Hey, all! So, my oldest (Who is usually my nurturing little “Mama Hen.”) is getting into that hormonal, angsty, tween stage of life (totally everyone’s favorite, right?). This means that lately, she’s been less sugar-and-spice and more vinegar-and-cayenne. I’ve spent a lot of time working with children from different backgrounds with differing needs and abilities. However, I’ve kind of actively avoided projects involving the middle school and junior high age group, simply because I couldn’t handle the emotional drama involved with it.
Well, that’s come back to bite me now that I have an eye-rolling tweenager of my very own to contend with! Kids have BIG emotions, and they’re still learning how to handle them. All of that is completely normal, but I honestly feel a little lost as to how to help my children with emotional self-regulation.
I’m sure I’m not the only parent who feels this way, and believe it or not, there are some tools out there to give us a hand. One that I tried out recently is Mightier™. Mightier is a biofeedback games app and coaching program that teaches emotional self-regulation and the behaviors associated with it.
Designed for ages 6-14, the Mightier app is available for both iPhone and Android devices (Their website suggests using a tablet, however, I was able to run the program on my Android One OS phone without any difficulties.). The app pairs with a Bluetooth-enabled heart rate monitor that your child wears on their arm or wrist. The monitor is the “heart” of the program, as it is what responds to your child and adjusts the game. It’s slim, small, and comes with two sizes of soft, adjustable bands with hook-and-loop fasteners.
How Do Mightier Biofeedback Games Work?
The monitor keeps track of your child’s heart rate as they play one of Mightier’s 18 award-winning biofeedback games. If they become angry or frustrated (indicated by a rising heart rate), the monitor increases the difficulty of the game. If their heart rate rises too much, the game stops, and a mascot called Dr. Dragon leads your child through calming exercises such as deep breathing. Once their heart rate has decreased to an acceptable level, the game resumes.
Dr. Dragon to the rescue!
The important thing to note here is that if the kids want to keep having an easier, more enjoyable gaming experience, they have to keep their emotions in check. With enough play, children will learn that their emotions have an effect on the environment around them. More importantly, they will start to understand that their emotions are under their control (or at least their responses to them are). They can self-monitor their progress using the Gizmo tool that appears on the screen. That’s how emotional self-regulation is taught with Mightier!
“Race the Sun” The Gizmo tool is to the left of the screen.
Mightier is not just a gaming app, though. A membership also includes coaching from masters-level social workers and psychologists. The coaching is actually designed as support and teaching for parents, and takes place during two 30-minute phone calls each month. Other tools for parents include a Parent Hub where you can monitor your child’s progress, a private Facebook group, webinars, and tips for supporting your child on their journey to emotional self-regulation.
Of course, a digital learning tool is only as good as its programming. Mightier was developed and tested by Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. It’s a professional quality program, because it was developed by leaders in children’s health. The biofeedback games are similar to popular mainstream apps, including racing, cooking, “crossy” games, and puzzles. Dr. Dragon is a friendly, helpful, and engaging mascot who teaches your child in a way that is positive and does not make them feel as though they are being shamed. My little “Hen” thoroughly enjoyed the games, and quickly realized that she had to control her emotions in order to keep playing.
Deep breaths, kiddo!
Mightier has also been tested, including double-blind studies, and had impressive results. In clinical trials, families using Mightier reported less parental stress and fewer disruptive behaviors and aggression from their children. They also saw a reduction in the number of times children were removed from the classroom for behavior issues (These results are available on Mightier’s website.). During a counseling call, I learned that most children take about six weeks of consistent play before they start using calming techniques outside of the app, which is actually a great time frame in which to see improvement.
During our trial, I was able to gain some insight into Hen’s inner emotional status, thanks to the Parent Hub. I love my girl. She’s smart and precocious (in a good way). She is very nurturing, especially towards younger children, and I believe that she has the qualities needed for a natural leader. However, she also has some self-confidence issues and anxiety. When she feels anxious, she displays it in some of the more typical behaviors for that, such as micromanaging her sisters and friends, and having extreme emotional reactions to seemingly small problems (Two weeks ago, we were an hour late to an outdoors group, because she didn’t want to wear dirty-but-clean-enough jeans to go hiking.) Emotional self-regulation is a life skill that is worth developing!
The cool thing about the Parent Hub is that I was able to put all of that information into Hen’s profile. When I speak to a counselor, they will already have an idea of what types of issues we’re dealing with, and, more importantly, my daughter’s *strong* traits as well. This is great, because society typically wants to focus on our deficits rather than our strengths. Mightier doesn’t do that.
During our first trial run, Hen enjoyed playing “Race the Sun” the most. Based on her outward reactions, I thought she was keeping her cool pretty well, so, I was very surprised when I logged into the Parent Hub and found that her heart rate rose out of the “blue” (calm) zone twenty-one times in 15 minutes! It also took her an average of eleven seconds to lower her heart rate with deep breathing. That’s not a bad recovery time by any means, but I’m hoping that the number of incidences will go down.
At first, Hen was discouraged when the game continued to get harder. However, when she realized that she can control the difficulty level of the game, she almost seemed to view avoiding Dr. Dragon as a challenge. At one point, she was trying to deep breath *quickly* thinking it would bring her heart rate down faster (Don’t worry. She didn’t pass out). I am a little bit concerned that in the future, she might let her frustration overcome her desire to do better and just give up. We’ll see how that goes.
Since I have a long history of severe anxiety and depression, I chose to fulfill our homeschool physical education requirement by doing yoga and meditation with the girls. Life is messy though and we don’t always get our family sessions done. Another benefit to Mightier is that I can fall back on it for that practice, and reinforce to Hen that she can use these calming tools outside of “PE.” I did see her making more of an effort to control herself as time progressed.
Parent Coaching for Mightier Biofeedback Games
I had my first coaching call yesterday from a counselor named Jessica. She was very helpful and answered the questions that I had. She also gave me some tips as to how we can encourage Hen to use Mightier’s calming techniques outside of the app itself. Even though I didn’t have a whole lot of questions about the app, yet, it was reassuring to hear that our current methods of parenting and dealing with emotional issues are effective and appropriate for her age and maturity. I was also happy to find out that Hen’s occasional outbursts are absolutely not unusual for children her age. I had been a little worried!
How much does Mightier Cost?
The Mightier program is available in two different membership levels- Starter and Foundation.
- The Starter membership has a $99 startup fee, and includes access to the gaming app for one child, the Mightier monitor, parental tools, and 30 minute counseling call.
- The Foundation program covers an unlimited number of children, and includes everything in the Starter program with the addition of unlimited 1-on-1 coaching, a customized plan for your family, and a dedicated tablet. The Foundation membership has a higher fee at $199, but you also get more help and will know for sure that the device you purchase will be compatible. Both memberships also have a continuing subscription fee of $19 a month.
To be honest, the startup fees feel a little steep for budget-minded families like ours, but that is mitigated by their offer of a free 30-day trial. You can try it out without having to pay upfront. The fact that the device is very portable also means that it can be used as a complement to your child’s other therapies in school or clinical environments, which raises its intrinsic value exponentially. Simply put, when compared to the cost of other, less convenient therapeutic options, Mightier definitely comes out ahead.
Raising kids is tough. Raising kids to become adults with emotional self-regulation skills is even tougher. Happily, we have tools out there to help us, and I think that bioresponsive games like the ones offered by Mightier will prove a useful one to many struggling families. Check it out for yourself and see what you think!
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