Lessons from Positive Psychology for Resilient Children

August 2, 2017

Our work in trauma on the mental health side focuses on healing and through healing, resilience. Resilience is the ability to cope with adversity and bounce back after something traumatic has happened. Our Director of Mental Health, John Richardson-Lauve maintains that resilience is the universal prescription for trauma. But how can you help your child be resilient to bad things that may happen in the future? Exercises from positive psychology is a powerful way to help children be resilient.

What is Positive Psychology?

Dr. Martin Seligman is the founding father of Positive Psychology. Rather than focusing solely on how to relieve suffering caused by mental illness, he strives to find ways to amplify well-being and happiness. The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania defines this practice as, “the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” This area of study believes that all people want to have a fulfilling and meaningful life. It focuses on positive experiences, positive individual traits, and positive institutions, such as schools.

Positive Habits and Exercises

Positive habits involve acknowledging when things go right and not dwelling on why things go wrong. This may not come naturally to you or your child but it is something you can achieve with practice. Together, you both can begin practicing Positive Psychology with a simple exercise expressing gratitude. BrainPickings blogger, Maria Popova, reviews and elaborates on the exercise from Dr. Seligman’s book “Flourish.”

The Gratitude Visit

Dr. Seligman suggests an exercise called “Gratitude Visit.” He writes,

Close your eyes. Call up the face of someone still alive who years ago did something or said something that changed your life for the better. Someone who you never properly thanked; someone you could meet face-to-face next week. Got a face?

Gratitude can make your life happier and more satisfying. When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life. Also, when we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them. But sometimes our thank you is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless. In this exercise … you will have the opportunity to experience what it is like to express your gratitude in a thoughtful, purposeful manner.

Your task is to write a letter of gratitude to this individual and deliver it in person. The letter should be concrete and about three hundred words: be specific about what she did for you and how it affected your life. Let her know what you are doing now, and mention how you often remember what she did. Make it sing! Once you have written the testimonial, call the person and tell her you’d like to visit her, but be vague about the purpose of the meeting; this exercise is much more fun when it is a surprise. When you meet her, take your time reading your letter.

Perhaps your child wants to acknowledge a teacher or friend. Encourage them to do so as an act of thankfulness. If you are looking for other ways you and your child can practice gratitude as a way to promote positivity and increase resiliency, review our November 2016 blog on the Power of Gratitude.

Journaling the Daily Positive

Another way to cultivate gratitude is by journaling about positive things. Dr. Seligman suggests writing three things at the end of your day that went well. Make this journal exercise part of your bedtime routine. Sit with your child and open your individual journals to write down three good things that happened that day. Once your three things are written, also write WHY they happened. Eventually, you will have an entire book filled with positive memories!

Looking for more exercises involving positive psychology for kids? Get ideas from these lessons used by Dr. Seligman in the Penn Resilience Program for Middle School Students.