc. As physical exercise is one of the most powerful distractors, it may be good to encourage children to have this on their list in some form.

It is also helpful to put together a collection of interesting objects. We have our own Lucky Dip of Distraction basket in the classroom, and it gets lots of use! The children brought in the items themselves, including fidget toys, bricks, notebooks, joke books, 3-D puzzles and play dough. The children use it in lots of ways – sometimes to distract themselves from a bump or bruise, sometimes to take their mind off a worry or upset, sometimes to help themselves to recover from a row or argument.

It’s such a simple yet powerful strategy, and the children have really taken to it. They use it for as long as it takes for them to feel their mood improving, or anxiety start to lift. I find it’s really useful for developing self-regulation and self- efficacy, as the children learn that there are things that they can do to help themselves feel better and deal with difficulties. Building self-efficacy is another key element of developing wellbeing – research has shown that people with high self-efficacy show greater resilience and reduced vulnerability to depression.

When teaching children about Healthy Distraction as a strategy, it is vital that they understand that it is for use with problems they can’t do anything about. If they can do something about a problem or worry, then it is important for them to learn how to make a plan, act on it and be prepared to keep trying if their first plan doesn’t work. It is really important to teach them this strategy also; we call this problem focused planning. This is covered in another lesson in the Weaving Well-Being programme.

When teaching the skills, or encouraging children to select a strategy for themselves, it’s vital not to rush them through this process, or to minimise their worries or anxieties. Listening to them and helping them to name, express and accept their feelings is a vital first step. Children need to learn that all feelings are normal and important; and that there are practical steps we can take so as not to get overwhelmed by, or stuck in, strong emotions. Building resilience in this way from an early age can give our children the mental strength they will need to overcome life’s challenges and flourish.

 

References

Reivich, K., & Shatté, A. (2002). The resilience factor: 7 essential skills for overcoming life’s inevitable obstacles. Broadway Books.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. Penguin.

Maddux, J. E. (2002). The power of believing you can. Handbook of positive psychology. 277-287.

As I come to the end of my twenty-eighth year of primary teaching, I realise once again that the nurturing of children’s mental health and well-being should not be left to chance. I think it needs to underpin our curriculum, as more and more research shows that investing in children’s mental health can bring benefits to academic, social and emotional development.

I’ve just completed my first year of studies towards a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) with the University of East London, and I have really enjoyed bringing many of the concepts into my classroom, and the rest of the school, in a child-centred and age appropriate way. Initial feedback is very encouraging; with 97% of the children reporting that the lessons have helped them in various ways. I look forward to researching this impact in more detail as my studies progress.

One common misunderstanding, which I have come across a lot during the year, is that many people seem to equate Positive Psychology with the idea that we should be happy all the time. This idea is sometimes termed the ‘Tyranny of Happiness’. This ‘burden of positivity’ means that people can feel guilty or inadequate if they struggle to experience positive emotions all the time. I suppose that’s understandable given the title, but Positive Psychology is the scientific study of well-being, not just pleasure or superficial happiness. Many theories of well-being include a much broader view of optimal human functioning, which involve developing a sense of meaning and contribution to the greater good, for example, Martin Seligman’s PERMA theory. Although boosting  positive emotions is a vital part of well-being, that’s not to say that experiencing negative emotions is something to be avoided or supressed. Challenges, upsets and disappointments are part of life, as are the feelings that go with them.

I feel that this core concept can be introduced to children in a variety of ways. We can make sure children understand that all emotions are completely normal, and they can be encouraged to see emotions as information or feedback. The labels negative and positive in terms of emotion can be explained as referring to how they make us feel in the moment, rather than in simplistic black and white terms of good / bad. Of course, children the need to be taught helpful ways of dealing with negative emotions, so that they can work through them effectively. I have found that helping children to ‘name and accept’ their strong emotion can often be the starting point in processing them.  Different children may need longer or shorter amounts of time to do this, depending on individual temperament. Giving them the tools to help themselves to feel better is important, but it is their choice to decide how and when to use them. In my experience, giving them this choice can help with self- regulation and also build self-efficacy. This type of well-being education can help children become active participants in creating and maintaining their own mental health, whilst avoiding the ‘Tyranny of Happiness.’

There is a lot of research around at the moment on the benefits of gratitude to overall well-being. One of the best known researchers in the field of gratitude is Robert Emmons. He defines gratitude as a sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life, and he has conducted a lot of research on the benefits which it brings. Having an attitude of gratitude has been linked to feeling happier, more hopeful and more energetic. It is also linked to lower levels of anxiety, loneliness and depression.

In her book The How of Happiness, the researcher Sonja Lyubormirsky outlines much of the current research on the benefits of practising gratitude, which include strengthening relationships, diminishing negative emotions, increasing the ability to cope with stress, and increasing self-worth and self-esteem. Research on the impact of gratitude interventions in students  showed links between developing gratitude and higher satisfaction with school. Knowing these benefits, I feel that it is worth thinking about ways to introduce it to kids at an early age. As part of the Weaving Well-Being programme, I introduce  Attitude of Gratitude to the kids as one of the ingredients of the Positive Emotion Potion, and they really enjoy getting the opportunity to practise it and talk about it. Here are some more ideas for bringing this concept into your classroom:

Gratitude Object: get a small object which you  an introduce to the kids as the class Gratitude Object.

We use a small ornamental owl with the words Thank You written on it. Then at random times during the week, hold up or point to the Gratitude Object. This is the children’s cue to silently think about at least five things which they are grateful for at that moment. Give them a minute or so, then allow them to share if they wish, in pairs or with the class. Encourage them to think about and savour one of the things they are grateful for. Don’t over-use the Gratitude Object, as you don’t want it to lose its freshness. Once or twice a week seems to work well. Maybe get a new object after a while, or allow the children to suggest one.

Gratitude Journals: Allow the children to use and illustrate their own Gratitude Journals.

Thank-You Cards: Allow the children to make a Thank-You card forsomeone in their lives they wish to thank. Encourage them to give the cards,and then discuss how they felt afterwards, and how the person reacted. My class were amazed and delighted at the reactions they got when they gave their cards. It gave them a great positive boost.

Thank You Tree: Put a large poster of a bare tree on the wall. Have a box of plenty of colourful paper leaves in the classroom for the children to write on. The children can write down things they are grateful for and stick them on. If they wish to thank other class members for any acts of kindness, they can write the name of the person, and why they want to thank them, on the leaf.

Gratitude Posters: Let the children design and make inspiring Gratitude Posters using well known quotes or their own slogans/quotes. Display them around the classroom and school.

Do a class brainstorm on things which we often take for granted. Challenge the kids to appreciate them, and to report back on how this makes them feel.

In my experience, children love learning about and using their Attitude of Gratitude. Here’s a quote from one child about the reason why:

I like it because you remember what you have, not what you want.

References:
Emmons, Robert A., and Charles M. Shelton. "Gratitude and the science of positive psychology." Handbook of positive psychology 18 (2002): 459-471.
Froh, J. J., Sefick, W. J., & Emmons, R. A. (2008). Counting blessings in early adolescents: An
experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being . Journal of School Psychology46(2), 213-233.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. Penguin. 

For more information about  Weaving Well-Being resources, email: weavingwellbeing@gmail.com

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
day.
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
classroom.

How Teaching about Strengths Can Give Balance in the
Classroom
We are probably well aware that the traditional
focus in education could be seen as weakness- or deficit- focused. As teachers,
we continually assess our pupils to see how they are performing on an academic
level. Then we put measures in place to try to remedy these weaknesses. Kids
soon learn that they are weak in certain areas, and awareness can build up over
time in a class regarding the perceived  abilities of everyone in it. While it is vital
to assess and remedy academic weakness, I have found that teaching about
character strengths provides a great balance to this deficit –based approach.
It gives kids a chance to identify their top character strengths, to spot
strengths in others, and to use their strengths on a daily basis.
Identifying and using character strengths is one of
the key components of Positive Psychology. 24 character strengths were
identified by Seligman and Peterson in 2004. These strengths are specific
personality characteristics which are associated with well-being- e.g.
gratitude, zest, creativity, kindness, social intelligence, self-control,
perseverance, humour. Seligman and Peterson then developed an assessment test,
the VIA-IS questionnaire, to help people to identify their top strengths. You
can complete this questionnaire online if you’re interested in finding out your
own top strengths.
Research has shown that identifying and using your
top character strengths leads to increases in well-being. This makes sense - I
found that helping the kids to identify and use their strengths seemed to
provide an immediate boost in self-esteem. We start our Character Strengths module
by learning about the strengths (six strengths per lesson). Then we do lots of
strength-spotting exercises- the kids love hearing their classmates telling
about when they spotted each other displaying  a particular  strength. Kindness, teamwork, creativity, humour,
self-control and love of learning  are
some of the most commonly noticed strengths in our  class.
We also integrate our learning throughout the
curriculum, for example, we discuss the character strengths of characters from
novels and readers. Our recent history lesson on Florence Nightingale led to a
stimulating discussion on her character strengths and how she used them. I find
that the concept of character strengths gives me such a positive base to build
so many lessons on.
After learning about all 24 strengths, the kids
talked with their parents and tried to identify their own top five strengths (they
are too young to use the VIA questionnaire). This is just to give them a
flavour of their strengths, and it’s important to emphasise that different
strengths can develop over time too.  The
following day we had a lovely session in which each child proudly talked about
their top five strengths. It was great to see every child in the class having
their moment to shine!
After they identified their strengths, we did a
number of follow up sessions in which the children talked and wrote about times
when they used their strengths. Then they planned and tried out ways to use
their strengths in new ways.
I find the concept of character strengths so
beneficial in the classroom in many ways. For example, I might remind a kid to
use his or her strengths to help solve a problem or dilemma. Or before a
particular lesson or task, we might discuss which character strengths we could
draw on to help us. It’s almost as if we have a whole new language to
communicate with.
I love this quote from Christopher Peterson:
*       
…schools are busy measuring student academic
abilities and monitoring the progress of learning. We hope that someday schools
will assess character strengths of students and record them on report cards.’
  Christopher Peterson- Handbook of Positive
Psychology in
Schools.
Food for thought?
References:
Lopez, S. J., &
Snyder, C. R. (2009). Oxford handbook of positive psychology. Oxford University Press.
Carr, A. (2011). Positive
psychology: The science of happiness and human strengths
. Routledge.

Peterson, C., &
Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford University Press.

Although Positive Psychology emphasises the powerful
part that positive emotions play in generating well-being, it would be
incorrect to think that negative emotions do not also have a vital role to
play. All emotions are important, they give us information about our perception
of the world around us. We can then weigh up this information and act on it;
for example, our anger or fear may be telling us that something is wrong or
threatening, and that we should do something about it. Learning to identify
emotions and deal with them in healthy ways is a vital part in self-regulation,
research shows that kids who are able to do this fare better in a wide variety
of ways, inside and outside the classroom. Experiencing negative emotions is
part of the richness of life, and part of what makes us human.
However, research shows that the ratio of positive
to negative emotions may be an important factor in overall well-being. Although
there is no conclusive number for this positivity ratio at present, evidence
points to the possibility that a ratio of at least 3:1 is needed for well-being
and thriving.  This is interesting
information for teachers to be aware of, both for themselves and their pupils.
In practical terms, it might be useful to be aware if the number of negative
interactions is starting to build up with a particular child or in the class in
general. This is when some boosts of positive emotion could be helpful to get
things back on an even keel- easier said than done, of course!
Avoidance or suppression of negative emotions can be
damaging to well-being. This may be particularly true of the emotions of
failure and frustration. Some psychologists, notably Martin Seligman, suggest
that it is through experiencing failure, disappointment and frustration that
kids learn to become resilient. If children are over-protected, and too much
emphasis is put on ‘feeling-good’, they may not get the opportunities to
develop frustration -tolerance and manage their disappointments. If failure and
disappointment are not presented to children as normal parts of the learning
process, for example, they may learn to avoid these emotions  and become less likely to persevere in the
face of a challenge - giving up on the task may be easier for them to accept
than failing. Seligman suggests that not allowing kids the opportunities to
feel failure, disappointment and other normal negative emotions prevents them
from gaining mastery, and could actually be linked to the development of
depression.
So how can we build in safe ways for kids to
experience failure and frustration in our classrooms? Possibly the most
important message that we can give kids is that is that failure is part of the
learning process. We can do that by praising effort rather than result. Teach
kids that perseverance pays off, and that you value it as much as ability – in facts,
research shows that factors like self-control and perseverance are a greater
indicator of academic success than I.Q.
Prepare children for frustration by explaining that
a particular task may cause them to feel frustrated until they get the hang of
it, and that that’s completely normal. Of course we all know the value of
co-operative games, but kids need to experience winning and losing regularly
too, and how to put losses in perspective. I also find that it’s very helpful
to teach children about their character strengths, as they can then draw on
their own unique strengths to help them cope with the normal range of emotions which
is part of everyday life.
References:
Seligman, M. E.
(2007). The optimistic child: A proven program to safeguard children
against depression and build lifelong resilience
.  Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt.
Duckworth, A. L.,
& Seligman, M. E. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic
performance of adolescents. Psychological science, 16(12),
939-944.
Fredrickson,
B. L. (2013). Updated thinking on positivity ratios.

Ten
Ways to Harness the Power of Positive Emotions in your Classroom
 As a primary
school teacher, I have  always
intuitively felt that happy kids learn better; now my studies in Positive Psychology  show me that my hunch was right, and the
reasons why. Positive Emotions are those emotions which make us feel happy and
satisfied - emotions such as zest, pride, joy, interest, hope, humour, kindness and
love. The psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has done extensive research on the
benefits of Positive Emotions. Her book  Positivity (2009 ) is well worth a read
for more information on this area.
 It turns out
that Positive Emotions don’t just make us feel good in the moment that we feel
them; they also bring more long-lasting benefits, and can set a spiral of
positivity into motion. These benefits include better immune system
functioning, stronger resilience and an increase in psychological resources.
 But it was learning
about the impact of Positive Emotions on learning that really excited me.
Research has shown that Positive Emotions are shown to have a variety of beneficial
effects on learning. These effects include improved working memory, enhanced
creativity and problem-solving.  Positive
Emotions also lead to an effect known as cognitive broadening – for example,
participants in an experiment were shown movie-clips which either caused
positive or negative emotions. The individuals who watched the positive clips
were subsequently able to generate more creative ideas than those who
experienced the negative emotions. Wouldn’t it be great to harness some of this
power in our classrooms?
With this in mind, I feel that it’s well worth
investing in strategies to boost Positive Emotion in our classrooms. Here are
ten suggestions which I find easy to implement, and which the kids really enjoy:
1.     
Joke
Break
: Allow the children to write down their favourite
jokes on slips of paper. Put them all into a Joke Jar and pull one out at random times during the day.
2.     
Music
Break
: Allow the children to write down their favourite
upbeat song on a slip of paper. Put them into a Music Break box, and pull one out at random times during the day.
Put on the music, and allow the children to dance at their places. Let different
children lead the dance-moves, and alternate a few times during the song!
3.     
Happy
Memory Time
: Allow children to have Happy Memory time when they think of an
enjoyable event from the past. Encourage them to strengthen the memory by using
each of their senses. Perhaps they could them draw or paint a picture of their
memory. Then encourage them to look at their picture and
savour this memory if they need a mood
boost.
4.      Happiness
List:
Allow the children to write and decorate a list of
ten things which make them happy, e.g. family, friends, hobbies, certain films
and songs etc. Discuss and display.
5.     
Gratitude Time: At
a random time daily, show a picture or object (Gratitude Object) to encourage
children to think quietly of five things which they are grateful for at that
moment. They can share in pairs or with the class, or just sit and have a quiet
think.
6.     
Thank-You Cards: Let the children make a
thank-you card for someone special.
7.      Random
Acts of Kindness day:
Choose a day in which everyone
tries to carry out at least 5 acts of kindness. The class could suggest a list
of possible ideas to choose from, e.g., help someone with something, share
something, give a compliment, invite someone to play your game, cheer someone
up. Try to do this once a week for 6 weeks in a row, as research shows this
provides a positive impact on well-being.
8.      Kindness
Detectives
: Encourage children to be Kindness
Detectives – notice others doing kind acts and report back to the class.
9.      Drama
Sketches:
Let the children choose a funny part of
one of their favourite films to act out in groups.
10.  Class
Happiness Song
:
Allow
the children to vote on a song which makes them happy. Learn it and sing it regularly!
(Ours is Bruno Mars- Count on Me).
Once Positive Emotions have been generated, you can think of  ways to harness their power. Maybe have a Positive Emotion boost before a problem-solving activity, or a spelling or phonics lesson.I've taught my class about the benefits of Positive Emotion, so now  they understand how they can boost their own learning.
Teaching kids how to generate their own Positive
Emotions is also vital in empowering them to create their own positive mental
health. That’s why I came up with the idea of the Positive Emotion Potion © as part of my Weaving Well-Being resources. The children learn about five
evidence- based strategies –they learn one per week, which they implement daily
and report back on. Then they learn how to give themselves a Positive Emotion Potion © boost daily to
help keep their minds healthy and happy!
References:
Cohn, M.
A., Fredrickson, B. L., Brown, S. L., Mikels, J. A., & Conway, A. M.
(2009). Happiness unpacked: positive emotions increase life satisfaction by
building resilience. Emotion9(3), 361.
Fredrickson,
B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The
broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American psychologist,
56(3), 218.
Fredrickson,
B. (2009). Positivity: Top-notch research reveals the 3 to 1 ratio that
will change your life
. Random House LLC.
Howell,
R. T., Kern, M. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). Health benefits:
Meta-analytically determining the impact of well-being on objective health
outcomes. Health Psychology Review1(1), 83-136
Isen, A. M., Daubman,
K. A., & Nowicki, G. P. (1987). Positive affect facilitates creative
problem solving. Journal of personality and social psychology52(6),
1122
Yang, H., Yang, S.,
& Isen, A. M. (2013). Positive affect improves working memory: Implications
for controlled cognitive processing. Cognition & emotion,27(3),
474-482.
Lyubomirsky, S.
(2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the
life you want
. Penguin.

Building Resilience with The Jigsaw of Perspective


Resilience is such a buzz word now, and rightly so –
we all want to help our students to be able to deal with the ordinary setbacks,
disappointments and problems of everyday life. Some children seem to be able to
do this so much more easily than others - they seem to shake off their setbacks
and dust themselves off with a shrug. Other children seem to go into meltdown
modes at minor disappointments and problems, and it takes them a long time to
get their equilibrium back- these are the kids who get upset when they lose a
game, or don’t get their way in some way or another. Perhaps they may seem
over-sensitive to the rough and tumble of yard –time, or the complexities of
friendships. Of course many children fall somewhere in the middle – being able
to deal with disappointments most of the time, but occasionally finding it overwhelming.
 So undoubtedly, personality influences
resilience to a degree.
But the good news is that we all have natural
resilience skills which we can become aware of and strengthen. What a powerful
concept to introduce to the curriculum! Helping our students to develop their
resilience skills not only can have a powerful effect on their mental health,
but research shows that kids with better emotional regulation skills such as
resilience do better in a whole host of other domains, such as academic
learning, social relationships and behaviour. This makes sense; if a child is
constantly struggling to regulate his/her response to setbacks or
disappointments , his/ her ability to attend to cognitive, social or
behavioural tasks will be impacted. Class-room teachers will no doubt be very
familiar with the time and effort it takes to try to gets these kids back on task
and feeling calm and contented. Investing time in building resilience can pay
off in so many areas of classroom and home life.
There are many strategies which can be used to build
resilience, and using perspective is one of them. When we have a disappointment
or loss, the problem can dominate our mood and lead to a spiral of negative
thoughts and emotions which feed off each other. It can be really hard to see
the big picture; reactions can be disproportionate to the incident. So how can
we develop this crucial skill in children? I created a strategy to try to do
this- The Jigsaw of Perspective©.

I wondered how well my class of seven and eight year
olds would take to this tool – the answer was with ease and enthusiasm. If a
child is upset about something small, I ask them to use this strategy. This
definitely helps them to self-regulate and improves their mood. Of course, it’s
important not to minimise these upsets and disappointments, in fact it’s vital
to help the child to name and express their emotion, then process it before
they are ready to move on. However, for those children who are likely to become
stuck or overwhelmed by a negative emotion, it’s a very useful strategy.
The children now use this tool regularly and feel
proud to share stories of how they use it. One child in my class told us this
week how using the Jigsaw of Perspective stopped him from having a fight with
his younger sister, after she broke one of his toys. He told us that thinking
about his Jigsaw reminded him that he already had so many toys- did he really
need to get so upset about this one? He decided that the answer was no. I feel
that this is amazing emotional intelligence and regulation for an eight year
old to display and share. I am so delighted to see this strategy having such a
positive impact. The kids also encourage their classmates to use this tool,
which is very uplifting to witness. Sometimes I refer to The Jigsaw of Perspective© before a particular event, for example a
game, or allocating parts for the Christmas play. It seems to help the children
not to react disproportionately to the ensuing disappointment; they use their
skill to prepare themselves.
You might want to try this tool of resilience out
with your class and see how it works for them. Of course it’s not just for
children…when I got lost driving around the city recently and went into
mini-meltdown mode, my teenage daughter took great satisfaction in encouraging
me to use my own Jigsaw of Perspective! Parents
of teenagers rarely get away with just talking the talk - no harm I suppose!

The
Jigsaw of Perspective©
is part of  the Weaving
Well-Being
set of strategies and activities.

Reference:
Buckley, M. i Saarni, C.(2009.), Emotion Regulation. U: R. Gilman, ES Heubner  M. J. Furlong (ur.), Handbook of Positive Psychology in  Schools (107—118).