Behavior change is hard. Even for adults, being able to recognize how we're feeling, know what to do in those intense moments of anger or anxiety, and actually act in a way that is appropriate and effective can be incredibly challenging. How often are we left red-faced, fuming, and regretting what we did or didn't say after an unfair interaction? How often do we feel lost and paralyzed when we're afraid? These sorts of feelings and responses are typical. They are also the reason why, even though we might know how we are supposed to act, or that taking deep breaths or a walk can help us feel calmer and think more clearly, it is incredibly hard to remember to do so in the moment.
This is why being able to identify emotions and know how to calm down is important, but isn't everything. There will still be those moments when our instincts take over and we cannot think our way into feeling better. We so often hear this phrase from our families who are just beginning to use Mightier: "He knows what to do. He's learned about deep breathing in counseling. He just can't do it when he actually needs to."
Mightier is going to take a different approach in helping your child on the path toward improved emotional regulation. While on the surface it might look like your child is merely building awareness around their heart rate and learning ways to cool down, there is something very important going on at a deeper level. Through play and practice, and lots of repetition, your child is slowly retraining their brain and body to respond in a new way to stressors. They are developing automaticity - the body's ability to automatically return to a state of calm without even having to think about it.
Early Play - Setting the Stage for Automaticity
Since Mightier is so much about practice, it's important that kids enjoy playing and are able to play regularly. To help with this, the first few weeks are going to be primarily about having fun, making observations, and experimenting with heart rate control. Your child is figuring out how to play the games, learning about their heart rate, trying out new techniques to raise and lower their heart rate, and discovering that this is something within their power. They are taking ownership over this physiological response, and are having fun in the process.
Academic research indicates that it takes at least 3 months for the brain to form the neural pathways that allow a new behavior to become a habit. In these early weeks of play, your child is just beginning to engage in new cool down behaviors that will, with enough practice, become habitual.
Signs of Progress
At this point, your child is building awareness and learning how Mightier works. It is unlikely that they will be able to intentionally translate cool down strategies into real life, or that you will see much change in their behaviors or emotional response to stressors outside of game play. This is expected. Developing a new skill takes time and practice. As long as your child is playing at least 45 minutes a week, they're on the path toward developing automaticity. Here are in-game signs of their progress that show they're learning and on the right track:
- They understand that the gizmo reflects their heart rate rising and lowering
- They're experimenting with different ways to get their heart rate up and down (even if they don’t get it right at first)
- They're practicing cool downs and collecting lavalings by bringing their heart rate down from their red zone
We've found that the families who feel most successful with Mightier are those who incorporate it into their family's life in a way that feels appropriate for them. Here are some things to think about in helping your child be as successful as possible with Mightier.
- Supporting play - This early stage of play should be fun, and many children need to feel ownership over this part of the process. Be curious about your child is doing during play, and show your excitement for their accomplishments if they will let you. Have them teach you how Mightier works and let them be the expert. Overall, don’t worry too much. Their brain, body, and self-esteem need this part of the process.
- Creating space and routine - We recommend that kids play Mightier for at least 45 minutes a week. This is sometimes easier said than done, so here are a few strategies other families have found helpful in making sure there's time for Mightier each week:
- Build Mightier into a routine so it's easy to remember
- Separate Mightier time from other screen time
- Get creative with where your child plays and bring it in the car
- Keep everything charged and out in the open so it's ready for use whenever they're ready
Contact our Program Specialists if you notice that your child is frustrated while playing, feels that playing is too difficult, or if you would like to talk through how Mightier works. Every child and every family is different, and there is not a "one size fits all" approach to learning. Our clinically trained team is happy to partner with you in figuring out how to help your family get the most out of Mightier.