It can be hard enough for parents to maintain a cool head when dealing with an angry child at the best of times, but things can get much more difficult when that child has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). That's why scientists at Microsoft Research and the University of California, San Diego have created ParentGuardian. It combines a wrist-worn sensor and an app, to monitor parents' stress levels and deliver real-time coping strategies.

Developed by UCSD PhD computer science student Laura Pina, ParentGuardian utilizes the Parenting Behavioral Therapy approach. This is designed specifically to improve self-control and self-awareness in ADHD children, and to help their parents manage their own stress.

The sensor measures changes in the parent's galvanic skin response – the electrical conductivity of their skin, as determined by subtle sweat secretions that accompany strong emotions. Parents start by "training" the system, letting it know what conductivity levels correspond to what states of mind.

When they're subsequently involved in a disagreement with their child, the sensor transmits its data to a cloud-based server. By processing the data, the server detects when their stress levels are starting to get too high. It then responds by alerting the parent via an app on their smartphone and/or tablet. That app provides Parenting Behavioral Therapy-based prompts such as "Fill your lungs with air: Take three full, deep breaths" or "You are your child’s role model. What do you want to teach?".

The system was tested on a group of parents with ADHD children over a course of three months, with the participants giving it an average rating of 5.1 on a scale of 1 to 7. It is currently still in development.

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