How to Keep Calm: The 1 to 10 Parenting Trick
The 1 to 10 trick is one of my most effective positive parenting, marriage, and friendship tools. I discovered it while wandering around Europe 10 years ago with my husband looking for a bathroom. In our traveling, we realized we had to speak up early and clearly about our needs. We had to understand each other. Words and body language can easily be misinterpreted. Hence, we employed the classic “scale of 1-10” into our lives.
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It worked so well for us in travel we started applying it to our relationship and life at home…and even in a buying home. “How stressed does all this 1980s wallpaper make you?” When we were in the trenches of 3 kids in 31 months, this tool became a sanity saver to communicate our needs, worries and stress early and with little sleep.
Here’s how it works:
When you ask someone to use the 1-10 scale, define what makes a “1” and a “10”. I often exaggerate the extremes. Example: On a scale of 1-10, how hungry are you? A “1” means you couldn’t eat a single bite and “10” means you are going to faint if you don’t eat right now.
Here’s the KEY!
Speak up! When your kids are old enough, teach them it’s THEIR responsibility to share their needs/feelings with others when they are at a level 6 or 7. Spouses too! It’s not fair to others to keep it in until you are an 8, 9, or 10. People, need time to react…or find a good exit on a road trip…or get you a break…or get dinner started.
When my middle daughter had to unexpectedly go into ICU on Day 9-12 of life we remembered to use this with our pediatrician after 2 days of sickening worry and zero sleep. After his daily check in we said, “On a scale of 1-10, what’s our worry number?” He said 4. Even with hearing the facts, a plan, and words like “better, she’s going to be ok” we had been worrying at a level 10. When we heard 4, we had instant relief.
Before the kids understood numbers, we could still use the concept with our hands and show a small, medium, and large size as we asked, “Do you need to potty a little, this much or THIS?” Or we could use a visual tool like a line or ruler. Even if they weren’t accurate yet, it began the learning process and prevented colossal puddles in the checkout line with 200 impatient people behind us. Ahem.
As our three kids grew, so did their opinions and needs. The 1-10 scale became a way we could all understand each other better. Emotionally, this is an empowering tool to stay in tune with feelings and to apply strategies earlier to change the situation or communicate when help is needed. It’s much easier to prevent or guide people before a meltdown begins.
I have illustrated this with my own kids while boiling their 58,000th serving of mac & cheese. “Look kids, I can manage the water’s temperature easily with a slight temperature adjustment at a level 6 boil. No mess. No fuss. But if I wait until it’s a 10 and boiling over, it’s sizzling, messy, and I have to remove it from the heat to regroup, stir, wipe up the mess, and then try it again at a lower temp. I may have even overcooked it and you’ll have mac & cheese slush for dinner. Don’t become mac & cheese slush, speak up early to others while you can in a calm, cheesy manner”.
Academically, using the 1-10 scale gives them early experiences with a very high level thinking skill called metacognition…thinking about their thinking. Over time, hopefully, you will see this skill develop into good problem solving and applied in other areas such as comprehension and reasoning.
I share this number tool with my 2nd graders and find it prevents a lot of conflict and teaches children to be self-advocates and aides in conflict resolution. With so many personalities, it helps me understand each child better. I am often surprised by the number they assign to their feelings about a topic, situation, or need. I also use it to illustrate to the class my thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we’ll apply it to describe a character in a story or moment in history, etc.
In the past few years in the classroom, I have discovered similar tools used by other professionals. For further reading and helpful visual ideas, check out Zones of Regulation and the 5 Point Scale.
The 1-10 scale is also used around our home for fun, random things—picking extracurricular activities (give me your excitement number between these two options), sampling new foods (rate your taste), or dinner talk over a family movie (how surprised were you when that happened?)
I hope this parenting tool is a perfect 10 for you in usefulness and keeps your stress below a 5!
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I really enjoyed reading your article and will try it in my class next year.
What a great way to help kids get in touch with the intensity of their feelings. This is a tool that will benefit them and all who love them throughout their lives.
this is a seriously great tip! I’m going to try it too. Thank you.
I freaking love this! My son – age 8 – has special needs so I can forsee this being a great emotional regulating tool for us with him as well as the family in general!
Surely going to follow to keep my self calm.