Why it’s Important to Teach Children about Habits

With the dawning of 2020 and the promise and potential of a bright, better decade, many of us now turn our attentions inwards, looking to make changes – to creating a brighter, better version of ourselves.

“New Year. New Me!” I used to declare every January.

Until I got wise to the fact that it wasn’t me that needed to change; just my habits.

“Same Me. Different Habits!”

It took me thirty plus years to learn this lesson – thirty plus years of telling myself that I didn’t measure up; that I wasn’t enough.

I wish I’d learned this sooner. Maybe even, at school?!

That’s why I’m currently champing at the bit to start my new KS2/3 unit based on habits, with a TON of mindfulness mixed in. (Obvs!) 

Over the course of six 45 minute sessions, each class will get to grips with what healthy and unhealthy habits are, where they come from, and of course, how they can go about rewiring the behaviours that aren’t all that helpful into ones that are.

It’s all good stuff in terms of key life-skills. Exercise, diet, sleep and screen-use make quite a few appearances too.

From my perspective though, what really matters is that children learn to separate their habits from their identities. i.e. So you’ve just developed a habit of reacting angrily when things don’t go your way? That doesn’t mean you’re a bad/angry person. It means we need to work on rewiring this habit and replacing it with a calmer, more empowering response.

This message is what Growth Mindset is all about. And it’s pretty vital in terms of self-esteem, confidence, resilience and just plain old coping.


If you’re a teacher/school/trust leader, interested in seeing Jo deliver Wellbeing workshops in your school, call 07719330358 or email jo@skillswithfrills.com to discuss options and availability.

Teaching Gratitude

As a teacher of Wellbeing strategies, there’s not many topics I don’t enjoy teaching… but admittedly, I do have my favourites… and Gratitude has to be one of them.

Gratitude? Seriously? I know.

My inner Year 6 teacher, for whom ‘real’ learning and real results are the only concern, inwardly cringes even when I say it now.

But it’s okay. And I know it’s okay. Because according to the Science, the benefits of Gratitude practice are just as, if not more valuable than good grades in Maths, English and Science. A growing body of research and studies show that people who practice gratitude live happier lives in general, as well as being more emotionally and mentally resilient to lifes’ ups and downs.

So what does this look like in school? 

When teaching the skill of Gratitude, I approach this in the same way that I would introduce a new concept in Maths or a text/theme in English. In fact, this is a really important step if you want the kids to take it seriously; something that may be a problem particularly in upper school.

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We’ll look firstly at the the science behind the brains’ natural negativity bias and the Hedonic treadmill that we so often find ourselves on, resulting in an endless chase for happiness.

Then, we might consider how spending more time in the present moment (i.e. Mindfulness), with a focus on what we have rather than what we don’t have (Gratitude) might result in us becoming happier people overall.

Bearing in mind that some children find it incredibly difficult on first attempt to think of what they have to be thankful for, I like to pre-empt our thanks-giving by looking at stories of inspiration people who have powered through adversity with courage and determination. For children who can’t really understand the concept of being fortunate to have even the basics of food, warmth and shelter, this is a good reminder that not everyone in the world has these things. And it doesn’t hurt that these people are great role models to look up to, despite their less-than fortunate circumstances.

Then, at last, it’s time to talk about write about what we’re grateful for; those things that we’d really miss if we didn’t have; the people, places, things and experiences that make our lives better and easier. I seem to teach this differently each time I approach it, but here’s a weekly review sheet that I’ve used recently with KS2 students and young adults, to great success.

And that’s that. At least for that one session.

Like anything, if you want it to actually stick, it needs repeating and reinforcing, until students reach a point whereby spotting things to be grateful for comes more naturally than the opposite.

3 ‘Quick-Wins’ to try with your Anxious Child (or Self) Today!

If there can be any positive side effects to the current mental health epidemic, it’s that the topic of wellbeing has finally moved up the agenda. With this, we’ve seen an explosion in campaigns, resources, books and guidance, all aimed at helping you to help yourself, or your child to become happier.

Brilliant? Yes. But overwhelming? Also yes. Especially when mental health problems like  anxiety add an element of desperation to your solution-seeking.

If you’re looking for quick, simple and effective ‘quick wins’, here’s three child and adult-friendly activities that you can put in place today: 

  1. Write down three things you’re grateful for each day: Developing a ‘Gratitude Attitude’ is a key step in overcoming the minds’ natural bias towards negativity. When you’re genuinely feeling thankful for all you have, it’s very difficult to feel negative emotions like bitterness, sadness, hatred, anxiety and so on.

    Writing down what you’re grateful for reinforces this positive focus. If you’re super keen, you can extend this, writing down three things you’re thankful for in the morning and three great things/moments you experienced before bed.

    If you’re trying this out with a child, be aware that they might find this tough at first and may need lots of prompts to consider things that they’re perhaps taking for granted. Like anything else, the more you practice, the easier it gets.

    thank you.jpeg

  2. Develop a routine of Mindful Eating: Mindful eating is always a favourite, with both adults and kids. If you haven’t tried it before, here’s a Mindful Eating Script to start you off.

    Develop a routine of slow-motion eating at one meal or snack-time, working to your family routine. It doesn’t need to be something that lasts for a whole meal. In fact, it may only be something you try for the first bite or two of your evening meal. But the key is to explore your senses with curiosity. Get out of your head, or the TV, and smell, taste, touch, look and feel your food, in the present moment.

    That’s some delicious headspace right there!

  3. Create an Anchor: 

    An anchor is something that you or your child can use as a reminder to come back into the present moment and be mindful. It might be a chair you sit in daily, a picture hanging on the wall or even a sound that rings from your phone. Essentially, it doesn’t matter what it is, only that it’s something that you’ll encounter often enough for it to be meaningful.If you use a chair, for example, then whenever you sit on the chair… you should take a moment to explore how your body is feeling, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head; to notice your breathing patterns and where you feel them in your body; to consider any sensations and tension that lie in the body.

    There’s a lot of freedom here in terms of what you choose to be your anchor and how you use it. Just be aware that as with the other two activities, it’s about building up those neural connections through consistent practice.

Make mindfulness and gratitude part of your daily routine and you might just find that you automatically go into the present moment more often; fostering feelings of calm, comfortable, awareness and acceptance.

Teacher Wellbeing: I kept a Gratitude Diary for a year and this is what happened…

Editor’s update (20.11.17): Since writing here, the big change is that I felt ready to leave the security of secondary employment and ‘go out on my own.’ Looking here at the benefits  I noticed over a year ago, I wonder if had I not developed and maintained this daily habit of gratitude – and through this happiness – if I’d have had the courage to leave my safety net and leap into the unknown. As it was, I felt a strong sense of trust in both myself and the world’s plan for me. I knew that this was something I needed to do, and that whatever the result was, I would be grateful and happy for the experience. I still keep a gratitude diary – in fact, I’ve migrated to the Six-Minute Diary – and have now branched out into gratitude washing-up! 


This last week, I came to the end of my ‘gratitude diary.’ I tend to use online calendars to keep track of events and tasks, so when I was given my school diary last year, I thought I may as well try out the latest ‘fad’ in positive thinking. Every day – usually on a night – I have written down as many things as I can think of that are good about the day: things that I’ve done and enjoyed, funny conversations or complements I’ve been given, lessons that have gone really well and just generally things that I’m grateful for.

After a year, I’ve noticed the following things:Gratitude Diary cover

  • I seem to feel a lot more positive and it seems more natural. When I started out, my instant reaction to problems would be negative – I’d have to think really hard to re-frame this in my words (and my head) to appear positive. I had to force it. After a year, I feel like my natural reaction is instinctively positively.
  • I’m often complemented on my cheery disposition. People tell me that they love to see me because I’m always happy and positive, and apparently inspire and motivate others with my sunny outlook. This is probably the nicest complement I could receive.
  • When things do go wrong, and I do allow myself to sink into the misery of a bad situation, it doesn’t last as long as it used to. I just keep telling myself that ‘the only way out is through’ with the certainty that the bad feeling will pass.
  • I am more forgiving of others. I don’t seem to get anywhere near as angry or annoyed at people any more – I certainly don’t carry around bad feelings towards others. I feel like I’ve developed a greater sense of empathy towards people: I actually try and think about the other person’s side of the story and consider why they have acted in a certain way, rather than immediately writing them off because they haven’t met my expectations.
  • I’ve become more accepting of both people and situations. Where I’ve realised that good friends and I have grown apart, I’m okay with that. I’m happy to accept this as part of life and wish them happy, fulfilling lives.
  • I moan less. I worry less too! My situation hasn’t changed – neither have the things that I used to complain about – but my attitude is much more ‘c’est la vie.’ While I still plan ahead and look to changes I can make to improve my situation, I can do this without taking anything away from my present situation; I consider myself lucky to have the problems that I do.
  • I protect myself from ‘Dementors’. If I always feel down/upset/angry after talking to a particular person, then I make a conscious decision to distance myself from them and instead gravitate towards happier people. When I come across people who behave in a consistently cruel, arrogant, selfish and bullyish manner, my initial reaction now is to feel sad for them. People that have to bring others down rarely feel good about themselves deep-down and often miss out on the genuine, rich friendships and connections that the rest of us enjoy.
  • I am much happier in my job. Even after a ‘bad’ lesson, I can pick out at least 5 things that went really well – a brilliant question or answer in discussion, a student who made me laugh, a support assistant who got the best out of a challenging child, a child who worked really hard on a piece of work… Even at times of the year when the deadlines are looming, I still feel genuinely grateful to be able to work amongst such wonderful adults and children.
  • I am much happier in general, day to day. I realised a few years ago that if I based my happiness on some future goal i.e. I’ll be happy when I lose a stone; move house; get a new job; have 2 weeks in the sun… then I’d never keep a hold of it. My gratitude diary reminds me be mindful in appreciating even the most mundane moments of my daily life. As a result, I’m much more content overall – just from noticing what was there all along.

Gratitude Diary 1We hear it time and time again: what you focus on is what you get more of. Taking a few minutes each day to think on all of the wonderful things/people/moments/challenges that have been part of my day is something that is now part of my daily routine. What I once thought to be a fad is now a good habit and one that yields countless results.

Next year’s diary has arrived today and with it the prospect of more love, joy and laughter ahead.

 

QUICK READ: Top 5 reasons to own a Memory Box

Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s a bit ‘girly.’ And yes, I probably got the idea out of a magazine years back when… but owning a ‘memory box’ is still a fantastic idea for anyone, and especially teachers. Once every few years, I’ll spend an hour carefully going over the items in the box, leading to lots of warm, fuzzy feelings.

Here are the reasons why every teacher needs one:

  1. Admit it – you feel guilty as hell when you bin that drawing that little Jimmy did for you… but if you kept everything you received (I’m mainly talking to Primary staff here – there’s a serious ‘gift drought’ in Secondary) you’d need to rent out a storage facility. Having a memory box allows you 9 guilt-free throw-aways for every 1 save.
  2. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: teaching can be a ‘thank-less’ profession. When you do get a thank you… hold on to it for dear life! When you’ve had a bad day with lower-set year 9 or a lengthy staff meeting analysing ‘Raise Online,’ come home and sift through your happy memories to remind yourself of all the good you do and why you do it. Then you can shove your head into a tub of Ben & Jerrys.
  3. You can store all kinds of stuff: thank you cards, emails from grateful parents, photos from school trips, birthday badges, ‘so bad it’s hilarious’ kiddy artwork… along with lots of ‘normal people’ stuff like theatre tickets, postcards, stolen hotel pens and assorted holiday souvenirs. If you’re having a trip-less school holiday, remind yourself of all the adventures you’ve been on both inside and outside of the classroom.
  4. Bad memories can be good too! I have a Christmas card from a student I taught in year 5 that says, “I am sorry I misbehaved. I promise I will never do it again.” This boy wasn’t very good at admitting to his mistakes, and the fact that he wrote this makes me grin every time I open the card. Of course he broke his promise, and went on to cause me further frustration in the classroom, but we got through it and had some lovely moments together. It’s a good reminder that storms pass and make way for blue skies.
  5. Probably the most important reason of all, it allows you to buy or ‘craft’ a beautiful display box that your partner cannot possibly complain about – you can tell them it’s full of couple photos and past year’s valentines tokens, even if it’s not! Feeling really blue? Leave it in the living room (with the lid slightly ajar) and wait for your guests to enquire as to its contents. Then you can fake an embarrassed brag about all of the gifts/thanks/love you’ve received over the years due to the fact that you’re just an amazing teacher/person who changes lives…every single day.