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Book Review by Marie O’Sullivan

How to be Happy – 52 Positive Activities for Children by Marneta Viegas

Whether you are a mainstream class teacher, working in Learning Support and running a Social Skills group, a Home School Community Liaison Officer searching for simple tips to support families, an Special Needs Assistant, a parent, or just someone who wants help the children in your life to develop positive coping skills, “How to be Happy” by Marneta Viegas (founder of Relax Kids) could be a very useful additional to your toolkit.

This book consists of 52 positive and affirming activities aimed at nurturing children’s emotional development. It is written in child-friendly language, with lots of accompanying pictures. The foreword features Rosie and Keane, who explain that their parents are separated and that the tips in the book are what they do to feel happy.

Topics covered include: family time, make and do, being kind, moods and feelings, school, being positive, bedtime, relaxing and mindfulness. The family time section suggests tips such as creating conversation starter cards and selecting one from a jar as a prompt at mealtimes. Another idea is to generate a list of free and fun activities that families can do together, such as creating sock puppets. The book is relatable, because it doesn’t make assumptions about family structures or budgets.

Suggested make and do activities include creating homemade worry dolls, acknowledging that children can find transitions and changes in their lives difficult to cope with. Another tip is to create a “treasure box” and to gather items with positive associations to cheer the child up on a tough day.

Another activity talks about sensory overload in a way that children can relate to and features a number of ideas to try out that won’t impact negatively on anyone else. The book uses a weather analogy to help children to identify how they are feeling – a stormy day, a frosty day, etc. It describes how we might feel when we are having e.g. a dreary day and what we could do to improve our mood.

The school section covers how to cope with homework, tips to improve focus and concentration and how to manage stress. Strategies to foster a positive attitude include cultivating appreciation and gratitude by focusing on what is working well in our lives. There are a number of ideas about how to cue the body for restorative sleep, such as repeating affirmations, listening to a story and having a relaxing bath.

One of my favourite tips is how to activate our “happiness switch”, it’s portable, free and easy! The children explain that this is a tool they use when they are feeling stressed out or angry. The first step is to recall a time when you felt really happy. Close your eyes and focus on the memory. Use your five senses to heighten your awareness of how it feels to be happy. In this simple meditation, the children are encouraged to think about what they saw, heard, etc. Squeeze the thumb and first finger together while concentrating on the happy memory. Now the children can press their happiness switch to access this happy time whenever they need to. They can also repeat a positive affirmation to amplify the positive associations.

This book contains lots of activities that could easily be adapted for the classroom, such as creating a relaxation corner, goal-setting and using positive affirmations. It is aimed at children aged 4-7, but I have adapted ideas from the book in my client work and used them with adolescents and adults also. I highly recommend this book and also the free taster schools pack. I completed my Relax Kids training in 2016 and it was one of the most enjoyable and affirming workshops I have ever attended.

How to be Happy is available from Relax Kids ISBN 978-1-78279-162-1

P.S. My copy is dog-eared, battered and has often been out on loan, which is one of the highest accolades I can award any book!

Marie O’Sullivan is a teacher, counsellor and Anokha Learning course author. She has a Masters in Child and Adolescent Counselling. Marie’s articles have been featured in InTouch Magazine and regional and international press. She is also an expert author and regularly contributes to a parenting magazine.

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