AMI: a smart cool down companion for children

Helping Kids Learn Their Emotions and Externalize Feelings

Families encounter many challenges and stressors in this busy day and age. Our research has demonstrated a lack of assistive technologies for improved mutual communication during conflict-resolution, as well as a scarcity of tools that encourage reflection, communication and relationship growth as a part of conflict-resolution. We are specifically interested in the identification of optimal intervention points in conflict between parents and school-aged children in family home. We have also concentrated on discovering the types of conflict parents and children face, common time frames in which these conflicts arise, and methods utilized to manage them, within families.

Capstone Project
22 weeks

My Roles
UX Research
Visual Representation
Design Ideation

Margaret Tung
Emily Dobbins
Chelsea Brun

Our research journey began with a common interest in a physical space, but quickly shifted to an examination of relationships in the home. We learned about a range of topics but what really stood out as a primary concern for parents was conflict. We asked ourselves:

“How might we encourage a more productive cool down period for young children after conflicts?”

Research Methods

Our research began with the recruitment of Subject Matter Experts (SME) and a series of 7 SME interviews. We chose to utilize four additional research methods to capture various types of data throughout our process. These methods were designed to be conducted with parents. We constructed and delivered a 10 question Online Survey, a Day in the Life Journal, an Experience Simulation exercise and a Parent Interview. We collected data from 125 Online Surveys, 7 Day in the Life Journals, 11 Experience Simulation exercises, and 12 interviews from a total of 137 participants.
We did two rounds of data synthesis after capturing all of the individual data points from both our expert interviews as well as from each of our 12 parent interview sessions we shared the data as a group. The individual data points were written on yellow stickies and grouped with the appropriate participant or expert.

What is Cool Down?

A cool down is a period of physical separation after the peak of a conflict where each person takes time to calm down and collect their thoughts. It usually includes the following three steps:

Pain Points: current problems in cool-down period

While a cool down is very productive for adults. Children are often confused about why they were isolated, and sometimes become more frustrated and upset

Conflict Zone Diagram

The Conflict Zone Diagram is a tool we use to help map the path of a conflict in a visual, semiquantifiable way. The x-axis of the diagram is the passage of time, and the y-axis is the intensity level between parent and child. The line tracks the path of the conflict itself. We’ve also marked a point on the diagram where discussion crosses from rational to irrational.
Finally, the division of time is shaded with red, yellow, and green to mark the points when a conflict shifts from one zone to the next. The width of these zones on the diagram can vary, as well as the presence of all of them (sometimes a conflict doesn’t follow a clean path of green to yellow to red to yellow to green). Each zone can be defined as follows:
Pre-Conflict (green zone): The child is starting to misbehave, but the intensity level is still very low. Parents may issue a brief warning.
Escalation (yellow zone): The child does not heed the parent’s warning and continues to misbehave. Parent continues to warn and the intensity level begins to rise.
Conflict Peak (red zone): The parent loses their temper and issues very strong language and ultimatums to stop the child’s behavior. Sometimes an immediate punishment is issued, such as a time-out or a spank. The intensity level peaks here, often in the midst of yelling or punishment.
De-Escalation (yellow zone): If a separation occurs in the red zone, this is when the child and the parent re-unite. The intensity level may still be high, but the conflict usually dips back into the area of rational thinking and conversation. This is often the zone where apologies are issued.
Post-Conflict (green zone): Parent and child back to normal emotional state. The conflict is resolved, apologies have been made, and the intensity level is back down to a normal state.

Design Principles

Research Phase Conclusion

We have discussed several stages in the conflict-resolution process; rather than attempt to intervene at points of heightened tension, we hope to facilitate better methods of communication and reflection after a cool down period. We know that constructive communication is crucial to successful conflict management as well as in the prevention of future conflict within family relationships. It has also become apparent that children, even at a young age, often surprise parents in their comprehension and level of emotional maturity when given clear explanations about expectations or past events. By treating these challenging times as moments for teaching, children can develop important skills of empathy, accountability and forgiveness that can strengthen the emotional intelligence of the family.
Parents hold a deep sense of responsibility when it comes to family matters and need to maintain their parental self-efficacy; in order to design a successful solution that could be adopted into this delicate eco-system we will acknowledge this as a top priority moving forward.
Additionally, through our parent interviews as well as formal research we have found that technological devices are capable of facilitating connection and bonding within families. We also realize however, that just as technology can be helpful, it can also lose its benefit when overused. As we consider our next steps in our process, we intend to avoid the creation of addictive technology that could further interfere with quality family time.

System Diagram

Ami is designed for children 3-6 years so we wanted to create a physical form that would feel approachable comforting, and relatable. We chose to use a voice user interface so we could engage young verbal children who may not have reading or writing skills. Also many parents limit screen time for their children and we wanted to respect these current practices by not encouraging more.

Parent App

We designed a parent app for parent to activate the cool dowm mode and track te process. From our parent interviews, we’ve learned that every family has their own way of dealing with conflicts and every child has their own way to express emotions. With that in mind, we’ve designed Ami to be customizable so that prompts and activities can be tailored to individual needs and preferences. Parents know what’s best for their children, so they can customize the experience via the mobile app.

The Device

Voice User Interface

Ami is designed for children 3-6 years so we wanted to create a physical form that would feel approachable comforting, and relatable. We chose to use a voice user interface so we could engage young verbal children who may not have reading or writing skills. Also many parents limit screen time for their children and we wanted to respect these current practices by not encouraging more.

Ami is designed to help by focusing 3 primary goals:

At high level, once the child delivers an input, Ami will detect keywords in the sentences and select an activity suitable at the moment.

There are various way that Ami communicate the same content to the child in order to ensure that each conversation feels unique. Ami learns the way each child speaks and adapts the language to make the child more comfortable.

Once a keyword has been detected, Ami will map it to a suitable activity or question for the child. In this case, the child tells Ami that she’s mad. The keyword, “Mad”, is mapped to two possible actionable items: Either going through a guided calming activity or a guided conversation. Ami learns what the child responds best to, over time, through multiple trials.

From our usability testing, we learned that children usually speak in brief phrases don’t talk in long sentences, and may get lost if a question is too open-ended. With this in mind, we’ve designed Ami to structure questions and prompts in a way that children can easily understand and quickly answer by including many yes/no questions, and giving children two activities to select from.

Lastly, Ami is not a counselor and Ami does not replace parental roles. One of the most important insights we gained from our parent interviews is that parents want to have the ownership of the constructive conversation they have after this cool-down period. They do not need this type of assistance with their children. In this example, rather than interpreting the conflict or coming up with a resolution,Ami instead suggests guided activities to help children express themselves verbalize their experience and externalize emotions.