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Professor Developing App To Teach Kids Healthy Stress Management

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
Duquesne University professor John Pollock displays apps that he helped create in the past with National Institutes of Health funding.

Children aren’t always taught how to cope with stress, and their experience can look very different from what adults find stressful.

“Yet to a child, it’s just as important as the big things [adults] deal with on a day-to-day basis,” said John Pollock, a biology professor at Duquesne University and co-director of the Chronic Pain Consortium, a research lab located at the university and the Director of the Partnership in Education.

Pollock is partnering with a team of psychologists and pediatricians to develop an app for tablets and smart phones that will demonstrate healthy coping mechanisms for children before they reach their teen years.

“What I want to do is help kids recognize that there are ways to start managing their stress at their level and therefore develop skills to use later in life,” Pollock said.

He was awarded a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health in early August to create the app.

Research for the app will include surveys and focus groups with children to find out what stresses they face, and what helps them cope.

The app will lead users through choose-your-own-adventure type stories that children can relate to.

For example, if the character becomes angry the user will find that the best way to deal with that emotion is deep breathing and mindfulness practice.

Pollock also hopes the app will help to de-stigmatize mental health care.

“So one of the tools we want to instill in these stories is how to take care of the everyday things, but then also recognize when it is a big issue to not be scared or embarrassed, to ask for real help,” he said.

Pollock plans to partner with teachers to use the app in their classrooms.

“The stories will capture both the challenge and things you can do to meet the challenge. But also talk about the underlying biology of the brain. Why does the brain get stressed? Why do we feel pain?" he said. 

His hope, he says, is that when children understand fundamental functions of their body, they will have better ways to manage their stress.

WESA receives funding from Duquesne University.