Over the past few weeks it has been my pleasure to pay 3 visits to a lovely primary school called #Thomas Gray in #Bootle.
I have been working to introduce staff and pupils to the ideas of thinking and talking about #character strengths, telling stories together, and celebrating what’s good in life on a regular basis.
In the face of increasing concerns about child and adolescent #mental health, schools like Thomas Gray are working hard to make sure that they create a school environment that supports the development of positive mental health, also referred to as well-being or resilience. And thinking about your character strengths – and how you can use them to make the world a better place – is an important part of that process.
The children are not really encouraged to think about how their use of character strengths can make themselves happier – though this will probably happen. Rather, they are encouraged to think about how using them can help others and enrich their classroom and their school, how their strengths can contribute to their community. Children, in my experience, like thinking about ‘character strengths and virtues’ – and engaging in deep philosophical discussions about them – because children are intensely ethical and often altruistic people, who want to save the world and think about others.
We see growing signs of emotional distress in young people today, as shown by the growth in self-harming. I suspect one of the many factors that may contribute to this is what academics call ‘individualisation’ or the ‘turn to self’. If me and my happiness and what I look like and me owning stuff and having stuff are all that matter, life is actually rather barren. And if I am not ‘happy’ after all, what use is life at all?
In a tiny way, thinking together about #friendship, #love and #kindness, as we have been doing together at Thomas Gray, and telling the story of The Elephant and His Mother and St Werburga, are our way of saying to ourselves and to the children, ‘there is more to life than ipads and ipods’ and more to education than exams and league tables and more to well-being than money. Other people matter, you matter because you are valuable – not for what you earn or will earn or possess but because you are an extraordinary human being NOW and you CAN and DO make the world a better place and you CAN and WILL do so in the future.
We hope we are laying the foundations, with these primary school children, for resilience and well-being in later life. And I suspect that real well-being has more to do with being able to forget about yourself than it has with spending your whole time thinking about ‘you’.
The Elephant and His Mother and the story of St Werburga (my retelling is called ‘One of my geese is missing) can be found here: