Go to main content

Exploring the Effectiveness of a School-Based Gratitude Intervention on Children’s Levels of Anxiety, Sense of School Belonging and Sleep Quality

05 December 2019

Author: Danielle Louise Cripps

Chapter 1. School-based positive psychology interventions (PPIs) which focus on building resilience and promoting children’s social and emotional wellbeing are becoming more evident in practice and within the research base (Shankland & Rosset, 2017).

The main goal of PPIs are to cultivate positive emotions, cognitions and behaviours (Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009).

Anxiety in youth can be understood within a risk and resilience framework comprising of factors which prevent, buffer and reduce the risk of developing an anxiety condition.

The broaden-and-build theory (Fredrickson, 1998; 2001) suggests that positive emotions, in contrast to negative emotions, broaden the mind set and action responses which over time leads to the building of personal resources and resilience.

The resiliency theory presents that promotive factors are an important element of universal, preventative interventions which aim to promote resilience and positive functioning (Zimmerman, 2013).

A systematic search of the literature base yielded 13 studies. These were analysed in terms of their methodological quality and their effectiveness to increase resilience and reduce anxiety in children and adolescents.

Findings showed that universally delivered interventions are effective in reducing anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents. Targeted interventions also showed potential, although due to the small number of studies included in the review, these findings cannot be applied more widely.

here was limited evidence to suggest that PPIs increase resilience in young people which is a contrasting finding to previous reviews. Implications for practice, strengths and limitations of the current evidence base, and future directions for research are explored.

Chapter 2. Gratitude has been found to be associated with various positive wellbeing outcomes for young people (Renshaw & Olinger-Steeves, 2016). It can be described as a cognitive-affective state which arises in response to aid or a benefit (Emmons & Stern, 2013) and through the appreciation of positive aspects of life (Wood, Froh & Geraghty, 2010).

The practice of gratitude has been suggested to broaden cognitive and behavioural tendencies, which over time can build positive psychological and social resources (Fredrickson, 1998, 2001).

Grateful recounting may also enhance an individual’s ability to appraise situations in a more positive way which in turn may lead to improvements in anxiety and sleep quality (Watkins, Uhder & Pichinevskiy, 2015; Wood, Joseph, Lloyd & Atkins, 2009).

The current study explored the effectiveness of a gratitude diary intervention carried out across six primary schools in South-East England.

Year 6 pupils (n = 164) were randomly allocated to either a gratitude diary writing condition in which they were asked to record three things they were thankful for or to an event diary writing condition whereby they were asked to record three neutral events from their school day. It was hypothesised that keeping a daily gratitude diary would lead to improvements in anxiety, school belonging and sleep.

Self-report measures assessed gratitude proneness, anxiety and school belonging across three time points.

Parents (n = 58) completed pre- and post-intervention measures to assess children’s sleep quality. Results showed significant group differences for anxiety, gratitude proneness and school belonging in favour of the intervention group.

No significant group differences for sleep quality were found. A school-based gratitude diary intervention could be an effective way to promote school belonging and reduce anxiety in a youth population.

The findings, implications for practice and directions for future research are discussed.


Top of page