How the 5 Point Scale can Reduce Disruptive Behaviors

Special needs parents, are you frustrated from receiving emails about your child’s behavior in school, but there is no plan in place to support him?  Teachers of special needs kids, are you tired of walking on egg shells, worried about the next outburst from one or more of your students?

by Dawn VillarrealIncredible 5 Point Scale Book

There is help.  I mean real help.  I am going to recommend an excellent book for your child with anxieties and/or frustrations.  I am not getting paid for endorsing it.  This is simply one parent's experiences using the book. My son uses this and his frustrations reduced dramatically.

Losing Control is Not Fun
Before I jump into it, I’m going to get on my soap box for a bit.  When it comes to disruptive behavior, it’s easy to think this child is willful or looking for attention.  But I guarantee, that in many cases, our children do not want to lose control.  They are working so hard to fit in and make friends.  An outburst does not help them.  It’s embarrassing.  It reflects poorly on them in the eyes of many of their peers. 

So to every teacher and parent, I say we are doing our children a great disservice to not work diligently to help these kids self manage their emotions.  It is an essential life skill that will follow them into adulthood, employment and relationships.

Some children struggle with their emotions at an early age.  For others, parents may see an increase in disruptive behavior around third grade when academics shift into higher reading levels and expectations.  Anxieties and frustrations build up until the student loses control.

The Book
Here’s where the Incredible 5 Point Scale by Kari Dunn Buron comes in.  The book allows a social worker or teacher to help a student identify their emotional levels and how they react to it.  The student rates their stress level from a calm level one to an out of control level 5.  The student identifies what their stress feels like and strategies to reduce that stress for each level.

The idea is for the student to recognize when he is reaching a level 3 and utilize pre-approved strategies so he doesn’t lose control. 

Identifying the Issue
My son started to become disruptive in class during 4th grade.  Sometimes a frustration would occur when there was an unforeseen change in the daily routine.  This was remedied by letting him know about changes in advance.

More difficult to assess were overreactions to minor issues, typically towards the end of the day.  Talking to my son as well as emails back and forth with teachers, we concluded it was what I call, “Bad Day Syndrome.”  This is a series of minor frustrations happening throughout the day.  He held it together as long as he could.  The last one tipped him over and he lost control of his emotions.

At this point he would either yell or want to leave the classroom.  Sometimes he would get his backpack to leave the school, a definite safety issue!

Implementing the 5 Point Scale
I picked up this book and asked if the school team could implement the 5 Point Scale.  My son, with his social worker, discussed how he felt at each level and strategies that he felt would calm him down. 

She focused on getting him to recognize when he was reaching a 3 and practice the strategy.  The most crucial step is to get staff on the same page.  All teachers and aides who work with my son knew how to recognize the 5 levels in my son and encourage him to use his strategies.

In the beginning, the teacher might say, “You look like you might be at a 3.  Why don’t you get a drink of water and come back when you’re feeling more calm.”  Or they might ask him what number he felt like.  And if my son felt he was escalating and self-advocated, the teacher knew not to make him wait.  This created a trusting environment between student and teacher.   

The 5 Point Scale worked so well with my son, it became part of the social worker’s toolbox of strategies with students.  And the teachers responded well once they could see how the strategy was working.

Beyond ElementaryCalming strategy card idea - One Place for Special Needs
If your child has an IEP, request that each successive teacher be informed about the 5 Point Scale program.  When transitioning to middle school and high school, ask that the new school team use the program with your child. 

This book is not expensive.  Consider purchasing as a gift to your child’s school social worker.  

Coping Strategies
My son is in high school now and still using a form of the 5 point scale.  Now it’s reduced to 4 levels.  Over the years he has internalized these strategies and handles many frustrations with ease.  He says he likes to keep it as a reminder to himself. Whether you use the 5 Point Scale or a program of your own making, I believe the key is getting your child to recognize his feelings at various levels of frustration.  Then it becomes easier to think of calming strategies in the moment.

More Resources

Find the Root Cause of Disruptive Behaviors

Calming Down Strategies

Emotional Regulation Resources

Understanding Emotions

Aggressive/Inappropriate Behavior


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