Jeni Hooper’s new book, What Children Need to Be Happy, Confident and Successful, fulfills the promise of its title, providing adults with information and tools to support development of happy, confident, and successful children.
I approached the book on the one hand as a positive psychology consultant and a trainer in the Bounce Back Resilience Programme and on the other hand as the parent of a 10 year old. I found I could apply Hooper’s ideas in my work and in my own family life.The Author
Jeni Hooper is a chartered psychologist and member of the British Psychological Society who has been working with children, parents, and professionals for over 30 years. This book builds on her extensive experience as well as her grounding in Self-Determination Theory and positive psychology concepts such as strengths, mindsets, and resilience.
After a brief overview of positive psychology’s background, context, and Martin Seligman’s PERMA model in particular, Part I of the book describes the five key areas of the Flourishing Programme:
- Personal Strengths
- Positive Communication
- Learning Strengths
- Emotional Well-being
Jeni Hooper stresses the importance of adapting the information and ideas in her Flourishing Programme to match each child’s individual needs. She illustrates that it isn’t necessary to apply all five sections methodically by giving a case study of 8-year-old Toby, in which the solution involved working on three sections of the program.
The book includes a Flourishing Questionnaire designed for an adult to complete based on observations of the child in question. Rating each of the five sections helps the reader identify areas of relative strength as well as areas that need further support and development.
Part II of the book takes the reader through the Flourishing Programme. There isn’t space here to describe all five sections, so let’s explore the way Jeni Hooper applies strengths.
Jeni Hooper proposes her own list of the 20 prime strengths relevant to children, drawn from several sources including the 24 VIA character strengths, the Realise 2 model, and Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. The 20 prime strengths are divided into three groups:
- Personal strengths such as vitality, playfulness, and self-control
- Learning strengths such as creativity, musical ability, and love of language
- Social strengths such as love, kindness, and communication
According to Hooper as children grow and develop, their skills and strengths are emerging and likely to change. She has seen many instances of parents hothousing children to develop specific talents, such as musical, athletic, or artistic ability, in ways that destroy the intrinsic motivation that once existed. “It would be a mistake to anticipate too early what part any one strength may play in a child’s life or to see these very personal explorations as something that will create a lifetime’s purpose.” I can see what she means, Our son demonstrates talents in both creative and athletic domains, but he isn’t motivated to follow some of them. Pushing him to excel in any particular area results in frustration all round. Far better, advises Jeni Hooper, to focus on sources of energy and motivation and give children space to explore and develop their own strengths.Hooper suggests that strengths come from a fourfold combination of ability, motivation, effort, and social support. In other words, strengths represent those abilities and interests that the child finds appealing and that bring both satisfaction and success. At the same time, strengths do not emerge fully formed and need both time and opportunities to develop. The child has to put in effort to hone strengths. As adults, we have the responsibility to create an environment in which children can identify their strengths and put them into action. Given that “Every adult matters in a child’s life,” Hooper does not shy away from giving us tips to help us become more effective as parents and teachers.
The final chapter of the book looks briefly at some of the positive psychology evidence underpinning the Flourishing Programme, such as optimism, strengths, and motivation. It also sets out ten simple strategies to help people apply the program successfully.
What I really liked about this book
There is a lot packed into this small book. It’s obvious from the outset that Jeni Hooper really understands children and knows what they need to flourish. Her empathy radiates throughout, for example as she explains why children are disruptive, yet she is firm and sensible. You don’t need to be an expert to use the book. She explains concepts clearly, and the Flourishing Programme is practical and easy to use.
I like the way she adapts some of the most relevant positive psychology constructs to the needs of developing children. I particularly like the way she ties the strengths concept and Self-Determination Theory together and recommends that we identify strengths through observation of a child’s energy and motivation NOT just performance.
The behavior coaching approach described in the emotional well-being chapter is simple and effective. I have started to use it within my family, monitoring my own feelings and using her practical activities to boost my child’s positive emotions.
What I’d Change
Considering it has fewer than 180 pages, there is a great deal of meat in this book, and it takes several readings to assimilate it. One thing which slowed me down is the number of tables and boxes. There are over twenty, including
- Five building blocks of psychological well-being
- Six core principles of nurturing individual well-being
- Three factors that create well-being
- Eight positive communication principles
- Five learning success skills flowchart
- Seven signposts of prime strengths
I can understand why Jeni Hooper cherry-picks the most appropriate strengths from the VIA, Realise 2, and Multiple Intelligences models to create the list of 20 prime strengths applicable to children. However I think the labeling needs a little work. A later chapter refers to entirely different skills needed for learning success than the learning strengths covered in the chapter on strengths.
In summary I think this is a fantastic book for parents, care-givers, and professionals working directly with children. It’s full of useful advice based on Jeni Hooper’s extensive personal experience of what works and what doesn’t work. It is clearly written and easy to read. The Flourishing Programme is a practical application of the most relevant positive psychology concepts and evidence-based research. Whether you’re thinking about using the book at home or in a work environment, you will be able to pick it up quickly and help the children in your life become happier, more confident, and more successful.
Hooper, J. (2012). What Children Need to Be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive Psychology to Help Children Flourish. London: Jessica Kinglsey Publishers.
Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice. New York: Basic Books.
Linley, P. A., Willars, J. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). The Strengths Book: Be Confident, Be Successful, and Enjoy Better Relationships by Realising the Best of You. CAPP Press.
McGrath, H. & Noble, T. (2011). Bounce Back! Years K-2, a Wellbeing and Resilience Program, Teacher Resource Book. Victoria: Pearson.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and wellbeing. American Psychologist, 55, 68–78.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.