Like any feeling or emotion, the experience of anger is subjective. What is clear is that anger causes distress and in turn leads to reactions and potentially helpful or hurtful behaviours to manage the distress. The purpose of an anger thermometer (or any other feeling thermometer) is thus to be able to quantify and measure the subjective experience of distress to help create a common language that can then be examined, processed, and discussed.
What is an anger thermometer?
An anger thermometer is essentially a tool that can be used with children, teenagers and adults to explore and learn about this challenging emotion. Just as one uses a thermometer to measure temperature, the thermometer serves as an indicator of the anger temperature or intensity of the feeling experienced within.
With the anger thermometer, we can ‘measure’ the feeling (whether from 1 to 3, 1 to 5 or 1 to 10), associate the intensity level of anger with different labels (e.g., irritated, annoyed, frustrated, mad, enraged), examine different bodily signals of distress with each level of anger (e.g., shallow breathing, yelling or raised voice, clenched teeth and fists, red and hot face, bodily tension, agitation, etc.), and consider different coping strategies most helpful as the intensity increases (e.g., taking deep breaths, drinking water, engaging in soothing self-talk, walking away, taking a personal time-out, counting to 10, engaging in an intense physical activity, talking to a parent or teacher, etc.).
There are many uses of an anger thermometer which include the following:
- to enrich a person’s vocabulary related to angry feelings
- to express different levels and/or intensity of anger
- to help describe what anger feels like and how this can change with higher ratings
- to identify the triggers of anger and associated thoughts and behaviours
- to learn to make connections between bodily signals of anger and intensity of angry feelings
- to help guide the choice of coping strategies to manage anger
- to ‘measure’ or assess the change in level of anger after using a coping strategy.
How can I measure my anger?
There are different types of anger thermometers that can work well depending on the age and developmental level of the child, teen or adult. No matter which thermometer one chooses, each type can be used to measure the strength or level of angry feelings. Of course, these “measurements” are subjective and unique to each person. Below are a few examples of types of anger thermometers:
1. For preschool age and early elementary age children, a 3-point anger thermometer that is colour-coded and includes drawings of faces is suggested.
One easily identifiable version of a 3-point scale is using a traffic light where the colour green reflects calm, yellow indicates mild to moderate angry feelings, and red would represent very angry or mad.
Another option for a 3-point anger thermometer for young children is to use the colours yellow, orange, and red to represent small/low, medium, and big/high angry feelings, respectively.
A nice example of an anger thermometer for young children can be found in the book, The Tiger in my Chest by Elaheh Bos with anger management strategies by Dr. Stephanie Margolese, Ph.D. In the book, a 3-point anger scale with matching tiger faces is provided and is encouraged to be used to help gage the level of anger before and after practicing a suggested coping strategy.
2. For school age children, a 5-point anger thermometer with numbers (1 through 5) and colours (e.g., blue, green, yellow, orange, red) is recommended. Children can add word descriptions of what each number means to them in order to help expand their feeling vocabulary words (e.g., 1 = calm/at peace, 2 = annoyed/irritated, 3 = angry, 4 = frustrated, 5 = mad/enraged/furious).
Alternatively, the same scale can work well to indicate the level of anger with the emphasis of this type of scale being on intensity felt (e.g., 1 = not at all angry; 2 = a little angry; 3 = angry; 4 = very angry; and 5 = extremely angry). For a 5-point scale, it can also be helpful to have the child draw faces to represent the facial expressions associated with each number on the thermometer.
3. For teens and adults, a 10-point anger thermometer with numbers (1 through 10) is recommended. Feeling words can be used at each point on the thermometer or on every other number. It is easiest to start at the two extremes of the scale (e.g., 1 = calm/not at all angry; 10 = enraged/extremely angry), the middle of the scale (5 = angry) and then fill in the other descriptors for the numbers in-between the two end points.
For teens, it is suggested to be flexible and allow them to include words they may use colloquially (e.g., pissed off, cheesed, hangry) to make the thermometer more meaningful to them.
With appreciation and special thanks to Elaheh Bos, founder of Plant Love Grow, there are 3 free downloadable anger thermometer worksheets provided at the end of this post.
How do you use a feelings thermometer?
There are many ways to use a feelings thermometer. The primary goal is to quantify or measure subjective anger feelings to establish a common language and objective measure of the feeling. For example, if your child can tell you (her parent) that she is a “4” out of 5 in terms of her anger, you know she is feeling frustrated or very angry and as such needs time, space and to potentially engage in a few coping strategies (e.g., take a few deep breaths, count to 10) to be able to calm down before she is able to engage in a conversation about what made her feel so angry.
Once you have created an anger thermometer and the different descriptors are established for the numbers on the 3-point, 5-point or 10-point scale, various details can be added including examples of situations when one felt that way, triggers, and body signals.
Try this script: “Think of a time you felt so mad you were a 5 on 5? What happened? What did it feel like in your body? How did you know you were a 5?”
These types of questions can be repeated for different numbers on the thermometer. Write the answers down as anchors to the thermometer.
Next, after going through the different levels of anger and examples, coping strategies to manage the anger feelings can be added to the thermometer.
Try this script: “What helps you when you are a 5 on 5? What do you need to feel better? What can you try? What else?”
These types of questions can be repeated for different numbers on the thermometer. Of course, this also presents as an opportunity for a discussion and introduction to new strategies to try and practice.
Why use an anger thermometer?
When we learn to name what we are feeling, it allows for a pause, a moment to notice and reflect, offers a brief space and some distance between that feeling and our reaction. This is what Drs. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson refer to as “Name it to Tame it”, a parenting strategy presented in their book, The Whole-Brain Child (see below).
Indeed, naming what we are experiencing allows us to feel our feelings because after all, these feelings provide us with important information about our environment, situation, and ourselves.
Once your child or teen is better able to identify and label these anger feelings, they will feel more in control of their anger, and they are therefore freer to choose how to manage this emotion. Of course, the same is true for us all.
Anger Thermometer Printable Worksheets
Below you can find the 3-point, 5-point and 10-point anger thermometer printable worksheets. With gratitude and appreciation to Elaheh Bos for creating these awesome anger thermometers for young children, school age children, teenagers and adults too.
Click on each link to download the worksheet and practice what was presented in this post.
As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and feedback.
P.S. I am extremely grateful to my husband, Gaby, for his support and help with this post.