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Teaching children about their emotions has always been a touchy subject. In school, we were taught the basics — happy, sad, coping, moping, etc. — but exploring emotions any deeper than that was taboo. This week, we have an app that takes a holistic approach in helping kids become more mindful of their feelings.
Mindful Powers — available on iOS — aims to help children from early and middle childhood develop a healthy relationship with stress. Whether it’s stress or anxiety, the educational app includes a variety of different exercises that explain why you’re feeling this way and how to combat it.
Designed specifically to mix into a child’s routine, the app provides you with 10 interactive voice-guided sessions. It is free to download, and you’ll get the first three sessions for free. But after that, you’ll have to pay $5 to unlock the next seven — which includes over an hour of audio content.
When you first download the app, you’re welcomed to your “mindful play space” and a gem that turns into a plant after tapping it. You’re then greeted by a character called a “Flibbertigibbet,” and it’s your job to train it. It feels the same emotions as humans do, and even becomes a shy for a few seconds after meeting it.
While in the play space, you have the freedom of tapping on the Flibbertigibbet and watching it float around through what looks like a mix between space and the ocean. Along the way, you’ll also meet other Flibbertigibbets that float around the plant along with your own. You can tap on and interact with each one.
Once you reach the bottom of the plant, you can either choose between Mindful Play or Focus Time. In Mindful Play, you get to experience the voice-guided sessions. Each story works as a stand-alone session, so the child can always go back to one and listen to it as often as they’d like. I also followed the recommendation to use headphones, and it definitely made the experience even more immersive.
As a child, I was never exposed to practicing mindfulness because back then, adults most likely thought it was too complicated a subject. I was always encouraged to express my emotions and talk through my feelings when I was sad or mad, but stress and anxiety were never thrown around. I was particularly interested in seeing how this app would address the topics that once seemed tough to explain.
I started with the first session, titled “What is mindfulness?” and was brought to a disgruntled Flibbertigibbet. The normally smooth looking creature now had spikes and was grumpy. It was up to me to help him feel better, by smoothing out the spikes and calming him down.
Mindful Powers uses sensory-based repetitive interaction to trigger the body through its rest and digest response. This ultimately helps the little guys relax and regain focus. As you begin to smooth out your Flibbertigibbet, you can feel each bump going away, and can see it becoming happier as it changes back to its lighter color.
But when you pet the Flibbertigibbet, it has to be in a gentle manner. I was so heavily focused on smoothing out the entire surface quickly — as if I was on a timer in a video game — that I didn’t even realize how roughly I was tapping on the screen. With Flibbertigibbet’s guidance, I became aware of what I was doing and was able to control how I calm I was through the session. This one exercise is also the one you’ll always start out with before each session, to balance the mind and calm you down.
This definitely would’ve been useful when I was younger and showed signs of stress by coloring way too hard with crayons. In my current state of adulthood, I’ve transferred that habit into brushing my teeth too hard, or grinding my teeth at night and, well, you get the picture. Even though the app is meant for children, it’s a great introduction into meditation and calming mechanisms at a young age. Children can learn to incorporate it into adulthood without feeling ambushed by all of the overwhelming and unfamiliar feelings of stress and anxiety.
The next session focused on how to react during stressful situations. The narrator explained that there’s a part of our brain that freaks out and triggers a response to fight, run away, or even feel paralyzed. It also mentioned that sometimes our brains can’t tell the difference between real danger and not-real danger, which can cause us to overreact. Ultimately, the session teaches you to exercise the habit of responding more calmly to situations that aren’t dangerous. Practicing mindfulness in these situations can help to reduce irritability and anger when the situation doesn’t call for it.
After the “Train your brain!” session, I was brought to “Big breaths” which focused on being in tune with your breathing and the moment. It’s described as the first step towards being able to master mindfulness — and mirrored my experience practicing meditation as an adult very closely. The narrator describes a picturesque scene throughout the session to help center your mind and focus on your breathing. This one was a bit longer than the prior sessions, but it should help children to understand and practice how to keep their minds from wandering or becoming too distracted.
Meanwhile, the Focus Time section is far more simple. It allows you to set a time for however long you’d like, and places your Flibbertigibbet on the screen to keep you focused. Each time you touch it, it will react with a sad or annoyed face and even sometimes words of encouragement to stay focused. Otherwise, it will sit there contently while the timer counts down to the end.
The app has an extremely easy-to-use interface and it’s hard not to eventually grow attached to your Flibbertigibbet. The bright graphics and calming background noise will keep children wanting to continue to the sessions. The animations also make it fun and entertaining, so they’ll completely forget it’s an educational, app and that they’re learning as they play.
Overall, Mindful Powers definitely sheds light upon the idea that children should learn how to be in touch with their emotions from a young age. The app gives them the chance to learn how to balance their thoughts and feelings through a calm and rational way. But in the beginning, it might take some getting used to — which could require help from parents leading the way and participating in the process alongside them. This way, it will make for a great bonding experience as well.