In my line of work, many of my students tend to be a little dramatic. Even minor problems get treated like an emergency- screaming, crying, throwing things, etc. Because that is not an appropriate response to most life situations, I work with my kids on scaling emotions and problems.
During an actual meltdown or crisis situation, I find it best to utilize grounding techniques because it’s hard to get a verbal response from a screaming 5-year-old. When my students have calmed down or during their next individual session, we’ll talk about the size of the problem, and how they could have responded differently. Scaling is a great intervention for problem-solving and emotional regulation. With my students, I ask them to scale their emotions and problems on a daily basis, so they can also identify and recognize milder emotions and minor problems.
In a child’s mind, very small problems can seem very big. In the case of some of my students, they have very big problems at home and a little disruption at school is very upsetting.
For me, it’s important to acknowledge the problem but also have my students identify the problem and an appropriate response.
One of my students, in particular, loves to talk to me in the hallway when he’s supposed to be waiting quietly in line with the rest of his class. Once a day- without fail-I would hear him yelling for me, running towards me, and waving his arms:
“Ms. E! Ms. E, I need to talk to you! Right now!”
Usually, whatever problem he was having that day did not need to be discussed at that particular moment. As we started scaling problems, I started asking him:
“Is it an emergency? A level 5? Because the screaming and running in the hallway tells me that there’s an emergency situation right now.”
At first, he would always respond with “Yes, it’s an emergency! I have to talk to you right now!”
However, as we’ve worked through, scaling emotions and problem-solving, he has learned that he doesn’t need to speak with me every time he sees my in the hallway and can identify an actual emergency. Now, he will at least start with saying that his problem is a size 4; whereas, his problems used to always be an 11 on a 5-point scale.
Because I’m all about sharing resources, SC Social Work Counseling has a FREE PDF poster for scaling problems on Teachers pay Teachers. Even though I love this PDF, I wanted something a little bit bigger for my office, so I took the elements of this poster and made my own poster board.
At the beginning of the year, I started with my feelings bulletin board, and I’ve added to it as I’ve continued discussions with my students. At this point, I’ve started teaching my kids to identify emotions and how they react in certain situations. Check out my blog post on identifying emotions. Also, I have developed my own Feelings Jenga game to help reinforce my lessons on emotions.
As we’ve progressed on this topic, I’m now introducing different levels of those basic feelings using paint chips.
- Out of Sorts
Note: Since my clients frequently show their disgust and anger for certain situations, the higher levels of those emotions are omitted, like loathing and enraged. On my poster, I wanted the bottom of the scale to be very low for these two emotions, so that we could also work on identifying triggers for these emotions by looking at what situations are irritating or boring.
Scaling Emotions and Problems
As your students start to see how their feelings affect their problem solving, these two things become intertwined. When I start to see a situation starting to escalate, I try to be quick to respond.
Typical Scaling Conversation:
- Me: “What is the size of this problem?”
- C: “a 5!”
- Me: “Are you in physical danger?”
- C: “No, but I’m mad!”
- Me: I get that. Is someone else in physical danger?
- C: No!
- Me: What’s the issue then?
- C: Ms. Smith said I have silent lunch but everyone else was talking too!
- Me: That is upsetting, but I think we need to take a few deep breathes and talk about it. (It depends on the day to whether or not he will agree to take a deep breath.) What’s the real size of this problem?
- C: It’s a 1. Shouldn’t be an issue (3rd grade sarcasm, usually with finger quotation marks)
- Me: No, it is an upsetting problem. A level 1 problem is just a glitch, and this is more than a glitch. It’s not an emergency though, but I would be upset too if I had to sit at the silent lunch table.
- C: A 3?
- Me: I would agree with that. It’s a medium size problem, and you feel awful and sad about it. It’s okay to frown and feel sad that you don’t get to sit with your friends, but it’s not okay to tell your teacher that you’re not going to do it. So, maybe during your next session, we can talk about avoiding this situation again.
- C: Okay. (still pouting, but not screaming or slamming his chair.)
Not only did we scale the problem and the emotions that he was feeling, it also gave me a few minutes to help him calm down before entering the cafeteria. Was he happy about the situation? No, but he shouldn’t be. There was a consequence for his earlier behavior, but his reaction was an overblown reaction to that problem.
Any other suggestions for scaling emotions or problems? Or additional thoughts? Leave them in the comments!