Emotions are a difficult territoty to nagivate. Expically when you are small and have such a tiny space to fit them in. In the middle of student meltdowns, I often have to remind myself that all those big emotions in a little body is going to cause a scene. And on the days of big excitement, I remind myself that those are big emotions in a little space. It is okay. We just need to navigate it together.
At school, I often rely on a five point scale. We work on filling it out together in a time of calmness. This becomes my go-to in order to easily check in. They learn to self regulate for the long term. There is no shame or guilt for their emotions as they move through them. And it helps me keep calm as we work through it together.
What is Self-Regulating?
Self-regulating is being able to identify the emotions being felt. Then taking steps to “ride the wave” until the emotion has passed, or getting yourself into a better position to change the emotion.
Often I tell my students that emotions are just chemicals we feel in our body. What that chemical means is totally interpreted by us. Feeling nervous? Tell yourself “I’m excited!” and then think of three things that make you excited for the situation. Your brain will then come up with more “proof” that you are excited. The nervous response is gone!
Feeling anxious? Take three to five deep breaths then notice one thing for each sense. One you can see, hear, smell, touch, and one you would like to taste. Now that your brain isn’t hyper focused on the emotion, your body will calm down.
It sounds super easy. Until you are actually feeling those big emotions that look like a tidal wave about to swallow you! Having tools already in place for you to use during those times is super handy.
As you get ready to develop your scale, remember that if you – an adult – have trouble identifying all the emotions you are feeling at any given time, your littles will have even more of a struggle. They don’t have the vocabulary to express what is going on. I’m not getting paid to say this, but I’ve found Diane Alber’s Spots of Emotion to be an amazing tool. I use the books to help littles understand the emotion. I have the plush and a Whatif Monster so they can non-verbally tell me how they are feeling. For the bigger kids, I have flashcards with the Spots on them so they can pull them out as they identify the emotion.
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a group I teach. Throughout the day, I try to notice how the kids are feeling, and mention it to them with examples of body language.
“I notice that you are starting to get frusterated. I can tell because you are kicking the legs of the desk. What number on the scale are you?”
“I can see that you are very excited becuase you are smiling so big and you are talking fast! What has you so excited? Be sure to take a deep breath before you tell me so I can understand you.”
“I’m wondering if you are getting hungry. Your words are becoming unkind. Do you think maybe you need a snack?”
This also works on yourself. It’s nice to be able to take just a minute to analyze your words and actions and decide what the underlying feelings are. Moving to the analyzing part of your brain instead of the feeling part is often enough of a break to start the wave crashing down.
Developing A Five Point Scale
I like this because it is a super easy way for anyone to check in. At school and with my own kids, I just have to ask “What number are you?” Since we develop the scale together, we both know what the number stands for, and what steps need to be taken next. Are you ready to make your own?
First, print off this page.
I personally make an appointment with the student or group of kids I’m working with to make this chart. That way it doesn’t feel like I’m blaming them or they are bad. When they know we are going to work on an activity about emotions together, it makes it not feel like a personal attack when we sit down to do it.
There are as many different ways to do this as there are kids! I’ll put a few examples below to give you a start point. I find that I have to guide, but I really allow the kids to drive this so that it works for them. I do not have a class scale. It hasn’t worked for me. I may have different kiddos on differnt scales in the classroom at the same time. Thier numbers mean completely different things, and that is okay. I talk often about emotions and do work on helping them build their toolkit.
Next, sit down at the appointment to develop the scale.
I typically ask them to tell me what it feels like and looks like when they are good to go or ready to work. Then I ask them what number they want that to be — usually a 1 or 5 on the scale. After the pick, I write in what they say. We talk about things they need at this level. Often they will say “Nothing”, so I wil lsugggest praise, hugs, things to work on, or words of encouragement and gratitude.
Now we get into the hard part. I ask what it looks like when they are the opposite of that. I listen as they tell me. Then I ask them to assign that feeling a number. We fill in the other boxes together.
For the remaining boxes, it is often good to have visuals to help. Because they don’t have the vocabulary yet, they don’t know what the progression of feelings are. As the guide, I help with suggestions of ones I typically see. Again, be sure to notice body language and words to back up what you are saying.
Now you should have a filled in chart! I like to type it up nice afterwards so it looks more official. Then I make a copy for myself and a copy for the kiddo. We put it somewhere safe for them to have easy refrence to.
Examples of the Drafts
Here are three examples of the scale after we have filled it out together.
In this first example, the student liked to use my spots and associated a color to each number so I could know as he walked into the room what he was feeling at the start of class. Instead of interrupting the teacher in his other classes, we decided the adult with him would knock twice on the desk and he would just hold up the number he was feeling to be recorded on his tracker. Every 30 minutes he got a 5 minute break to get what he needed that was based off this chart and put into a choice menu. Notice that 3 was his Ready to Work spot!
This tracker was also used at school. 5 was the best and he wanted to give a high five when he felt this way. A 1 was the worst, and his signal was a thumbs down. Because he had a history of fighting when he reached a level 1, we also put into place a Break Card that he could give the teacher or adult for a pass to come to my room to take a break when he was at a 2. Or if the teacher noticed that he was at a 2 or a 3, she would send him to me with an empty folder and I knew he needed to pick an activity to help him regulate.
This last one is for home. The kiddo I worked with made faces when I asked how she felt inside at each number, so I drew those in and tried to give the vocabulary. Mom reported that using this at home and then at school was so helpful because everyone was now on the same page with her behavior.
Want some other book resources to help you talk about emotions? I have several books for that!
In my SEL classes, I often use picture books to teach. It seems easier to address the character or situation in a “kids” book then it does in real life.
For older kids, I highly recommend my mindful kids collection. This series is written by Dr. Sharie Coombes, a family psychologist. The activities are engaging for kids and adults of most ages. I personally use Letting Go! with my boys after we transition from Dad’s house back to mine. Sometimes we do the same page together and sometimes we pick our own page to do. My oldest has Sleep Tight. I have a set of these at school and kids can pull a book when they feellthey need one to work in. I also have several adult friends who ordered the entire series for themselves. Each book is $6.99, or the entire collection is $49.99 (plus shipping and tax).
If your kiddo is always playing the “What If” game and catastrophizing, this book is for you. I also recommend the plush since it is super soft and helps with sensory grounding. There are also younger board books that adddress feelings, kindness, opposites, and shapes. The Johnathan James book is $6.99 and the plush is $12.99 (plus shipping and tax). I use the book in my middle school SEL lessons.
My SEL classes often involve yoga of some form. I love the beautiful pictures in this book, and kids can read the whole thing and do them all, or flip to a page and practice just the one. This book sits on the shelf of my Calm Down area at school. You can get your own copy for $12.99 (plus shipping and tax).
Finally, I love the Unworry and the Unhurry series. There are activitiy books, magic paint books, and doodle books for each. The activity books are $12.99 and the other books are $9.99 each (plus shipping and tax).
Want to check out the other books I have available? Check out my online store!