We know that, if adults in homes and schools are happy, then the children around them are more likely to be happy too. Similarly, when children are happy, it rubs off on us grown-ups. Well, it does usually.
I am writing this at 7am on Sunday morning, having come away for a leisurely weekend to a beautiful village in deepest, darkest Sussex. When Laughology’s Learning and Development Advisor, the lovely Vicky Rowan, emailed me on Friday, to ask if I would be able to write a blog over the next few days, I replied to say that it might be tricky as I would be very busy catching up on some sleep and enjoying a couple of long lie-ins. But it snowed last night, and this morning there’s a 10 or 11-year-old riding up and down the main street on his bike, singing snow-related songs at the top of his voice. I’ve got a feeling it is not his intention to bring joy to the world, but rather to wake residents and visitors up. Bless him!
However, as I was saying before I digressed, happiness is contagious. The part of our brain that feels empathy when someone is upset, also picks up on others’ happiness. How often do you hear someone else laughing and, although you have no idea what the trigger was, you start laughing yourself? This is called emotional contagion and it happens when your brain recognises others’ happiness and thinks: ‘I’ll have a bit of that.’
On the 20 March each year, all UN Member States celebrate the International Day of Happiness. According to Wikipedia, the purpose of this day is to acknowledge that the: ‘pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal.’
Having one day to raise awareness is important, of course. However, schools and parents are tasked every day with giving children and young people the skills to successfully manage their own emotions; put things into perspective; recognise when their own and their friends’ mental health is not good and seek help if they need it.
This is a tall order. For some years now, children in England have surveyed poorly for satisfaction with life as a whole, happiness and school experience. In 2016, the Children’s Worlds survey of eight year olds ranked children in England 13 out of 16 countries for life satisfaction. There are regular news reports, detailing the extent to which children and young people worry and, this month, the Times Education Supplement reported that 9 in 10 heads say that the mental health and well-being of pupils has suffered as a result of social media.
We know that children’s mental health services need improving and that more work needs to be done, as a society, in terms of prevention (The Five Year Forward View For Mental Health, Mental Health Taskforce Strategy 2016). Clearly there is a pressing need to address the issues that make our children feel unhappy and affect their learning.
At Laughology, we know that there are many ways to teach and promote lifelong skills, which improve children’s well-being and improve their happiness. Over the years, we have shared our ideas in thousands of workshops for school staff and pupils. The other tool, which we know is key, is for schools to have a proven, scientifically researched PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) programme. One that delivers both discrete and cross-curricular lessons and also influences the whole school ethos, with the strands running throughout the school day and with links to home.
Chatting to primary school staff, we have been interested to hear that many schools still use the SEAL pack (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) as their primary source of PSHE lessons. Whilst this was welcomed in 2005, for advancing emotional literacy teaching, we would ask whether it is still doing the job that it was designed to do. Because times have changed, kids have changed and so have the challenges that they face. Teachers using SEAL tell us that they are bored of teaching PSHE. And just as happy teachers equal happy kids, bored teachers aren’t going to inspire and motivate children in this vitally important area of learning.
The Laughology Happy-Centred Schools programme has been around for just over 5 years, but we have spent a length of time over the past twelve months revising and improving it, so that it is fresher, even more exciting for staff to deliver and even better in meeting the needs of primary pupils. There are five strands to the programme: Self-Confidence, Positive Relationships, Achievement and Success, Support and Coping Skills. Amongst other things, it uses popular culture such as YouTube film clips, Philosophy 4 Children approaches, team games and drama activities.
At Laughology, we have long believed that PSHE should be statutory in schools, as it will make a huge difference to children’s resilience and well-being. We are delighted that the Government has confirmed its ambition for PSHE to become statutory from September 2019. Now I could say more but, if you are interested in buying the Happy-Centred Schools programme for September 2018, being ahead of the game and doing the right thing by your pupils, the lovely Vicky will be happy to help.
For now, I’m going to pop outside my hotel to have a word with the cheeky chap on the bike. If his school is a Happy-Centred one, they have clearly done a great job in developing his Self-Confidence. I’m going to suggest he missed the lessons on building Positive Relationships and I just hope, for his sake, that he was there for the Achievement and Success strand. Clearly, he has achieved in his aim to wake the world and his wife up but, to be truly successful, he’s going to need to be able to pedal faster than I can run.
DISCLAIMER: Laughology has been assured that no young children were caught or harmed during, or shortly after, the writing of this blog.