We all know parenting is hard. I remember hearing that “it gets easier” and in the back of my mind asking myself When? WHEN DOES IT GET EASIER?
I now have a 5-year-old who’s really giving me a run for my money. My daughter is very strong-willed and fights with me about everything: not wanting to wear a jacket, eat her dinner, or leave the house and then not wanting to leave the place we go to once we’ve left the house.
It’s often the simplest task that starts the battles: I ask her to do something like eat a bagel or brush her teeth when we have somewhere to be. “I need 10 more minutes,” she tells me while doing her pre-cry whine and running up the stairs to her room like a monster’s chasing her instead of being asked to follow through on a simple task. “I need chill time,” she’ll counter when I insist she goes to the bathroom before bedtime.
Sometimes I know she’s cranky because she’s tired or hungry, but sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a reason for her tantrums at all. And as with many young children, she doesn’t always have the words to express why she feels the way she does. “I’m just mad!” she says between sobs. I try to remember that adults feel this way too. And after these episodes, she bombards me with affection: “I love you mommy! You’re the best mommy!”
I’d never considered a “behavioral intervention,” so I was skeptical about Happypillar, an app that purports to end temper tantrums. But I felt desperate and burnt out while trying to parent, work, and go to school. My anxiety was at an all-time high because I never knew which simple task would cause her to blow up or how long her negotiations would take. I knew that while her behaviors were not that bad or out of the ordinary, it wasn’t working for our household. So I downloaded Happypillar, and here’s what happened when we tried it for a month.
What is Happypillar?
Happypillar is an app parents can use to learn the skills of a Play Therapist. The app is part of a growing trend of parents seeking alternatives to traditional therapy and turning to technology to aid in child behavioral help.
While earlier generations read parenting books, millennial and Gen Z parents are using to parenting apps to help with everything from tantrums to potty training to gentle parenting techniques. Apps are usually lower cost, more accessible, and less of a time commitment than seeing a child psychologist.
Happypillar was founded in 2022 in Austin, Texas by Samantha Gardner and Mady Mantha after they noted the mounting parental stress in their own lives. They came together to create a tool that utilizes evidence-tested techniques, cutting-edge machine learning, and AI along with the expertise of clinical therapists.
“Parents receive personalized strategy and feedback provided via machine learning recommendation techniques and pre-vetted by our in-house therapist,” says Mantha.
It’s an app that doesn’t take much time out of your busy schedule but that allowed me to feel great about working on the behaviors and dynamics that always seemed to turn into one of us crying over something as simple as ice cream for breakfast.
How Does Happypillar Work?
Happypillar uses guided parent-child conversations as a tool to help children build confidence, attachment, and meditative skills, which in turn helps them manage their emotions when they get upset.
It’s recommended that you use the app every day for five minutes, practicing what they call Happy Time. The idea is that by doing Happy Time effectively and consistently, my daughter’s behavioral issues would decrease, she’d listen to me more, and I’d be less stressed. I figured I could at least try it for five minutes a day as often as I could.
I downloaded Happypillar and started the parent onboarding, which provides step-by-step guidance through simple techniques to practice with your child during Happy Time. You learn a new Happy Time technique, or “skill,” every day for the first week or so, and there are quizzes and practice areas to keep your skills sharp. There are NICE skills (Narrate, Imitate, Celebrate, and Echo) and Not Now skills (Avoid Questions, Avoid Commands, Avoid Criticism).
There are badges within the app that can technically be earned through parents’ usage of the app, but kids can also enjoy knowing they’re helping to earn virtual rewards. Badges include things like “You did it 10 days in a row!” and “You did 10 celebrations!” These badges represent achieving milestones in your treatment/progress designed by Happypillar’s therapist and reviewed by a clinical advisory board. The app is designed to encourage parents to utilize these evidence-based strategies to see actual progress.
What Happened After Using Happypillar for 30 Days
Every day for 30 days, I sat down and did Happy Time with my daughter. When we first started, she was so excited to press the big green start button before our session—then we’d set the phone aside and begin Happy Time. When the app “dinged,” we stopped our session and she was thrilled to have played with me, sometimes even eager to do more. Later, I’d review our session and see how well I stuck to the techniques. After a week, she was super excited to see our streak of checked boxes for every day we’d done Happy Time, and she loved gathering badges for the milestones we’d hit. Happypillar has a reminder feature, but it wasn’t long before we no longer needed; my daughter became my daily reminder, asking me every evening when we could start Happy Time.
I’ve been using Happypillar for a little more than a month now, and it’s changed our whole family dynamic—we have fewer fights, my daughter calms down more quickly when plans change or she needs to transition, and there are definitely fewer meltdowns, tantrums, and negotiations.
The other night I said “Time to get ready for bed,” and she responded, “OK, let’s go!” I was honestly shocked. But the best part? Because she’s fighting me less, I’m fighting BACK less. I don’t feel like I’m constantly yelling and saying “no” hundreds of times per day. After trying Happypillar, I can say it’s definitely worth the effort of taking five minutes out of your day and trying to hit a high score every time. It helps, and it also takes the pressure off trying to change behaviors by making the process fun and organic.