Q: How have you been using Mightier and what are the results you’ve seen?
Corrine: I’ve used Mightier one-on-one following a very prescribed approach and seen wonderful results in children who would completely shut down and be unable to function in class. The tablet is a tool that motivates children to come to my office and that they’ll willingly engage with. It’s made them more willing to accept my support. With the language and the process of Mightier, I’ve been able to teach them self-calming strategies that would unstick kids who were sometimes stuck for the whole day. For some children I’ve worked with, a difficult situation in the morning normally meant that the rest of the day was written off. Over time with the help of Mightier, I was able to get them back in class within an hour. After 15 minutes or so with the tablet, they would either be ready to try being in class again or be ready to talk to me about why they’d gotten upset. That was the best—if they were willing to talk about what happened—because we could try to fix things with the teacher or student they were struggling with and then they’d get back to class. And when those kids used Mightier in that context, they started to become less explosive because they were learning tools to calm themselves down.
We’ve started using Mightier in the classrooms as a tool that’s present to students within their own learning space. A child who’s just finished a brutal test and was really worked up about it, who would perhaps start getting fidgety, can go off to the quiet corner, spend 10 minutes on Mightier, and then come back to class in a way that doesn’t draw a ton of attention to them. I’ve also used it as a crisis management tool because there’s only one of me and there’s 350 kids in the school. So, when kids get sent to me, there’s a bunch of kids who need one-on-one support all at the same time. I put the kids who are waiting for me on the tablet so they can start to self-regulate before I look into what’s bothering them. Some kids, once they’ve been on Mightier for 10 minutes, just go back to the classroom.
Q: So, you started using Mightier as an individual targeted strategy and now it’s turning more into a classroom-based strategy?
Corrine: Exactly. This year we’re going to be trying Mightier in four different grade levels plus a closed classroom. These experiments force me to be more efficient in how I’m supporting teachers. They also challenge the teachers to be more actively involved in how the tool is being used in their classroom, which will be really interesting to see because I think we’re going to have a lot more creative ideas flowing through that experience.
Q: I know from our past conversations that you have stories about a couple kids who’ve really had great experiences with Mightier. Would you mind sharing some of those?
Corrine: The most powerful story I have is about a pair of twin boys. One of the boys chose “Mustang” as his game-tag. If somebody looked at Mustang funny, it could end his day. He was extremely sensitive. And when he shut down, he would scream and holler and just wail, really. He would do that non-stop for an hour on end. We could sometimes get him to play with Legos for a bit, but the moment we started to talk to him again, he would start wailing. He would lose his entire day, which was devastating because he was only at school two days a week.
We introduced Mightier to Mustang in grade 3 at times when he wasn’t in crisis and started talking to him about strategies he could use to control himself. We talked to him about how uncomfortable he felt when he was out of control. He started learning how to use his deep breathing while playing Mightier. Gradually, over the course of about 12 weeks, he went from being a kid who would be wailing for the better part of the day and completely removed from class to a kid who, when he got upset, would get up and leave the classroom without permission and mutter to himself on the way to my room, “I need to see Ms. Corinne, I can control myself. I need to see Ms. Corinne, I can control myself.” He would then spend 10-15 minutes on the tablet to calm himself down. We would talk about what he needed to feel in control and get back on track. And we would usually be able to get him back in the classroom within half an hour.
Mustang continued using Mightier during his grade 4 year and his outbursts completely disappeared. Now when he got upset, he would cry. What was once wailing became a quiet whimper. We worked with him on managing those feelings in a subtler way. He was soon able to ask to leave the classroom if he felt these big feelings coming over him. Sometimes he would use the tablet and not interact with me at all. When he was done, he would say, “OK, I’m feeling better now.” And off he went.
Eventually, Mustang’s attendance improved. In grade 5, he became one of our “Mighty Masters” who support other kids with the program. We started to see him building friendships. By the time he was in grade 6, he was at school more often than he wasn’t, which was huge for him. When he left our school to head off to grade 7, I wasn’t worried about him anymore. He was accepted by his peers, he didn’t have these huge outbursts, and he had developed the confidence to talk to people about what upset him when he was upset.
Mustang’s twin brother, whose game-tag was “Pieface,” really started to struggle in grade 4 and went into crisis. It was significant enough that he needed to be home-schooled for six weeks. The day he found out he was being asked to stay home for six weeks, he said to me, “Why didn’t you pick me? You only helped my brother. You didn’t give me Mightier.” And that’s when I called your company back and said, “OK, no more trials. I need to hook this kid up with the tablet.”
Having seen the transformation in his brother, Pieface was receptive to and thirsty for support. When he came back from what was basically a six-week suspension, he would take little breaks with me about 5-6 times a day. When I initially strapped him up to the heart rate monitor, I noticed there wasn’t much variation in his heart rate. He seemed to always be in the red and never able to decrease his heart rate. It made me wonder whether he was so hypervigilant that he was always overstimulated. As we talked and he started to get a little more comfortable, we started to see his heart rate vary some more. As he got better at the game, he took fewer breaks from class. He was never again suspended from school and never again got a detention. By the end of the year, he was with me twice a week and whenever there was a substitute. He still couldn’t handle new people, but he would check in with me somewhere around recess and at the end of the day to tell me how things were going.
Q: Do you really think this was all because of Mightier?
Corinne: Mightier played a powerful role. Pieface, the second twin, he specifically asked for Mightier. He said, “That’s the intervention I need.” I had been working with him the previous year, but his perception was, “You didn’t give me the magic bullet, you just babysat me.” When Mightier was introduced, he started calling me his life coach. I was really just there to hear what he had to share when he was finally willing to talk.
Q: What’s your gut instinct on how Mightier worked for these two kids?
Corinne: In the beginning, it was an engagement tool. I don’t think they felt the stigma that might be attached when a kid is pulled out of class. When they actually played the game, they recognized that it wasn’t going well because they were agitated and needed to calm themselves down. Learning how to do that in a non-threatening space almost tricked them into using those strategies when they weren’t aware they were using them. And as they grew older, they became more self-aware. In grade 6, Pieface would wander by my office to check in and say, “I know you worry about me. I’m doing great!” That was a complete transformation from grade 3, when he would squawk and beep and do everything he could to hijack the class.
Q: Can you describe the symptoms that each of them had before Mightier and how those symptoms are now? Our particular focus this month is on oppositional defiant-type symptoms. Mightier tries hard not to diagnose kids, but there’s a lot of interest right now in kids who have more of these acute oppositional behaviors. We have a lot of people asking us, “Do these get better with Mightier?”
Corinne: Mustang has an intellectual delay, but not a significant one. Before he came to us in grade 3, he was in a closed classroom setting [similar to sub-separate or special educational classrooms in the U.S.]. I think that had a lot to do with his lack of confidence and his ability to be easily set off. We would just lose him. His brother, on the other hand, was an average student with no intellectual diagnosis, but if you looked up oppositional defiant disorder in the dictionary, his picture would be right there. In Canada, though, we don’t tend to give those diagnoses to kids who aren’t teenagers yet. Instead we give them a behavior code, which is what Pieface had.
Pieface was always in trouble and always suspended at his other school board. When he came to us, he didn’t trust that any of us had his best interests at heart. That presented as opposition. He could get all of us to unravel. He didn’t get suspended for anything physical—it was the way he spoke to the principal and the way he was just hijacking every environment he was put in. Over time he was able to recognize it wasn’t working for him. It didn’t feel good for him to be so distrusting of adults. With a lot of hard work, he was able to form healthy attachments with us. And that’s huge because he didn’t come in wanting any attachment with any adult. He was thirsty for connection but he didn’t have the confidence to trust it.
Q: So many people feel that a screen prevents connection. I’m curious to see how you feel Mightier fits into this picture of helping Pieface get more connected.
Corinne: Let’s say you a barometer of feelings, with 1 being “completely in control” and 10 being “completely out of control.” If I go to intervene with a child who’s at anything from a 7 to a 10, there’s no point in talking to them at all at that point. They’re not present for any kind of verbal exchange. But if we’ve practiced using a strategy like Mightier, it’s something they want to do, that they enjoy doing. And that tool can in a short period of time bring them from a 9 or a 10 to a 4 or a 5. Now I have somebody who I can support. And the kids recognize that I helped them get there. Every child who’s worked on Mightier with me, even though they were using the tablet, recognized I was instrumental to giving them that strategy. When they’re using the tablet, I’ll often take a moment to sit with them to see what they’re doing and encourage them or talk to them afterwards.
Mustang, when he was in grade 5 and his teacher didn’t quite understand him, came to me really agitated one day. I put the armband on him and he started playing Mightier. His teacher came in wanting to talk about what had happened. Mustang had had a bit of time to calm down was able to articulate what had happened, but he asked to continue playing Mightier as a safety net or distraction as he was talking with the teacher. So, the teacher was on one side of him asking him what happened, he was playing on the tablet and answering her questions, and I was on the other side of him.
As Mustang talked about what happened, his heart rate went up. We could see it on the Gizmo. A few tears streamed down his face. I was able to say to the teacher in that moment, “You can see that it’s really hard for him to talk to you about what’s going on. He’s still really upset about it.” And the teacher said, “Yeah, I can see that.” I suggested we give him a minute to breathe and get back in control with the game. It was almost like I was coaching the teacher to recognize that you can’t talk to him when the tears are streaming down his face. All he needed right then was support. Once he felt supported, he could continue with the story. When he got agitated again, we would all take a pause. I think that might actually be my favorite moment from my time using Mightier. He was using the screen almost to protect himself, to detach himself a little bit from what happened, but we were still able to get to the other side.
Q: Just out of curiosity, how many kids at your school do you think have touched Mightier since you started using it?
Corinne: I’ve been using Mightier for four years now, and during that time I would say 50 or 60 kids have touched the program. In terms of intensive one-on-one interventions, somewhere between 15 and 20. But as a deescalation tool, as a means to create a connection, many more. The child doesn’t need necessarily to be familiar with it or coached for there to be a benefit.
Q: How many kids do you think have benefited from using it?
Corinne: Oh, I think every one. Whether it’s a one-time intervention or a series of events or an “I’m going to give you all of my time” type of intervention, I don’t think anybody loses anything from it. A couple years ago, two kids came in for an earned body break. One of them was familiar with Mightier and the other wasn’t. I asked them what they wanted to do, and the kid who knew Mightier said, “Oh! Can I show you [the other kid] this super cool tool?” Kids were referring each other to Mightier. Watching them explain how the game works and seeing them teach each other about how to manage stress and how to deescalate and take those deep breaths—it was so cute! The friendship skills! They were building friendship skills in that moment. And that’s something I wouldn’t have anticipated from the tool.
Q: Have you had any challenges using Mightier?
Corinne: I think my challenge is figuring out how I can get it in the hands of more people with less me. To some degree, that means growing the program and getting to know it. But some of that is my own inability to let go at times. I’ve seen so much progress with so many of these kids that I want to see what’s going on whenever kids are using Mightier. But I need to remember that there are a lot of kids in this school, and I need to let the other adults in the building have their own experiences through Mightier with these kids.
Q: If you were talking to a therapist or clinician or mental health worker who was wondering if they should get Mightier for their clinic or school, what would you say?
Corinne: I would tell them that it’s okay to have a structured approach, but to not be afraid to get creative with it. When I started with Mightier, I was very structured and measured. I saw huge gains with that approach, but if I only stuck with that I wouldn’t have recognized Mightier as a one-time de-escalation tool. It was important for me to discover that if I saw a child in distress and recognized that they weren’t ready to talk to someone but were calm enough that they weren’t going to pitch the equipment across the room, they would initially see Mightier as a distraction or escape. They wouldn’t think I was guiding them through a self-calming process. They would think, “I don’t want to be in class, so I’m going to play this game.” And ten minutes later you’re looking at a completely different child.
The other thing I would say is that the Mightier team means it when they say to “call or reach out anytime.” It’s an authentic offer. There were times when I got a little stuck but didn’t want to bother anybody. My advice for a new user is that there’s lots of different ways you can use this tool but the only way you’re going to figure that out is with time and support.
Q: One thing you’ve mentioned and I’ve heard parents talk about is how to prevent kids from thinking they’re getting away with something by using Mightier. How did you shift the culture in your school to be okay with handing a fun game to a kid in crisis and not have them think you’re rewarding them for that behavior?
Corinne: It’s important not to confuse a child getting what they want with getting what they need. If we, the adults, build structure around how Mightier is to be used and we encourage the child to use their strategies when things get challenging, then we are subtly staying in the “alpha” position. One of the ways I manage this is by setting up the usage with a 10-15-minute maximum. If the child needs more than that because they came to me extremely upset, I make a point of giving them extra time before the timer goes off. The child sees me honoring their need and calling the shots at the same time. Also, if the child and I have practiced what will happen when they lose control, the routine has already been established, which makes it easier for the child to respect the pre-determined limits.
Q: Any parting words for professionals looking to use Mightier?
Corinne: Just try it. Go with it and give it an honest shot. Using it two or three times and drawing a conclusion, that’s not giving it a fair shake. Those kids with really significant struggles with behavior and emotional regulation, you’re not going to see results in a week. Or a month for that matter. But you will see results if you guide them through the process with dignity and respect. It’s not the silver bullet to every child’s problem, but it’s a very powerful tool for the child who’s willing to use it. And most of them are.