Dubai psychologists launch board game to build children’s emotional intelligence

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Two Dubai-based psychologists have launched Smart Heart, a board game that tackles mental health stigmas and encourages children to become better communicators and more emotionally intelligent, the creators told Al Arabiya English.

“In essence, Smart Heart aims to facilitate emotional expression, build emotional literacy, strengthen self-regulation, foster empathy and improve social skills in children”, said Smart Heart co-creator and clinical psychologist Dr. Saliha Afridi.

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The game’s other co-creator and counselling psychologist Christine Kritzas said that Smart Heart has helped parents maximize their time spent with their children.

“It provides parents with a tool to have more meaningful conversations with their kids and to learn about their experiences on the playground, in the classroom, on the sports field, on play dates and other contexts,” Kritzas added.

The game gives children a therapeutic space to confide in their parents. It lets them confront serious issues in a playful way and helps foster a safe environment to speak about their experiences on the playground, classroom or with friends, in the comfort of their own home.

How it works

The board game encompasses the needs of third culture kids (people who were raised within a culture other than their parents’) by addressing more culturally sensitive topics to include a wider array of religions, races and cultures.

“It helps normalize experiences such as divorce, grief, fears, friendship, and sibling rivalry which are universally common amongst children and families,” said Dr. Afridi.

The interactive game helps facilitate and foster mental and emotional health while encouraging children to think for themselves, create solutions to their problems and build their emotional vocabulary, she added.

The game, targeted for children from the ages of four to eleven, includes three categories they pass through as they move forward on the board: ‘Talk-Talk’ cards, ‘I feel… when’ cards and ‘Pic-Tales’ cards.

The ‘Talk-Talk’ cards helps the children answer questions which are anchored in emotional intelligence. Some of these questions include: “Why should you say ‘thank you’ when someone gives you something?” or “A girl is playing by herself at break time. How could you include her in your game?”

These questions help the parent(s) better understand their children’s way of thinking and gives the child a chance to think critically and enhance their problem-solving skills which could, in turn be applied in real-life, everyday scenarios, said Dr. Afridi.

The ‘I feel… when’ cards aim to enhance the child’s emotional vocabulary and to express themselves better. It gets them to talk about a time or a particular situation which caused them to feel a certain way that is represented on the card. An example of this would be “I feel embarrassed (scared, jealous, etc.) when…”.

The ‘Pic-Tales’ cards show pictures of certain scenarios which the child needs to describe or interpret in their own way. For instance, the card could have a picture of a child standing in between two adults who are arguing, and the child playing the game would interpret the card and tell their own story. This helps parents understand their child’s perspective on the world.

“I actually learned a lot about my husband and my kids, and even myself, through playing this game,” Dr. Afridi said.

“There is no right or wrong answer, only the experience as perceived by the person answering.”

The pandemic and mental health

“The [mental health] stigma still does very much exist and we need to understand that going to see a psychologist for instance can go alongside religion and it does not have to be this or that. But we are seeing more parents aware of the importance of their child’s mental health,” said Dr. Afridi.

The pandemic has undoubtedly taken its toll on peoples’ mental health, but according to Dr. Afridi, children in middle school, high school and university have been the worst-hit. “Younger children might feel differently, on the other hand, as they are usually always surrounded by their parents,” she added.

“Families and parents are struggling during this pandemic. Unfortunately, this has caused a lot of people to move towards technology to numb, distract, occupy and entertain themselves. It was for these reasons that we decided to update the game and really give them something that they can do together.”

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