Ask the Experts

Minecraft Makes my Son Irritable. What Gives?

“After my son gets done playing Minecraft or computer games, he is extremely irritable. Is this due to hyperfocus on the game?”

This is an interesting phenomena and one which I have heard from many parents who work with me in my clinical practice. I believe that this is primarily the result of the intensity of focus that some kids display when playing Minecraft and other video games. They may continue to be engaged in what they were thinking about, get upset about their performance or decisions they’ve made, and find the contrast to their next activities to be boring and pale in comparison. In addition, some kids may be overly competitive and concerned about winning and losing in their Minecraft and video-game play. A similar observation may be made in some children after playing sports.

For a very small minority of children there is also a concern that the irritability can be a sign of video game overuse. However, other signs such as intense preoccupation, withdrawal symptoms, the need to spend increasing amounts of time playing games, unsuccessful attempts to control participation, and an extreme and clear loss of interest in previous hobbies and activities should be evidenced before concerns are raised in this regard.

Here are a few strategies to address these concerns regarding irritability:

1) Help your child to decompress. Ask him to talk to you right after he is done playing so that he can process his thoughts.

2) Discuss your concerns before he starts to play in an attempt to reframe his Minecraft play as something that is challenging and fun rather than disappointing when he does not accomplish everything he would like.

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3) Try to make game play less competitive. Help him see what he has accomplished or built during his latest Minecraft session.

4) Establish a fun and easy transition activity that routinely follows his Minecraft play.

5) Guard against issues such as hunger and tiredness when he is playing by having him snack either during or right after the activity.

6) Have a healthy play activity to which he will transition after play. This could include some type of physical exercise or a social opportunity.

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7) If your child is taking medication for ADHD be sure he does not play at the time his medication wears off, as this could exacerbate any signs of irritability and transition difficulties that would be observed.

I have also written articles about other strategies to use with kids with ADHD when they are playing video games that will help reduce irritability and assist them in learning more from their play.