I am grateful for this review from Chris Chesterman at Quest Psychology which has recently been published on his website.
This book by Jeni Hooper, an educational psychologist, is an important work for anyone – parents, teachers, children’s professionals etc. – who has an interest in the emotional health and wellbeing of children.
The book is principally focused on the author’s “Flourishing Programme”, firmly rooted in the positive psychology of Martin Seligman. This ‘programme’ represents a tour de force of the application of positive psychology to the whole area of children’s emotional development and wellbeing. Contrary to its title, I did not (thankfully) find it to be a step-by-step programme in the normal, linear sense, containing as it does an exposition of theory, research and practical advice around the crosscut themes of personal and learning strengths, emotional wellbeing, positive communication, resilience and independence.
This book has some outstanding features. Firstly, its scope and detail are enormous. I feel it helps to have a specific theme in mind, e.g. ‘resilience’, to act as a focal point and the basis for stepping out into other areas of the book.
A second major achievement, in the rapidly expanding ‘field’ of positive psychology, is that the author has achieved here a wonderful synthesis of theory and research projecting the ‘whole child’ in all of his/her emotional complexity. There are useful but not excessive references to what we now know in terms of the neurological benefits of a positive psychology approach.
A third but certainly not final achievement has been to integrate what might be considered ‘common sense’ positive practices with less obvious, thought provoking strategies. Translating active listening approaches into the use of “appreciative attention” (p. 115) is one example, the role of adults in facilitating children’s personal strength development (e.g. p. 48) another; but we would each have our own themes of interest, there are so many in this book.
What the book is not designed to do is act as a reference in respect of pathological emotional development as such. Instead it expresses forward looking optimism in terms of e.g. repairing family relationships, neuroplasticity and that “it is never too late to form a new working model of the world” (p.76).
How can this book be of use to educational psychologists? In overall terms, perhaps as a refreshing framework on which to locate and extend our existing understanding of positive psychology and its application. More specifically, my experience is that it has become a sine qua non for any development work and training undertaken that relates to children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing. I imagine it has also been of great value to colleagues delivering workshops for parents on related themes. It can make a major contribution to the development of positive strategies and solution focused partnerships with teachers, SENCos and parents and it has the potential to contribute significantly to whole school policy and practice in terms of emotional health and wellbeing.
Such a book could not be flawless! Perhaps because it covers so much ground, it has a heavy reliance throughout on tables, lists, figures and boxes. I found this a little overwhelming at times, notwithstanding the fact that it may render subsequent, specific readings easier to access. The more hard-nosed educational psychologist may well want more research references, a greater specification of qualitative characteristics in performance language etc. That is not really the job for a book of this kind.
Anyway, these are minor points relative to the wisdom of this book. “Changing the world, one child at a time” (p. 170) can be our aim and Jeni Hooper’s marvellous book can certainly help us achieve that.
(draft of a review to be published soon)