Scaling Emotions Helps Children Control Feelings

In this article, we are going to learn how to use Scaling to help your child understand and get control of their feelings. If your child can recognise and scale feelings they are more likely to gain a sense of control and less likely to be overwhelmed by their feelings.


In this article, we are going to learn how to use Scaling to help your child understand and get control of their feelings. Scaling will enable your child to:

  • Be aware of their feelings before they build up
  • Recognise what triggers tough feelings
  • Understand how feelings change over time
  • Use Strategies to deal with the feeling and Re-Scale

If your child can recognise and scale feelings they are more likely to gain a sense of control and less likely to be overwhelmed by their feelings. They are also beginning to self-control which is what every parent wants in the end. 

Being Aware of Feelings

Feelings In My Body

Feelings In My Body


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Scaling emotions helps children take some control over how they feel. Before they can scale an emotion though, your child needs to be aware of that emotion. So helping children to recognise a feeling in their bodies is the first step to taking back control. Have a look at our Feelings In Your Body Activity on the left, for a simple way to start this with your child.

You can begin to talk about and name feelings and be curious about where in the body he feels it and how it feels. Be careful not to TELL him how he feels though as this can escalate emotions. You can also use your own experiences and emotions to help him feel understood. You don’t want him to feel judged. You want to show empathy. Try something like: “You seem cross. I wonder how that feels for you? When I feel cross I sometimes notice my body feels all tense and stiff.”

You could also have a look at our Adrenaline Person for other ways to describe feelings in the body, having this printed out so you and your child can look at it together.

Make it a habit to name and talk about feelings, using visual cards. Here are some of ours. You can talk about other peoples feelings together when reading books, watching TV etc.

Recognising The Triggers

Talk about when they feel different emotions, for example where they are, when it happens and who they are with. Here are some examples:

  • At school I feel worried
  • At home I feel calm
  • When I play an Xbox game I feel angry
  • When doing homework I feel anxious
  • When I play with XXXX I feel happy and excited
  • When I go to see granny I feel calm
  • When I see XXXX I feel anxious

Scaling, Strategies & Re-Scaling

Using a scale a bit like a temperature thermometer is a good way to give a visual effect of how strong and intense a feeling is. Here are some we use that are clear and simple.             

The first step is to ask your child to name the feeling, using whatever word suits them best. If this is difficult for him you could always put the scales down and suggest he points to the one he feels most, or to choose from the feelings cards.

Next, ask him to put the feeling card where on the scale it goes to show how strong the feeling is. So he might choose sad and put it at the top of the scale.

Notice this and reflect his feelings, for example, “You’re feeling sad and it’s a pretty strong feeling right at the top of the scale. It’s tough feeling that way.”

Next, you want to convey that he doesn’t have to stay stuck with such a strong feeling. There are ways to bring the feeling down. You could try something like, “I wonder if you know that the feeling doesn’t have to stay this strong…you can change it…I wonder if you would like to give it a try.” You are being gentle and not too directive. You are wanting to encourage and entice him.

Next, have a couple of strategies he could try. For ideas see our Magic Box or Magic Box for Schools. But some simple ideas for calming down activities could be a sensory ball, using playdough, reading a book together with you or doing some colouring. Physical activities can be very useful for dealing with anger.

Give him a short time, say 5-10 minutes, then suggest you look at the scale again to see if anything has changed. He will most likely be able to move the feeling down a few notches and you can notice this with him. For example, “Your feeling is not so strong now… it’s feeling better…you did that…you found a way to feel less sad… let’s remember that when you feel sad, reading together helps you feel better.” 


  • Recognise emotions first and help him notice how this feels in his body, as early as you can 
  • Recognise the places, times and people when he experiences these emotions so he is more prepared for his feelings to be triggered
  • Lastly use scaling to score the feeling, use a strategy and then re-score the feeling to help gain self-control and reduce strong emotions

You have done so much here to help your child be more aware of his emotions, gain some control and begin to self regulate and control his emotions. He might need your help right now but these activities and conversations are building up his inner resources to accept and manage strong feelings. 

We have a course that gives you the Parent, Play therapist the skills and tools to help children control their emotions

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