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Mar 16, 2020

Welcome to episode 29.  Over the last week, our world seems to have changed dramatically!  Coronavirus has been declared a Pandemic by the World Health Organisation and people don’t know which advice to follow and how best to protect themselves and their loved ones.  I am not qualified to give any advice on this, so I won’t.  But I want to help you navigate these challenging times for yourself and for the children you work with, with the help of Positive Psychology.

Children are often acutely aware of the world around them.  Already the world has been feeling pretty uncertain for quite some time, but Coronavirus has added an additional layer and a certain level of urgency and panic for many people - this will include children you work with. So…what can you do to support their mental health at this time?

Now is an ideal time to encourage them to talk about their emotions in a safe space, to express the complexity and depth of what they’re feeling and help them unpack those emotions. For the youngest children, you may wish to have wall charts with various emojis and encourage them to place their names under the emoji that best reflects how they feel, and to move this around as each day and week progresses, to reflect their changing emotions throughout each day.  You can have conversations in circle time around these.  For older children and adolescents, you can have discussions about their emotions around the current crisis during tutor period, or when discussing related topics in History, Science, English Literature etc.

Now is also a good time to focus on strengths.  You can encourage children to identify and discuss the strengths they need individually and that the country and the world needs at this time.  They may identify the need for bravery as we all face our fears around the current situation, or for creativity to find new ways of working, learning and interacting.  Curiosity may be a strength we all tap into as we learn more about the specific virus and about the spread of disease, historical pandemics and the way treatments are developed, for example. Honesty may also be a prominent strength to focus on as we need to self-isolate if we develop symptoms. They may discuss the need for the strength of leadership, and whether that only comes from country leaders, school leaders, business leaders etc, or from all of us.  And how about love, prudence, self-regulation? Of course, we mustn’t forget kindness! Kindness towards those who need to self-isolate and may need help to get food and medication supplies, kindness towards others in not hoarding scarce supplies in supermarkets, kindness towards those who are worried about vulnerable loved ones. You can find out more about the 24 VIA character strengths from the VIA Institute on Character.

You can focus on strengths by specifically asking children to discuss or write about the strengths needed in the current situation, you can increase the way you use strengths vocabulary with children and adults in school, you can encourage strengths-spotting in others, or you can set children and colleagues strengths-challenges (use a particular strength in novel ways and see who comes up with the most unusual ways to use it).  The possibilities are almost endless!

If you or any of your children display symptoms and need to follow the current advice to self-isolate for seven days, or if you need to close your school, this is an ideal opportunity to practise a couple of great positive psychology interventions:

  1. Write down three good things - or think of it as ‘what went well today?’ - each evening before bed for seven days.
  2. Identify one of your ‘signature strengths’ (you can do this on the VIA website for adults and children ages 10 or above…or you can discuss strengths and examples to help each pupil identify their key strengths ahead of any self-isolation or closure) and find seven new ways to use it in seven days.

Both these activities were found in one ground-breaking study (1) to cause lasting increases - for six months - in happiness and a reduction in depression for the same amount of time. A more recent replication of the study (2) also found that these interventions can lead to lasting increases in happiness.

I hope this episode helps you draw some positive inspiration from these challenging times we are living through.  Keeping ourselves mentally well in addition to looking after our physical health is more important than ever.  Look after yourself and, as always, I look forward to catching up with you next week.  Until we speak again, For Flourishing’s Sake, have a great week!



  • Seligman, M. E. P. et al. (2005) ‘Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of intervention’, Positive Psychology, pp. 1–19. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410.
  • Mongrain, M. and Anselmo-Matthews, T. (2012) ‘Do Positive Psychology Exercises Work? A Replication of Seligman et al.’, Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68(4), pp. 382–389. doi: 10.1002/jclp.21839.