Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

Adapting Positive Psychology Interventions for Use with Elementary School Children

Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

Adapting Positive Psychology Interventions for Use with Elementary School Children

Article excerpt

There is mounting evidence that mental health involves more than the simple absence of mental health problems like anxiety, depression, and disruptive behavior disorders. Complete mental health is defined by the presence of subjective well-being, in addition to minimal mental health problems (Suldo & Shaffer, 2008). Subjective well-being, commonly considered the scientific term for happiness, includes three components: life satisfaction, positive affect, and negative affect. Happy students have high levels of life satisfaction (i.e., judge their life to be going well on the whole) and experience more positive than negative emotions on a daily basis. Benefits of happiness include better physical health, social functioning, and academic achievement (Suldo, Huebner, Savage, 8c Thalji, 2011). There are even advantages of having very high life satisfaction as compared to having an average range of life satisfaction. Specifically, adolescents with very high life satisfaction tend to have the most positive attitudes about their school and report the best achievement; have less stressful social relationships and make friends easily; and experience a flourishing emotional state, as indicated by elevated gratitude, self-esteem, and meaning in life, and minimal depressive symptoms (Proctor, Linley, 8c Maltby, 2010). Among elementary school-age children, students in Grades 3 and 4 who reported high life satisfaction also felt more connected to their school and had fewer emotional and behavioral problems as rated by students and teachers (Earhart et al., 2009).


Researchers in the field of positive psychology have advanced a growing number of evidence-based strategies that can be used in school-based interventions (Waters, 2011). These positive psychology interventions (PPIs) involve activities for increasing children's gratitude, kindness, and use of character strengths, among others. These strategies are described in Table 1. Beyond implementing these individual PPIs, school psychologists can work to strengthen the potentially malleable factors in the environment that are correlated with children's subjective well-being. Specifically, high levels of life satisfaction co-occur with strong parent-child relationships (Suldo 8c Fefer, 2013) and a healthy school climate (Suldo, Thalji-Raitano, Hasemeyer, Gelley, 8c Hoy, 2013). At school, positive relationships between students and teachers, and among students in a classroom, are particularly important predictors of early adolescents' life satisfaction (Suldo et al, 2013). Students who feel more connected to their school report higher life satisfaction (Oberle, SchonertReichl, 8c Zumbo, 2011).

In the past few years, researchers have developed and tested comprehensive intervention pro^ams that combine many PPIs. For example, the 10-session USF Wellness-Promotion Program (Suldo, Savage, 8c Mercer, 2014) developed for use with small groups of adolescents includes sessions targeting gratitude, character strengths, and optimism. Recent iterations of this program have extended beyond the student-focused component to include parents of middle school students (Roth, Suldo, 8c Ferron, 2015) or teachers of elementary school students (Suldo et al., 2015). Students who have participated in these comprehensive multicomponent PPI programs have made significant gains in multiple indicators of subjective well-being, including improvements in positive affect that endured through follow-up assessments later in the school year. While early work focused on applying PPIs to students who were targeted due to levels of life satisfaction that suggested considerable room for growth in subjective well-being, multicomponent PPIs intended for universal application within classrooms or schools have shown promising effects in terms of improvements in children and adolescents' mental health.


Most research on PPIs has involved young adults and adolescents, with less guidance on how to improve children's happiness. …

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