Emotions are complicated. How do you know that you’re feeling excited and not nervous, for example? Or how do you distinguish anger from fear? The answer is experience. As adults we have experience of a broad range of emotions; we understand how to distinguish them from each other and how to describe them to ourselves and to others. For a child this can be more difficult. If a child hasn’t experienced anxiety before how can we expect them to recognise the complex interaction of psychological and physical symptoms that make up this emotion? On top of that, even if they can recognise the symptoms they may not know how to describe them. For this reason, children often experience and report emotions as physical experiences. A child who is feeling anxious, stressed or tense for example, may report a pain in their tummy, headache or limbs because this is the most accurate way they can describe what they are feeling.
How can biofeedback help? Biofeedback is, very simply, a way to get feedback on the biological processes in your body (see link to blog on biofeedback here). When we are stressed our bodies kick off a complex chain of events that results in many of the symptoms that you recognise as stress – a pounding heart, sweaty palms and tense muscles – as well as many hidden symptoms that you won’t necessarily feel or notice. Biosensors, like the Pip and many others, measure these symptoms of stress and, more importantly, teach you how to control them. For children this is particularly useful because biofeedback gives a child a way to see, on a screen, what is happening in their body. It therefore gives them the ability to recognise the emotion and the language to describe what they are feeling. Even more importantly, if you can teach a child to control symptoms of stress using biofeedback you give them the power to change how they are feeling. This sense of control is hugely important in helping children, and indeed people of all ages, to combat difficult emotions.
An added advantage of biofeedback for children is that it can easily be integrated into games that make learning fun. This is something that is becoming increasingly popular with technological advances to biosensors and mobile technology that allow biofeedback to become a part of daily life. To date, biofeedback has been used to help children deal with low mood, anxiety and chronic pain [1-4]. A recent study using the Pip in a school setting found that both teachers and children reported improvements in children’s ability to manage stress after using the Pip for four weeks .
- Palermo, T.M., et al., Randomized controlled trials of psychological therapies for management of chronic pain in children and adolescents: an updated meta-analytic review. PAIN®, 2010. 148(3): p. 387-397.
- Yahav, R. and M. Cohen, Evaluation of a cognitive-behavioral intervention for adolescents. International Journal of Stress Management, 2008. 15(2): p. 173.
- Wenck, L.S., P.W. Leu, and R.C. D’Amato, Evaluating the efficacy of a biofeedback intervention to reduce children’s anxiety. Journal of clinical psychology, 1996. 52(4): p. 469-473.
- Knox, M., et al., Game-based biofeedback for paediatric anxiety and depression. Mental health in family medicine, 2011. 8(3): p. 195.
- Nall, C., and Fish, M., Stress Suspension: A Biofeedback Stress Management Intervention for At-Risk Youth. Poster presented to the Engagement and Scholarship Consortium Meeting 2016. Nebraska, 11-12th