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Learning Emotion Regulation Skills via Video Gaming

In our work with challenging kids and their caregivers, our focus is on foster a problem-solving communication process that addresses day-to-day behavioral concerns, fosters adult-child helping relationships, and builds lagging cognitive skills, among other things.  In this process, the skills-training that happens tends to be indirect—kids learn to get better at, say, thinking flexibly by weighing their concerns, working to take the adults’ concerns into account, and then brainstorming effective solutions.

All that said, we’re still in favor of any available ways of training skills more directly.  An article in an issue of Harvard Magazine discusses an innovative new effort to teach kids emotion regulation skills through, of all things, video games.  It reports on a pilot study at Children’s Hospital Boston where kids play a specially created video game where their ability to perform effectively depends on their regulating their arousal level.  Kids learn various relaxation techniques that aid their game play.  You can look at the link to the article to understand more about how it works, but see if this particular portion of the article doesn’t ring a bell:

“This study is based on a long-standing hypothesis that children with severe anger problems have what amounts to a learning disability, triggered by flaws in portions of the prefrontal cortex responsible for emotion regulation.”

Sound familiar?  We hope so.  Clearly, this way of understanding behaviorally challenging kids is beginning to dislodge the conventional wisdom, and it would seem that it’s beginning to drive the development of more interventions to help such kids.  Great news as far as we’re concerned!

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