Parenting, Reviews

Review: My First HappySelf Journal (3-6 years old)

I bought a copy of My First HappySelf Journal and am under no obligation to write this review. All opinions are my own.

Sometime last year I stumbled across the HappySelf Journal, created by Francesca Geens. It’s a guided journal for children and teenagers to help them to understand and discuss their emotions and practise gratitude. I was debating whether to get the Junior version (6-12 years) for my daughter, but as she’s only four I wasn’t sure.

Photo of  My First HappySelf Journal

I think we can all agree that the past year has been challenging. The world has completely changed and it can be hard to get your head around, even as an adult. For children, it’s been even more confusing and I think for my daughter especially. This year she’s moved countries, started school and had a new baby brother, all of which would have been a bit difficult without a global pandemic and associated lockdowns. The pandemic has meant she’s had to deal with all of that at the same time as not being able to see her friends or do any of the activities she enjoys. And she’s had to suffer homeschooling, of which the less said the better…

So anyway, all of that was making me think it might be a good idea to get her a Junior HappySelf Journal, even if it was a bit advanced. I wanted to have a guided way for her to talk to me about how she’s feeling, and also encourage gratitude as, in common with most four year olds I suspect, she can sometimes be a tad ungrateful. (“It’s not fair!” being a current favourite.)

She, again like most children her age, has very strong emotions and seems to have trouble expressing them in any way other than screaming (or biting). To be honest, in the heat of the moment, I find it very difficult to try and engage with her about the big emotions that are taking her over, and with two younger children who also need my attention, I don’t always find the time to talk about it once she’s calmed down. I hoped that having a journal would give us a set time to go through her day, giving her some guaranteed one-on-one time, allowing us to talk about her feelings and also helping her to become more emotionally intelligent.

I was still hesitating when I saw that Francesca would be bringing out a new version of her journal for 3-6 year olds, the My First HappySelf Journal. Brilliant! I bought one at once. Literally, as soon as Francesca sent me the link.

So, what’s inside?

The first page has the HappySelf values, like being positive, being grateful, enjoying the simple things. Next there are a few introductory pages, explaining how to fill the journal in, followed by some fun pages, which are for the child to complete whenever they like and which explore emotions in a different way. After that, there is three months’ worth of daily journal pages.

Each daily page has an affirmation or quotation (e.g. I am kind), then a space for the child (or adult) to record a good thing that happened in the day. So far, I’ve written two or three things that my daughter has enjoyed during the day. We normally do it just before she goes to bed, so she’s too tired to draw or write something herself. Once we’ve talked about what she’s done in the day and how she felt about those, what was her best thing, etc, we circle one of four characters who show different emotions. I like this because it means we discuss the day as a whole but I have to admit that sometimes I struggle to recognise the emotion that the character is displaying. Lastly, there is a question, a challenge or a list of positive things that the child may have done in the day and can tick off (like dancing to their favourite song or asking for help). At first I wasn’t sure about this, particularly the checklist because sometimes they just don’t seem relevant to what we’ve done during the day. However, they do offer a good starting point for discussion, which is the idea and they also act as suggestions for positive things we could do during the day.

Spending five minutes at the end of the day to find out what my daughter has felt and what she’s enjoyed has been enlightening.

In the month that we’ve been doing this, putting pepper on mine and her dad’s lunch has featured as a thing she enjoyed at least five times. I would never have known, or even suspected, that this was a highlight of her day and am now expecting her to apply to work as a waitress at Pizza Express as soon as she can. On a more serious note, going for walks and playing outside usually feature, as does playing with Papa. If Papa has played with her, it makes it on to the list. Likewise if she helps me to do the cooking. Knowing what she enjoys makes it easier to create opportunities to have fun and be happy. I may prefer to do the cooking by myself, but if by letting her “help” I can top up her cup of happiness, then I’ll do it (unless I’m in a real rush).

My daughter was really enthusiastic about her journal at first, because it was new and exciting and it’s beautifully made, but I thought she might get bored of it after a while. I was very careful not to make it into something she has to do, we already have enough battles over homeschooling, but so far she’s remained keen. I think she likes having a bit of time alone with me or Papa, which is hard to come by during lockdown when you have two little brothers, and the illustrations definitely appeal to her as well.

Of course, the journal isn’t just about the five minutes we spend filling it in. It’s early days yet but I think it’s already started to affect our whole day. She is becoming more aware of her feelings and more able to express herself and sometimes identifies things she would like to write down in her journal during the day. I also bought The Colour Monster by Anna Llenas, which is a very simple way of looking at emotions through colour. Both the journal and book have helped us to talk about emotions more and I try to make a point of saying how I’m feeling in different circumstances, too.

My daughter goes back to school on Monday and although she’s excited, I’m expecting that she’ll feel quite a mix of emotions over the next few weeks and probably be a little overwhelmed. I’m hopeful that having this journal will help her to talk to me about it and process what she’s feeling. Time will tell!

If you’re interested in buying a My First HappySelf Journal (3-6 years), a Junior HappySelf Journal (6-12 years) or a HappySelf Journal (12+), they can all be bought from the website: www.HappySelfjournal.com

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