How we use positive psychology to improve pupils’ wellbeing?

This week, we were honored to have invited Dr. Emily Hill, a clinical psychologist to give us a speech on positive psychology. Ms. Emily is a professional psychological consultant for Huili Nursery Hangzhou. All of our Nursery teachers have attended positive psychology training organized by her and have benefited a lot from the training.

Pupils’ wellbeing improvement is embedded in our Nursery’s curriculum; positive psychology theory is also integrated in our teaching practice. These practices not only offer optimal learning environment for our pupils, but also help our teachers achieve better teaching outcomes.

A growing number of researches in the field of positive psychology show that when positive psychology is incorporated in a curriculum, it not only improves pupils’ wellbeing, but also pupils’ academic outcomes. Specifically, in a positive mindset, our awareness and attention span tend to be broadened, which means we are more capable of creative and innovative thinking. Such thinking ability is exactly what we want to encourage in our children to develop.

Four key positive psychology strategies are currently being introduced into our Nursery’s curriculum, and these strategies could also be used to educate children at home. Noticeably, when these methods are reinforced by our parents at home, the benefits to their children are very likely to be enhanced.

The first strategy we adopt is to understand and utilize our pupils’ natural character strengths. Character strengths are our personality characteristic; the five most prevalent strengths in children include love, kindness, creativity, curiosity and humour.

Our pupils are being educated that engaging in activities that involve these character strengths will improve their overall wellbeing. The five personality strengths are being incorporated in our daily activities through images, stories, and praise.

Praise is a powerful reinforcer of behaviour – more effective than punishment or strict discipline. When you comment a child’s behaviour in a positive way, you are likely to see the child repeat the good behaviour. When using praise, it’s best to praise the behaviour itself, rather than saying the behaviour makes you happy, as this tends to make the child focus less on the behavior itself but other people’s feedback.

The second positive psychology strategy included in our curriculum is about positive thinking. We have an inbuilt ‘negativity bias’, which means that negative events or feelings are more likely to be remembered than positive one. This relates to human’s survival function, in that our ancient ancestors made to survive because they were able to detect threats and negative things in their environment. But in modern society, to improve our wellbeing, we need to be aware of this bias and make efforts to overcome it by focusing on positive things.

At our Nursery, we tend to ask our pupils, “what went well today?”.  This question could encourage the pupils to review their school day in a more positive way, which tends to enhance their sense of happiness at the Nursery. This certainly does not mean negative feelings should be dismissed, as all emotions are natural and necessary. We would also encourage our parents to ask their child/children “what went well today?” at the end of a day.

Mindfulness is the third positive psychology strategy we have implemented in our curriculum. Regular practice of mindfulness tends to reduce pupils’ physiological arousal and activate their prefrontal cortical regions, and thereby improving pupils’ learning and sleep quality. Essentially, mindfulness involves living in the present. At out Nursery, we encourage pupils to use their five senses to be ‘in the moment’, a practice that parents could also adopt at home, or in outdoor family events.

The final positive psychology strategy we are promoting is ‘acts of kindness’.  Kind acts benefit both recipients and action takers. Encouraging kindness could cultivate pupils’ sense of empathy, an ability which is being acquired in young children. This is particularly important in a cross-cultural setting where children might feel harder to have empathy for someone who looks or sounds different to them. Parents are encouraged to praise children like teachers when they observe kind behaviours in children. Parents could also and to be role models themselves, as role modelling is particularly helpful in teaching children without mature language skills.

By focusing on wellbeing, we are creating an optimal learning environment at our Nursery, where children could better fulfill their potential.