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Positive Journaling for Primary Children

Journaling is a great way to think about your feelings and reflect. It can help work through difficult emotions, set some goals, acknowledge and enjoy successes, and develop gratitude. It is a way of learning not to self-criticise, but instead to congratulate yourself.

It can also be an excellent way to promote children’s developing language skills, encourage their creative writing, support emotional well-being and a positive mental attitude.

 

Children with positive mental attitudes:

  • feel better about themselves
  • see the best in situations and other people
  • stay optimistic and persevere through difficulties
  • seek solutions to their problems
  • know that everyone makes mistakes and that it’s ok
  • overcome failures and persevere with tricky tasks
  • forgive themselves and others

 

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Research in the field is limited but there is anecdotal evidence that positive thinking and optimism has an effect on quality of life, for example:

  • Increases life span
  • Lowers your risk for depression
  • Decreases stress
  • Improves resistance to the common cold
  • Overall better psychological and physical well-being
  • Reduces risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Promotes better coping skills during times of significant stress

 

Researchers at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley have suggested that gratitude may be associated with many benefits for individuals, including better physical and psychological health, increased happiness and life satisfaction, and decreased materialism:

·         Several studies found that girls and women report feeling more grateful than boys and men, possibly because boys and men—at least in the United States—may be more likely to associate gratitude with weakness or indebtedness.

·         Other studies have identified certain traits that act as barriers to gratitude. These include envy, materialism, narcissism, and cynicism.

·         A handful of studies suggest that people who are naturally more grateful may be physically healthier, and others suggest that scientifically designed practices to increase gratitude can also improve people’s health and encourage them to adopt healthier habits.

·         Many more studies have examined possible connections between gratitude and various elements of psychological well-being. In general, grateful people are happier, more satisfied with their lives, less materialistic, and less likely to suffer from burnout. Additionally, some studies have found that gratitude practices, like keeping a “gratitude journal” or writing a letter of gratitude, can increase people’s happiness and overall positive mood.

·         Studies have found that more grateful adolescents are more interested and satisfied with their school lives, are more kind and helpful, and are more socially integrated. A few studies found that gratitude journaling in the classroom can improve students’ mood and that a curriculum designed to help students appreciate the benefits they have gained from others can successfully teach children to think more gratefully and to exhibit more grateful behaviour.

·         Research suggests that gratitude inspires people to be more generous, kind, and helpful; that experimentally manipulating people’s feelings of gratitude can lead them to be more helpful and generous—as can activities such as writing a gratitude letter.

 

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami have done much of the research on gratitude (Harvard Medical School):

One experimental group of subjects wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

 

Yanique Chambers, (www.kiddiematters.com) a social worker from New York, states that journaling gives children,

‘a judgement free space to self-explore and find their creative voice. They can use their journal as a place to dream and set goals. They can also use journal writing to find solutions to internal conflicts and solve problems.’

 

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It can be hard for a child to get started - it’s natural to feel an awkwardness about exposing themselves through their thoughts and feelings. Help children to start with something that’s not about them - e.g. Describe a day in the life of your favourite character from books, film or TV. How do they feel during their day and how do they respond to events throughout the day? Other suggestions could be:

 

·         If you could invent something, what would it be?

·         Thinking about the invention of the internet, describe how it has changed the world.

·         What can you do to combat climate change?

 

Then move onto more personal ideas. Providing prompts can really help children to focus on an area to expand on in their writing. You could put these on separate bits of paper and ask the children to pull one out - they can always put it back if they’re not interested in that one today!

 

·         If you could do anything at all tomorrow, what would it be?

·         If you could have a special talent, what would it be?

·         What would be your dream holiday?

·         What is your favourite place and why?

·         Is it ever ok to tell a lie?

·         What do you think you’ll be like, as an adult?

·         How do you think other people see you?

·         Why is it important to congratulate people or compliment them?

·         Write about a time when you helped someone else?

·         When did you last have trouble making a decision? How did you think about the choices you made?

·         What changes have you noticed in nature recently?

·         What has been your favourite story from book, TV or film. Why? Talk about the characters feelings, if you can.

·         My favourite character from a book is….

·         My favourite character from TV or film is…

 

Seattle children’s hospital (www.seattlechildrens.org) have a helpful list of categories you might want to consider with your children. They suggest making lists such as the following:

 

Affirmations list: personal, positive statements that focus on your specific problems or needs. Make up 1 or 2 and write them down 10 to 20 times, meditating on them. For example, ‘My drawing is getting better every day’.

Appreciation list: List everything or everyone you are thankful for in your life. This reminds you of the blessings you have, raises your awareness of good health, and helps make that happen in everyday life for example, ‘Spending time with friends or family’.

Success list: Write down all the things you do well. Add new ones when they come along. By paying attention to your successes, you encourage yourself to do more.

Outflow list: Make a list of ways you can send positive energy to others around you. When you send good thoughts to others, it helps you in a positive way.

Self-esteem list: List all the things you like about yourself. When you pay attention to your positive qualities, you turn on your creative energies and inner healing power.

Creative ideas: Write your ideas, dreams or plans for the future, even if they seem impossible. By stimulating your creative thinking, you strengthen your powers of creative visualisation and imagery –some of your greatest healing powers.

 

Linda Stade, education writer and consultant from Santa Maria College in Western Australia said in an interview earlier this year that when children are feeling overwhelmed, in a highly reactive state, journaling can really help:

‘What it does is it activates the narrative function in our minds, which means we take events and feelings and we put them into an order, into a story with a beginning and a middle and an end. That gives us a sense of cause and effect. It also gives us a bit of distance from those emotions and feelings so that we can make sense of them. There’s been research that shows it has a physiological effect. So it has an impact on our heart rate. That of course doesn’t mean that it’s curing the problem. But it is a very useful tool’.  (globalnews.ca)

 

Linda has a great idea if children are reluctant to write:

‘You can journal with photographs. I’ve got a friend who takes a positive photograph every day and what that does is it draws her attention to the good things in life and that not only makes her positive each day, but when she is experiencing down days, she has all of those images to draw on and all of these good feelings to remind her that life is generally good. Yes, we have bad days but there are lots of good things as well.’

 

Children can use an online journey platform such as Tapestry to develop a collection of pictures or photos to create a journal. Tapestry’s  Child Login feature makes the process that much more personal and the children are therefore agents of their own learning and journaling.

As an English teacher, Linda gave her class a regular opportunity to journal:

‘I was an English teacher so I used to journal at the beginning of each lesson, not only to calm them down after lunchtime or after recess, but also to get their creativity flowing. If they are given a set time, sometimes you give them a prompt, sometimes you just let them write whatever they want and that’s sort of prompting them to start thinking and playing with their language and being a bit more creative. They loved it and they got into the habit of just coming into the room and starting straight away without me asking them to. They found it very soothing.’

 

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In order for children to be able to self-regulate and manage their emotions, they need to be aware of them in the first instance. Journaling is a good way of identifying those emotions. Children can carry out the initial writing and the teacher can then have a conversation about it or add comments to their writing. The child needs to be able to trust the teacher and this takes time. The teacher can ask questions such as ‘How does that make you feel?’ and can give them words to help them identify what they’re feeling.

 

A great idea for starting off journaling with your younger children comes from a book called ‘Gratitude Soup’, by Olivia Rosewood:

Olivia states ‘Although gratitude has been a staple of human faith and philosophy for thousands of years, the formal scientific exploration of gratitude only began in the year 2000, and it has been fervently studied ever since. In one study performed at UC Davis, published in the Journal of School Psychology, those who had a daily gratitude activity had more positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy. Gratitude can lead to fewer physical ailments, as well as an enhanced feeling of well being. Children who practiced gratitude showed more positive attitudes toward their school and their families. They are less likely to judge others, and also less jealous. They are more likely to share and to want to help. Without a doubt, gratitude is a powerful life tool! ‘

 

In Olivia’s book, Violet the Purple Fairy learns how to make Gratitude Soup by thinking of all the things, people, places, and experiences that she is grateful for, putting them in an imaginary soup pot. She is able to shrink her pot of soup with her imagination, and she keeps the gratitude warm and flowing in her heart all day and all night.

 

Some useful gratitude prompts are:

·         What was the best part of your day today?

·         What made you laugh today?

·         Who did you have fun playing with today?

·         What activity are you glad you got to do today?

·         The best thing at the weekend was…

 

And take your pick from these!

What can you do now that you couldn’t do when you were 4?

I am good at…

I love…

I am brave to try

I persevere

I try hard

I am curious

I am kind

I practice so I can get better at…

If it’s tricky, I can always try…

Interview your family and ask them what your best characteristic is

Can you remember something you used to find difficult?

What does learning mean to me?

I might not be able to control everything, but I can choose how I respond

I am in control of my words

I am in control of what I do after a mistake

I can ask for help from…

I can control how much effort I put in…

I am learning to find solutions

When do you feel the most loved/cared for?

The book I’m reading makes me think about…

When are you at your happiest?

If I’m feeling sad or anxious, I know the feeling won’t last forever. I felt anxious when…

I don’t know how to do this yet…

I can talk to myself as if I’m encouraging a friend…

I can take responsibility for what I do

I can apologise and forgive myself

I can try different ways of getting things right

A challenge is good. It helps me to learn something new.

I can look for other possibilities or solutions

What’s the worst that could happen?

If the worst did happen, how would I deal with it?

What would the people who care about me say?

What’s the best possible thing that could happen?

Remember a time when you felt joy. Where were you? What happened?

What in nature comforts you?

I was proud of myself when…

Something that comforts me

Something that’s funny

Something that’s interesting

Something that’s beautiful

I learned something new today…

I’m up for a challenge

I am grateful for…

I am a good friend

What makes me happy?

How I helped someone today

The last time I laughed was…

I did something scary and…

I left someone a happy note and…

I said sorry when…

When I daydream, I…

The last time I gave someone a compliment…

I said sorry when…

I made a difference today by…

I made someone happy when…

 


References

‘Giving Thanks can make you happier’ https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

www.hes-extraordinary.com

Rosewood, Olivia (2019) Gratitude Soup (self publication)

‘The science of gratitude’- The greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley

https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Gratitude-FINAL.pdf

 

https://www.parents.com/kids/education/30-journal-prompts-for-kids-to-aid-self-discovery/

 


 
Helen Edwards
Helen was a primary school teacher before setting up and running her own nursery for ten years. She worked as a Foundation Stage advisor for East Sussex local authority before achieving EYPS with the first cohort of candidates at the University of Brighton. She was an EYPS assessor for two providers in the South East, a reflective practice tutor at the University of Brighton and an Ofsted inspector. She is a Director of the Foundation Stage Forum and a member of the Tapestry Education Group.

Edited by Jules




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Helen's article is full of both the research behind journaling with children and some practical and inspirational ideas to get children started. 

Do let us know if you have tried journaling with the children in your class and whether you have noticed a positive impact. 

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