Families find an unlikely remedy for pandemic stress


Posted: October 30, 2020 | Word Count: 709

There’s no doubt these are stressful times. Due to the pandemic, everyone's lives have been turned upside down. This is especially true for families coping with altered routines at school, learning from home or both. Children are stressed about their routines, and parents are anxious, too.

Emily Hanley, mother of 6-year-old Cameron, said this year became increasingly challenging for her family. “Bedtimes got later, meals were refused, and every little choice became a battle. We all put up a strong front for those first six months, until getting back into a school routine threw us off,” she said.

How children learn to cope

Research has shown that children often cope with stress by projecting their feelings and worries onto toys, stuffed animals and dolls. The Committee for Children, a global nonprofit leader in social-emotional learning, spent more than three years studying this concept, and then teamed up with Sproutel, a play-focused design studio best known for toys like Jerry the Bear for children with type 1 diabetes and My Special Aflac Duck for children with cancer, to bring their research to life. The result of their collaboration? Purrble — an interactive toy designed to help children learn to self-soothe during stressful times.

“When kids respond to stress with emotional outbursts, it can be hard on the whole family,” said Kate Gallo, product manager for Committee for Children's Innovation Lab. “Purrble isn't about getting rid of big feelings, but empowering kids to understand they’re in the driver's seat when big feelings happen. Research has proven children can learn to calm themselves by helping someone else calm down.”

After trying everything from essential oils to meditation to calm her son, Hanley ordered a Purrble. “It hasn’t even been a full 24 hours, and my son is happily giving him a tour of our house and introducing him to his other stuffed animals. His job is to keep his Purrble calm and happy. I can already sense he is exuding calm to keep his little furry friend calm.”

Enter: An unlikely remedy

When Purrble is first turned on or is startled (for example by being turned upside down), their heart beats quickly, inviting kids to calm them down. High-tech sensors allow Purrble to respond to touch and fidgeting, so when kids pet their companion, Purrble’s vibrational heartbeat slows into a gentle purr.

“As kids explore the toy, they learn to care for Purrble, interpreting the purrs, heartbeats and reactions,” said Aaron Horowitz, co-founder and CEO of Sproutel. “The discovery process helps kids to not only develop these self-calming skills but to take charge of how they learn.”

According to research, when taught at a young age, these coping and social skills can lead to better long-term emotional, social and academic outcomes into adulthood, not to mention the benefits of in-the-moment self-soothing.

“I could sense Cameron’s anxiety creeping in,” said Hanley, remembering the early months of the pandemic. “And how could it not?” However, for the Hanleys, Purrble made all the difference.

And the Hanleys are not alone. In a preliminary study conducted with real families earlier this year, parents found that when their child was heading for a meltdown or just having a bad day, Purrble could help transform tantrums into moments of calm. In fact, of the 73% of these parents who reported their child was experiencing challenges with emotions, concentration and behavior during the pandemic, 91% of these said Purrble played a role in improving these struggles.

“With the coronavirus, being home is extra challenging for everybody,” said mom Stephanie Blanchard, whose family participated in the trial. “It’s hard for kids to understand what’s going on. When my 6-year-old, Sophie, was stressed or having a tantrum, I would say, ‘Hey, go get Purrble. Can you calm Purrble down?’”

A companion for all ages

From parents and children to 20-somethings and grandparents, people of all ages are discovering the calming effect of Purrble — grandparents who ordered one for their grandchild and ended up loving Purrble so much they ordered another for themselves, young adults grappling with anxiety and even teachers using Purrble as a classroom management tool.

In a year when everyone — kids and adults alike — is having a challenging time finding calm, Purrble is lending a paw.

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