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Suggestions for scaling and regulating emotions and behaviours

What is scaling and regulating emotions and behaviours?

The use of a visually supported scale to teach a child to recognise different levels of emotion. The scale breaks down the child’s responses to the different levels of emotion by labelling each level with what the behaviour looks like and what it feels like, at each point of the scale there is a regulating or coping strategy to reduce the level of emotion. This is to be used in relation to specific feelings, behaviours and situations.

When should I start scaling?

First develop the scale, then develop a story (social story or power card) for the child to explain the use of the scale. Review the scale regularly with the child at a time that they are calm. Make sure the scale is available for the child at times that the specific feeling, behaviour or situation is likely to occur.

How can I make a scaling card?

Choose a concept (a feeling, behaviour or situation) that the child struggles to manage.

Breaking down the concept

Decide how to break down the concept, that is, how many levels there should be.

Consider the child’s language skills. Use words they can understand and make sentences a length they can understand.

different coloured cards numbered 1 to 3 different coloured cards numbered 1 to 5

Some concepts lend themselves to 5 levels, others may only need 3. This may be determined by the pattern of behaviour the child currently exhibits, if their feeling may escalate quickly a 3 point scale would fit, for others the behaviour in question may be broken into more stages. For example a voice scale may go from:

  1. silent
  2. whisper
  3. classroom
  4. outside
  5. screaming or shouting

Labels and visual support

Label the concept in terms of what it looks like and what it feels like. This can have as many categories as the child can manage and as many to many the scale meaningful and personal to the child.

scaling cards with drawn faces of emotion

Visually support the levels of the scale, such as with feelings symbols, drawings or photos of the child making the facial expression that goes with the feeling.

Consider using a colour for each stage of the scale. The child could choose the colours so that the scale is meaningful to them.

Build in coping strategies

Think carefully about the regulating or coping strategies:

Some situations or behaviours may not need strategies, for example a clear scale helps the child to understand expectations.

Strategies should aim to bring the child down to the next point on the scale.

Table asking what a feeling looks like and how a person may help them feel better

To come up with the regulating or coping strategies you may need to observe the child or speak to someone who knows the child well.

The coping strategies are likely to be different for each child as everybody finds different things helpful.

Choose strategies that the child will definitely be able to use in the context that you are using the scale. For example don’t give the option of ‘going outside’ if the child wouldn’t be able to do this.

Strategies could include things that the child can do without help from others. For example, put their head down on the desk, take deep breaths and so on. They could also be things that they need others for such as having a hug or asking for help.

Visually support the strategies with symbols or photos that are meaningful, such as photos of the action or place. If the child can read well then writing may be enough.

Make it together

Where you can, involve the child with the creation of the scale. They could use a template to fill in with support from an adult or they could be supported by the adult to come up with their own scale and the child decides what is important or useful to include.

Images of thermometers, icebergs ladders, pans and pop

Scales could be based on other concepts, such as a thermometer, an iceberg, a ladder, a pan of water on the boil, or a bottle of fizzy pop.

How do I use an emotional regulation scale?

Help the child to become very familiar with the scale. Developing the scale together can help to do this as well as having a story to go with it.

One person helping another with something being written down on paperMake regular check-in times, particularly prior to when the feeling, behaviour or situation is likely to occur. Help the child to identify what the scale suggests they can do if they need to regulate.

Have the scale available and close by, especially at times that you anticipate the feeling, behaviour or situation will occur. Once the child is very familiar with the scale you could have small prompt versions, to be attached to a lanyard for example.

When you notice the child showing signs of the feeling, behaviour or situation, show them the scale. Label the emotion using the same words that are on the scale, such as “it looks like you are cross”, or “I can see your cross face, your cheeks are red like a number 3 on the scale”

lips and speech bubble with line throughSome children may cope better if you use no language at all and just show the card and point to the number on the scale, this can feel less confrontational.

Allow the child to engage in the regulating activity appropriate to the level they are at on the scale. Ensure that regulating activities are separate and different to rewards. Make certain that other  adults understand the difference.

You may not need to use language to prompt the child to do the regulating activity, simply pointing or modelling may be enough.

Areas to work towards

You could aim to work on the child using the scale more independently. This could be them showing you how they feel and independently choosing a strategy to use to soothe themselves.

Top tip

If the child finds it hard to talk about and reflect on their own feelings or behaviour, develop a scale together using a character that the child likes, for example, from their favourite film, TV programme or game. This may help to motivate them to develop a similar scale for themselves.

Examples

Three point scale

3 point scale moving from Everything is good to can't concentrate

Thermometer scale

Thermometer

Voice volume scale

Scaling cards with different tones of voice

Scale with reactions

A 1 to 5 scale showing frustration, how it feels what causes it and what the reaction is

Flower scale

flower scale with different faces showing the feeling

Example of a story to go with a scale

When My Feelings Get Too Big

When I am thinking about my favourite things, I am so relaxed. My feelings are at a 1 or 2.

When I know what is going to happen or I really like what I am doing, I am most definitely feeling at a 1 or 2.

But sometimes I worry too much, like when I first get on the bus and I don’t know where to sit.

When I worry too much, my feelings are at a 4. Sometimes a 4 makes my stomach hurt.

Sometimes I worry way too much, like when I think I am going to playtime and it gets cancelled!

This might make me scream or even hit someone. This is a 5. Now my feelings are too big!

One thing that makes my feelings too big is……….

This is when I need to fight back my feelings!

First, I can squeeze my hands together.

Next, I can take three really slow, deep breaths: Slow in – Slow out, Slow in – Slow out, Slow in – Slow out

Then I can sit down, rub my legs and close my eyes. Now I feel more like a 3 or a 2.

I can think about happy things, like my dog or my stuffed lion or going on a holiday.

Now I am at a 1.

Here are some things that I can think about to bring a 5 feeling down to a 1 feeling.

You can do other things to help you relax:

  • You can go for a walk
  • Go to your bedroom
  • Or go to a safe place at school
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Disclaimer

Please note this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s. The details in this resource may not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If you have specific questions about how this resource relates to your child, please ask your doctor.

Resource number: SL44

Resource Type: Article

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