What does it take for a kid to build the mental toughness they need in order to fight a long-term illness?
There are a cool 4 million articles returned if you do a Google search for how to build mental toughness. Sorting through them and digesting all the advice and hacks as a full-grown adult is overwhelming. Trying to condense, explain and teach these hacks to a child fighting a long-term illness might be next to impossible.
How is it then, without all these articles and resources, that kids can show impressive strength and unwavering positivity when facing a painful and uncertain future? When given a testing regime or diagnosis that requires them to continually break outside of their comfort zone and do things they don’t want to do, these kiddos just do it.
They have support.
Children who receive a medical diagnosis that requires frequent treatment and care, typically have one thing in common. As soon as they get the diagnosis, they have a team of medical professionals who will go to bat for whatever that child needs. We’ve seen it time and time again; a small army of professionals take that child in and aim to do whatever they can to make him/her feel comfortable and safe.
Their options are limited.
There is a scene in a TV show I watched recently that shows a cowboy placing his hat momentarily on his bunk. Apparently, one of the most grievous cowboy faux pas you can commit is placing your cowboy hat on a bed. At best, putting a hat on a bed is said to invite bad luck; at worst, it’s a premonition of injury or death. Anyway, this relatively new cowboy places his hat on his bed and is immediately chastised by the other cowboys in the bunkhouse. He proceeds to walk around for days nervous that his faux pas is going to cause him extreme bad luck. At the end of the show, one of the most respected and revered cowboys in the group tosses his hat onto his bunk. The same cast of cowboys yells at him to which he responds
“I don’t believe in that crap!”
Then the cameras pan to the new cowboy who shakes his head incredulously and mutters, “I didn’t know that was an option!”
Kids are the new cowboy.
Kids who receive a diagnosis that requires long term treatment are not often given the choice of how they want to proceed. Those decisions are typically made for them, in the best interest of their future and the kiddo does their best to meet the expectations set forth in the treatment protocol. The kids don’t know, and maybe don’t have, an option. They are a new cowboy still learning the ropes around the ranch.
Teach them the ropes; appropriately.
While we don’t want to live in a world where we are constantly preparing our kids to fight for their lives, we do want to build up children’s mental fortitude so they can tackle challenges and endure less than great situations with the hope and expectation for a brighter future. So how can we do that without turning into drill sergeants constantly screaming the worst-case scenario playbook at them?
Let them play.
Assuming our initial assessment is correct, that these kiddos have a great backbone of support, encouraging appropriate gaming can be just what they need to develop tenacity, resolve and a greater sense of humor when faced with a medical diagnosis.
Playing video games allows the patient to:
- Connect with friends and family members. A 2017 Harvard Medical School study found that loneliness can be more detrimental to health than smoking. A diagnosis that forces a child to stay indoors or in a hospital bed can lead to a feeling of disconnection and loneliness. Being able to connect virtually and through video game play will help a child feel more in-tune with what is happening outside of their room and give them a sense of normalcy.
- Build the skills needed to make better decisions. Research also shows that action video game experts have more grey matter and enhanced functional connectivity in the insula subregions of their brains. For us not in the medical field, the insula is a small portion of the cerebral cortex, responsible for self and present moment awareness. Increase in gray matter in the insula of the brain facilitates better decision-making.
- Serve as a pain management tool. Active distraction using a gaming device has been studied and has emerged as an effective nonpharmaceutical technique for pain control.
- Set and achieve goals. Though a patient may not be able to actually become a ninja or play in the Superbowl, through gaming, they can set and achieve small goals on a regular basis. The nice thing about these goals, is that failure isn’t forever. Lose the big game in Madden? You won’t lose your contract or get dropped from a sponsor, just hit reset and try again. Were you unable to save your crew from outer space in Astro Bot? Try again next time. Though the failures may be frustrating, the ability to try and try again with little to no consequences increases a patient’s resolve and encourages a mindset that can deal with unexpected setbacks.
Gaming can be an important part of recovery for a child. When faced with an uncertain and potentially scary future, gaming can be a place to retreat to and release some worries while building critical skills and rewarding relationships.
Have you seen a positive impact in your child because of video games? Let us know about it in the comments below.
Do you want to provide the tenacity-building benefits of video games to kids in your life? We can help. Call or email today: (425) 582-3173, CustomerCare@FullyLoadedElectronics.com.