Emotions Elevator: BrainWise Lesson for Anxious, Angry Kids

We all have different levels of emotions.

Emotions can feel really really big, or they can feel pretty small. And the cool thing about emotions is, even when they feel overwhelmingly huge, we know they’re not going to stay that way forever. Even when we get heated up, or we lose our cool, eventually we calm back down.

BrainWise and Emotional Intelligence

The BrainWise curriculum was designed to help kids build social and emotional control and self-regulation skills. When I previously worked in the Saint Louis Counseling School Partnership Program, I received training in this program, and still use components of it in my practice today. To be clear, I’m not TECHNICALLY providing brainwise as I’m not maintaining really strict fidelity with the model. I have a whole walkthrough on the modules in an earlier post. This week, I want to walk you through how I integrate my favorite lesson, Emotions Elevators, into my individual therapy work with kids.

Elevators and Emotions

Here’s the first thing we need to recognize about elevators: they go up, but they also go back down.

Emotions work exactly the same way. Emotions can get higher and higher, and feel bigger and bigger, but they also can come back down.

In session, I start by drawing a long, vertical rectangle to represent our emotions elevator.

For younger children, around pre-school and kindergarten aged, we draw three circles along the side, at the bottom, middle, and top of the elevator.

For older kids and even teens, we’ll instead label the elevator on a 1 to 10 scale, where 1 represents just a little bit of that emotion, and 10 represents all the way at the top.

Then we ask what emotion elevator we want to work on first. It’s usually easiest to choose the emotion that gets them in trouble the most - mad, sad, nervous, etc.

What does your face look like when you’re all the way mad, like the most mad you’ve ever felt?

We make our faces and draw them at the top of our elevator. I like to ask kids to come up with an example of a time the felt all the way, top of the elevator, explosively mad. And sometimes, we’ll write in our body cues as well - my fists want to punch, or I start kicking things, or I want to run away.

Then we ask, what does your face look like when you’re just a little bit mad? What’s a time you felt just a small amount of this feeling, and you were low on your mad elevator? We draw in this face.

Finally, we figure out what face is in between those two extremes, and we come up with a situation that made us feel medium mad.

Anger and anxiety management for kids and teens means recognizing the different levels of emotions.

So we explore how it’s way easier to use our wizard brain when we’re calm, and low on our elevator, rather than explosively at the top of our emotions elevator.

And we figure out our go to coping skills, which help us to calm down and lower our elevators as well.

Have your kid come up with three or four coping skills that they like to use.

Then have them imagine a situation where they’d be at the top of their elevator. What could they do to calm down first? Have them draw down and arrow to where that would take them on their elevator - really assessing how effective that coping skill would be.

“What skill would you use next?” Draw another arrow.

“And then what could you do to calm down even more?” Draw another arrow, and continue coming up with coping skills options until they identify that they would feel all the way back down at the base of their elevator.

Apply the information:

In stories or tv shows, identify how the characters feel, and what level of emotion they have on their emotions elevator (so if you were to imagine a 1-10 scale on the elevator we drew today, a little bit mad is like a 2, 3, 4; medium mad - 5, 6, 7; all the way mad - 8, 9; the most mad ever, 10)

Identify the sadness elevator in this video: Overreaction Man

Or Elsa’s anger elevator here: The Party Is Over

Curious to know more about Compassionate Counseling St. Louis? Kelsey Torgerson Dunn, MSW, LCSW specializes in anxiety and anger management for kids, teens and college students in St. Louis, MO. You can set up a free phone consultation with her by visiting her website, www.compassionatecounselingstl.com/consult. We work with kids, teens, and families throughout Clayton, Brentwood, Ladue, Creve Couer, and West County. And if we’re not the best fit, we’ll help connect you with other amazing St. Louis counselors, therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists.