A Brief Introduction to the 5-Point Anxiety Scale: A Behaviorist Perspective

What is the 5-Point Anxiety Scale?

The 5-point anxiety scale was first described by Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis (2003) and was developed to help bring awareness to different emotional stages in the most simplistic form. At each stage, it helps a child label how they react, identify why it happens and teaches alternative behaviors.

For instance, when I am…

  • I am happy & excited, I am laughing, smiling and talking a lot.
  • I’m happy, over here I am smiling, talking and still engaging with others
  • I am slightly mad; I am moving away from people, not listening to instructions
  • I’m angry; I am using a lot of comments and body language like “no” and pushing my work away, I sometimes run away
  • I am very angry, I am yelling, slamming doors, and throwing things.

Why does it happen?

  • I get excited because I got to play video games with my friends or
  • I get mad when people take my things and do not wait for me.

Things I can do at the stage:

  • I can tell my friends I like playing with them and to play more often with me
  • I can tell them “don’t take it” or “wait for me” I can also tell an adult.

Always remember to practice new appropriate behavior when a child is at a 1 or 2. Teaching when a child is angry or mad is not ideal, and it pairs an emotional response to the strategy too.

The 5-point anxiety scale for younger learners!

With younger learners, especially those with limited or no language, the scale acts more as a prompt for adults. It helps adults identify:

  • When to teach
  • Then When to engage in coping strategies
  • When to protect
  • And what do we do to help come back to a calm stage
StageEmotionWhat it Looks likeWhat can we as Adults do
1Happy ExcitedMy child is laughing, pulling me by the hand and engaging with me.We can teach new concepts, encourage language, play, and social interactions
2Happy Calm  My child is listening, engaging and following instructionsWe can teach new concepts, encourage language, play, and social interactions
3Little Mad  Following some instructions, but playing with other objects, moving away, trying to escape.We can teach, but we reduce our demands, increase our prompts to set him up for success. We also work on getting them back to 2 and 1.
4Mad  Yelling, pushing away work, trying to escape.Reduce our Language – provide choices and explicit direction. Look for good behavior that is happening and praise the child for it with a simple smile and saying “I know you’re mad but you doing a good job sitting!”
5Really Mad (meltdown)  Destroying the environment, yelling, hitting, etc.Move away if possible to clear space with fewer things; or clear your current space. Say nothing, keep him/her safe & keep yourself safe.
Wait for him to come back to 4 then help get them to stage 2 and 1.

The scale we use today can have an aspect of the Behavior Skills Training Module to help teach coping skills. It can also have part of habit reversal strategies, a well-studied and clinically proven method to help change behaviors. When used in partnership with other strategies it can help solidify the module and give us more options on strategies we can use.

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