F is for Flow: The A TO Z of a Flourishing Childhood


When children get a great start in life their chances of being happy, confident and successful adults soars. As a Child Psychologist I’m interested in what works to give each child what they need to flourish. I’ve chosen Flow as the letter F in my A to Z of Flourishing series. Flow gives children the skills to manage heir own independent learning with strong motivation and excellent attention skills. Flow contributes to the development of thinking skills and the ability to self regulate your time and concentration. Few people are successful in life if they lack the ability to get into flow.

One of positive psychology’s recent contributions to our understanding of wellbeing is Flow.  Flow defines a state in which a person is truly engaged in and fulfilled by what they are doing. They are completely absorbed and time just flies past. You are more likely to experience flow when you engage in an activity which has enough challenge to stretch you but where you also have the confidence in your skills to succeed.

heartRipplesFlow is most likely to develop through self-chosen activities initially, so schools which restrict children’s independent study time may be causing a rod for the teacher’s back. One solution to making the time children have to themselves out of school more productive. Children need to discover for themselves what excites them and creates flow.   For many children that means finding activities that use their chosen talents and interests.  When children already know what they enjoy they just need the opportunity to get involved with something that is meaningful to them. Younger children need more help to discover what suits them.

Art, dance, sport and drama are strong contenders for creating flow. later children may discover independent areas of study which intrigue them e.g. dinosaurs  As long as a child has some freedom to choose how they interpret the activity creatively there is a strong possibility they will enjoy it more and experience flow.

What do you look out for to show when flow might happen? Here are 7 signs that flow is likely when:

• the activity has clear goals which give something to aim for

• the child has the skills needed to meet the demands of the activity with some challenge but with a strong possibility of success.

•s/he approaches activity with confidence and enthusiasm

• The activity requires concentration and focus.

• The activity is naturally rewarding and so the child wants to do it for their own satisfaction rather than to please others. .

• The activity is quietly absorbing so feelings of self-consciousness, worry, or the frustrations of everyday life are pushed aside.

• Sense of time is altered; hours may seem to pass by in minutes, or minutes can seem like hours.

• Engagement in the activity or challenge provides immediate feedback.

file9121283256517A child doesn’t have to be an athlete or an artist to experience flow. Flow experiences are attainable by most anyone.

Consider for yourself those activities that transport you to a place beyond your day-to-day concerns and feelings.  What absorbs your attention?  Is it cooking a new recipe?  Reading a book with your child?  Solving the Sunday morning crossword puzzle?  Going for a long cycle ride? Working in the garden? Some people experience flow at work but others don’t, it all depends on how well your job fits with your passions.

A happy and fulfilled life comes from within, knowing your personal strengths and how to use them, rather than from a hedonistic and pleasure seeking life.  Life satisfaction and wellbeing stem from a sense of purpose and meaning: what do I love to do, what matters to me?  This is deeper and more lasting than a pleasure seeking life.

Helping children to find that personal sense of meaning and purpose may sound like a tall order but getting started is really quite simple and a lot of fun.  We can’t control what life will bring but we can help young people to be ready to give their best.

So where will you start? Watching and talking to your child about what they love is a good start. Have fun and enjoy the journey.



About hooperj

I am a child psychologist and wellbeing coach and author of What Children Need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive Psychology to Help Children Flourish which is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
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