Video Game Program Helps Kids Learn to Regulate Their Emotions
Many parents often find themselves struggling with too much video game use among their kids. But what if time spent gaming could actually be beneficial in helping some kids learn emotional regulation, coping skills and mindfulness? That’s the goal behind Mightier, by Neuromotion Labs.
Mightier is a gaming platform that allows kids to have fun and learn how to calm down with the use of a tablet, an app and a heart rate monitor. Developed by a team of experts in psychiatry, neurology, and child development at Boston Children’s Hospital, it was commercially launched in November 2017 after three clinical studies. The intent is to help children learn emotional regulation through play.
“One thing we had noticed in our work was that every kid who came into the clinic, whether they were dealing with ADHD, or Autism, or other disorders, had some challenge with emotional regulation,” said Mightier co-founder and chief scientific officer Jason Kahn. “And it’s hard to engage a kid in therapy for this issue. It’s like trying to teach kids how to ride a bike. In therapy, we put a kid in room and talk about the bike, but we don’t actually get to use the bike. We don’t have ways for kids to play with their emotions either.”
So how does Mightier help kids play with their emotions and reactions? It starts with a heart monitor, which they wear when playing games in the Mightier app. The monitor gives them a reading of their heart rate when they play the games. Once the heart rate monitor is on and the playing begins, kids get to see what their heart rate is doing. As the games gets more difficult, the players heart rate goes up. If it reaches the “red zone,” the game pauses and plays an animation that guides the player through a deep-breathing exercise. Through the help of breathing, kids can calm themselves and see their heart rate drop. The hope is that with repetition and practice, this calming skill can translate into real-life stressful situations.
“The skill of emotional regulation helps kids succeed at school, and helps them to be healthier,” said Kahn. “We want to teach kids those skills and have them succeed on their own terms.”
Many of the games children use in Mightier are popular games available in the Apple App Store or Google Play. That’s because several game developers have allowed Mightier to access their game code in order to create a version that can be used for therapeutic play.
“We worked hard to make this as fun as possible. If it’s not fun, kids won’t touch this,” said Kahn. “We add one game a month, so there is always new content, and it is not a battle to get kids into it.”
Mightier also comes with several coaching sessions with a licensed social worker for parents. A Mightier “coach” calls the parent to get feedback on how the app is working for them, and helps troubleshoot any issues they may be experiencing. Kahn and his team hope for some families who don’t have access to regular therapy, Mightier could be a first line in helping kids learn how to self soothe.
“The statistics are staggering,” he said. “There are nine mental health workers for every 100,000 people out there. We are not going to reach everyone. Approximately 80 percent of kids who have challenges get no care at all. This is a solution to the access problem. It’s very low risk and very low barrier to entry.”
Katherine Powers, a Dorchester mom with two children who works in the Boston Public School system, has seen success with Mightier for her son, who is 9 years old. He began using the gaming program last year at an occupational therapy center and now uses it at home.
“He might use it after a tough day at school,” said Powers. “For us, it brings forward an opening for us to have a conversation we wouldn’t have had. While he still might have a reaction, he is more able to self-regulate and use a breathing technique.”
Results so far look promising. Kahn said research has found that 45 minutes a week of playing Mightier reduced outbursts by 62 percent, decreased oppositional behaviors by 40 percent and lowered parent stress by 19 percent. There are several Mightier packages available for purchase, but the most popular program costs $249, and includes the coaching sessions. There is a $19 monthly fee after the initial three-month period is over. More information can be found on the Mightier.com website.