Marlborough Family Education Centre

Marlborough Family Education Centre in London has found a novel use for heart rate monitors, normally used in sports training, for child and family therapy to help children at risk of exclusion from school identify triggers to problem behaviour.

The Hearts on their Sleeves project relies on the information generated by a belt worn around the child's chest which wirelessly transmits data to a wristwatch-type monitor. An alarm alerts the child to a rising heart rate which helps him or her identify triggers for violent or aggressive outbursts or mood swings.

They were initially introduced as some children understand the anger cycle identified in traditional 'talking cures' but find it hard to put into practice. The monitors are an early warning system that then allows children to put into practice other defusal methods. The information from the monitors helps the team build up an in-depth picture of trigger points.

Such 'biofeedback' techniques have been used for conditions such as headaches, epilepsy, digestive disorders and high and low blood pressure. This is the first time that they have been used in a therapeutic and school setting. It is said they can provide individuals with a kind of sixth sense, or an extra window into their bodies and minds.

Twenty-nine pupils and their parents have participated in a pilot project so far at the Westminster-based centre, which works with children with high-level emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Parents and teachers report that the monitors have increased children's self-control. One parent said: "The heart rate monitors served as a reminder about how children may be calm on the outside of their body, but on the inside it may be a different story altogether."