Feelings thermometers or scales are an essential tool in your counseling office. I need help to think of something else I reached for or referenced more often with students.
They are reusable, research-based tools that help kids
- put a situation in perspective,
- build self-awareness,
- develop a self-management plan, and
- connect thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Phew, talk about a workhorse.
For most elementary or middle school students in counseling, being aware of their feelings and how they react is a typical area of focus, right? That's why almost every student on my caseload would create a feelings thermometer as our starting point.
Introducing a Feeling Thermometer
Once students can identify basic feelings (e.g., happy, sad, afraid, angry), we can introduce that emotions come in different sizes or intensities.
Some feelings are big, and some are small. We may need help to manage big feelings. Small feelings can get bigger if we ignore them. Small feelings are things we can usually handle all on our own.
Use Relevant, Concrete Themes
Emotions in different intensities can be an abstract concept for students. Try using relevant and concrete scales that let you explore feelings in various sizes.
Try using a weather theme. In this lesson on the intensity of anger, I use clouds and thunderstorms to represent growing anger.
You can demonstrate with a balloon filling with air until finally it pops. Also, for students experiencing more sadness or depression, you can use a balloon deflating.
For students struggling with anxiety, use the image of a garden getting more and more covered in weeds.
Do you want to stick to a simple piece of paper? Try using a wave. Emotions build as you go up the wave until it eventually crashes into the beach.
Metaphors that show how emotions grow and potentially explode are particularly useful.
Bring It To Life
Make your feelings thermometer life-size. It is excellent for an office wall. You can laminate the thermometer, attach it to the wall, and have students use dry-erase markers.
Photocopy thermometers that students create so they can go into their counseling notebook or can be shared with parents and teachers, if appropriate. Try a digital reference one you can make changes to as needed.
Try making thermometers with popsicle sticks for a portable resource. Students can create their own and then keep them in the classroom or at home for reference. Feelings charts are great, but what good is that if the student always picks angry? A portable thermometer lets them more accurately describe how big that anger has gotten.
How to Use a Feelings Thermometer
One Type of Feeling
Focus on one type of feeling on your thermometer. As students become more sophisticated, they can add emotions that happen together, like sadness and anger. Sangry, if you will.
Explaining the Thermometer
Use a scale that is 1-5. You can also have 0 if you want the scale to show calm that way instead.
Start with labeling the feeling at 1. Then the feeling at 5. Then the feeling at 3. Finally, the feelings at 2 and 4.
For example, if we are talking about an anger scale, it would go like this:
- Label 1 as calm,
- Label 5 as furious,
- Label 3 as frustrated,
- Label 2 as bothered and 4 as angry.
Moving back and forth on the scale seems more straightforward for students to understand. You can also write down all the feelings words on paper and have the student put them in order.
Make It Observable
Once students have their scale, discuss what each stage looks and feels like. What does it look like when they are frustrated? How does their body feel when they are furious? Can I tell that they are bothered?
When you make it observable, it helps the student to check where they are. It looks like you are frustrated because your jaw is tense, and you are ripping the corner of your paper.
When students know their "tells," they can use strategies earlier to prevent feelings from getting too big to manage.
Free Feelings Thermometer
A feelings thermometer is your ultimate counseling tool you can use again and again.
Bonus Uses for Feelings Thermometers
What about sending a parent a feelings thermometer a student has completed? At a minimum, it shows what the student is working on. It may also give them a new tool to reference with their child. Of course, make sure it is okay with the student that you are sharing their thermometer.
Feelings thermometers are also incredibly useful in the classroom. Teachers can create one with a student or use the one the student made in counseling. It is an excellent complement to a calm down corner or when they are trying to help the student problem solve.
Feelings thermometers are the ultimate counseling tool. Do you already use one? Have I convinced you?
Helpful Counseling Tools
Reusable CBT worksheets that cover scaling feelings and matching strategies, spotting and challenging negative thinking, problem solving, and perspective taking.
Anger Thermometer Lesson
Small group counseling lesson to help students understand their anger better using a scale. This product contains a facilitator guide, anger lesson, group activities, independent student activity, and exit slips.