Caleb is a 7-year-old who lives in the Midwest U.S. with his mother, father, and older brother. Caleb’s mother Annie describes him as creative, friendly, outgoing, curious, and caring. When he was 6 years old, Caleb’s parents decided to get Mightier to help him with anger, impulsive behavior, and outbursts that were causing significant stress for Caleb and his family.
Caleb’s challenges with impulsivity are likely related to ADHD, for which he received a diagnosis in his early school years. Though many children with ADHD experience emotional difficulties in addition to attentional difficulties and impulsivity, Caleb’s emotional regulation challenges can be traced back to infancy. During birth, Caleb sustained brain injuries that medical providers suspected might cause difficulties with executive function and the ability of the brain to buffer reactions to emotions. When Caleb was a preschooler, his family began to notice that he seemed to experience anger more intensely than other children his age. He would occasionally become aggressive with his parents or his older brother, hitting or biting them. One day, when Caleb’s parents saw him uncharacteristically raging against a family dog that he adores, they knew that something was wrong. They scheduled a neuropsychological evaluation and started therapy.
Annie found that therapy helped Caleb develop coping strategies. The family also developed strategies to help him stop and think when he was agitated, which allowed him to better manage aggressive impulses. But Caleb still had anger issues, sometimes hitting walls or throwing things when he was feeling particularly angry or frustrated. Though he felt remorse after angry episodes, and despite years of therapy, Caleb was still having trouble managing anger and frustration.
When he was 6 years old, Caleb’s therapist told his parents about Mightier and asked them to check it out. Annie thought Mightier looked interesting, especially because Caleb loves video games. They decided to try Mightier for a month. Annie and Caleb’s dad and older brother also played, making Mightier an activity for the entire family.
“Mommy it’s lavalings, I have to breathe to get my heart rate down so I can be calm and play.”
Annie says that after starting Mightier, almost instantly she and Caleb’s father felt that Caleb’s anger episodes were buffered. “He really did try to take steps to manage his anger.” She noticed that Caleb very quickly became aware of his heart rate. She would hear him deep breathing and ask Caleb what he was doing. “Mommy it’s lavalings, I have to breathe to get my heart rate down so I can be calm and play.”
Caleb had learned deep breathing as a calming technique during years of therapy. After he started playing Mightier, Annie noticed him understanding deep breathing better and using it more effectively. “We would ask about deep breathing, and he could talk about it with us.” Annie also noticed Caleb experimenting with raising and lowering his heart rate while he played Mightier, using jumping jacks to bring his heart rate up, and using Mightier skills like crossing the midline and tracing / visualization to bring his heart rate down. For Annie, moments when Caleb intentionally used Mightier skills felt like small victories, and signs that Mightier was really working.
Annie feels confident that Mightier is helping Caleb learn about his feelings. She has seen his Mightier skills carry over into real life situations. If it seems like Caleb is becoming frustrated or angry, he can express that he is angry, and his family can say, “Caleb it looks like lavalings — maybe you should take some deep breaths.” They find that he is much more receptive to these kinds of prompts and conversations with family and teachers than he was before Mightier. Caleb is also using his Mightier skills to help others. One day when Annie was stressed because she was running late, he said, “Mommy, you need to calm down. You can take deep breaths.”
Annie has enjoyed seeing Caleb’s self-confidence grow as playing Mightier has helped him feel more in control of himself. He understands how his body works, and he knows what it feels like when he is about to have an anger episode. “He’s got tools, and HE can think to use the tools now. It’s HIS idea, not ours.” Between the independent, intentional self-calming tools that Caleb uses when he is having an anger episode and the support that his family provides to help him use his calming skills, episodes are less frequent and less intense. His old reactions to family trying to help him calm down when he was angry — “DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!!” have shifted to “I’M GOING TO DO DEEP BREATHING!!!” Then he heads off to his bedroom and does just that.
Mightier has also helped Caleb to focus on preferred activities in situations that were previously challenging. For example, he used to get into “hot water” for naughtiness on the bus ride home from school. Especially on the school bus, the kind of filtering and impulsivity challenges that many kids with ADHD face made it hard for him to stay out of trouble. This year his parents have allowed Caleb to play Mightier on the school bus home, which is a win-win — it helps them fit Mightier into his schedule, and it helps him focus on a positive activity during the ride. It also has helped him see that he can use preferred activities — Mightier or otherwise — to focus away from things that might have negative consequences. On a couple recent mornings, when Caleb’s mom gave him Mightier for the bus ride home, he said, “Mommy, I don’t need it today. I can read a book.” As Caleb continues to successfully use emotion management strategies and build his awareness and self-confidence, the world is opening up to him, giving him new options to consider and more moments of happiness and peace.