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Anger Ladder

There are so many emotion charts around. It doesn't matter if us use a thermometer of emotions, a ladder, a volcano, or a simple 0-10 scale of emotions. All of these charts are effective because they all have some very important things in common. They give the child the opportunity to identify the emotion without having to verbally express it, they help the child to label the emotion and they explicitly show the increasing intensity of an emotion.


Verbally expressing emotions can be difficult for anyone but it is even more difficult for children. As a child's vocabulary is underdeveloped, they may not have the words to describe the difference between frustrated and annoyed. However, they can point to a chart that visually represents this. If we create a visual chart which incorporates the language around emotions, they begin to understand the difference between annoyed, upset, frustrated, angry and furious. If we link these with the physical cues we also teach the intensity of the emotion.


There are so many examples online. The important thing is finding one that your child will like are relate to. If the child loves dinosaurs then use dinosaur faces, it really doesn't matter as long as you are showing the various levels of the emotion.

The thermometer is often used to represent the levels of anger. It is a good analogy as long as your child understands what a thermometer is. It does visually represent the changing nature of emotions effectively.

Having a numbered scale can be helpful. By using numbers children can easily tell you where they are sitting emotionally without having to go into detail. Similarly a parent can easily help their child by labeling the behaviour. For example, "your voice is getting louder and you are frowning, I think you are a 3".

Using an anger ladder is an easy way for a child to understand the the change in an emotion with each step.


Whichever visual you decide to use the important components are the same. Make sure you visually represent the levels of the emotion. Link these with both the physical changes and the appropriate verbal representation to help develop their language.


To show how simple it can be I have drawn my version of the anger ladder. However, as I have said, I encourage you to involve your child as much as possible. Have them colour, choose pictures or at least tell you where to put things.



Have them think about what their body feels like at each step. What are some things that they might be doing? What are their thoughts like?


I then find that it is really helpful to brainstorm with the child what they could do to help calm as they go up the ladder. By doing this you are giving them a plan and allowing them to see that they have choices with their anger. They don't have to get to the point of being out of control.



The ideas that you use to help calm with vary depending on what setting you are focusing on. What the child can do at school will be different to what they can do at home. However, the key is to come up with as many ideas and possible. Be creative, if they feel like throwing things, then what can they throw safely? Scrunched up paper is safe and quite satisfying. Although they may need to clean it up when they are calm.


It is important to recognise that the strategies that they use will change depending on how angry they are. What works for annoyed will not work for furious. So having a lot of ideas and activities is important. Although they may get to furious but after some time, they calm to angry. It is then easier to do an activity to calm further. Notice that I didn't write and activities for furious and out of control? That is because once the anger has gotten to this point, all you can really do is wait it out and keep themselves and others safe. They are not at a place where they can talk or even think of things that they can do to calm. They won't stay there forever, and as they start to come down the ladder they may be able to choose a calming strategy, but not before.


If they have been at the top of the ladder, then when they are calm and able to think clearly, talk through whatever happened and use the ladder to show how their emotions changed. By walking them through the situation that triggered them and having them see each stage, you can then work out what they could do next time to help stop the emotion from getting out of control.


These visual scales are useful to help children recognise the stages of emotions, improved their language for emotions, develops emotional intelligence and empowers children to see that they have choices to manage their own emotions. When making a visual scale make sure that it is something that you have involved your child in and that they like. Place it somewhere that it is seem easily and make sure you talk about it often, not just when they are feeling angry.

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©2019 by Krysten Taprell