We are living in grumpy times. Perhaps it was reality television that ushered in this era of acceptable high drama., or the daily stress of 21st century living. News feeds offer no shortage of daily occurrences of people behaving badly in public places, and to one another. As an art therapist working in the trenches of the mental health field, most of the clientele I work with come to therapy with anger as their primary problem.
One of the very best tools I offer my clientele for anger management is called The Grump Meter. This tool was developed by Dr. Janet and Lynn Kaufman, a mother daughter team of social workers. After working for years in the “system” with foster kids, high conflict families, and residential treatment facilities for kids and teens, this beautiful tool was created. The Grump Meter is a color coded chart to identify emotions, and help people self regulate to prevent explosive behavior. The grump meter’s formula is:
- Red Explode
- Orange Stop
- Yellow Caution
- Green Grumpy
- Blue Calm
The simplicity of this tool can offer rapid transformation in high conflict families, classrooms, schools and even work settings. Reducing communication down to one word and one color serves as a profound way to enhance communication, and prevent explosive, out of control situations. How? For people who escalate quickly, reducing their wide array of feelings/behavior down to one color or word can serve as an effective way to communicate to others, For people who have a difficult time expressing themselves, identifying their hidden emotions with one word or color offers a platform for self expression.
I have observed families quickly alter their dysfunctional systems when they incorporate The Grump Meter into their lives. When a family member can say something like, “Mom, I am on yellow,” family members can respond, and aid the person in self regulating, and/or offering them the emotional support they need to not spiral out of control. Offering people a space to express their emotions, rather than just shutting them down is an empowering and respectful way teach self regulation and emotional intelligence.
I have worked with literally thousands of people in inpatient psychiatric facilities over the years. In intake interviews, I often ask, “if you would have been able to share with someone what you were really feeling, would you have ended up in this crisis?” People almost ALWAYS share that communicating what they were feeling to a loved one would have prevented their crisis (in the United States, suicidal or homicidal behavior usually precedes admission to inpatient psychiatric facilities).
If you decide to use this tool, it is best to have participants make and decorate their own grump meters using paper and markers, colored pencils or paint. When several grump meters get hung up in a home, classroom or office, the idea gets reinforced as a the tool for communicating complex emotions. As participants make their own grump meter, asking what they can do to calm themselves down at each color is helpful for cultivating self regulation. People often think this is a tool just for children, but is it often the adults who are really in need of grump meters!
For more information on The Grump Meter, books, workbooks and additional ideas, please follow this link: http://www.thegrumpmeter.com.