[Head of School Message] The Catastrophe Scale

For many of us, particularly in the case of expatriate families, we are very fortunate to enjoy a good lifestyle  with all of the benefits and privileges that living in Hong Kong brings to our lives. However, it doesn’t matter where you live or how privileged you are, being a parent can often be hard work!

Sometimes our children come home upset about something which may have happened at school and, for them, it is an absolute catastrophe. Some children are also more prone to catastrophising incidents and events more than others. This can be difficult, because as parents you wish to listen to and support your children as much as you can but at the same time you want to teach them resilience and perspective.

One of the tools I’ve used effectively over the years in these situations is the “Catastrophe Scale”.

While it may sound alarming, it can be a useful way to put certain situations into context, in order to decide how best to address or solve them.

For parents, the Catastrophe Scale can be used to plot the severity of events or incidents on a scale ranging from one to ten; ten being the most severe end of the spectrum. When speaking with students who are upset about an incident I ask them where they think it falls on the scale. If a student tells me that it is a ten, I then pose a few questions starting from the severe end of the scale, for example, asking whether someone’s life or health is at risk? If not, we move down the scale and I might ask if there is a major disagreement or incident which has occurred either or school or at home? If not, we move further down again, displaying that in the context of “larger” issues, the problem at hand may be placed at a position on the scale which means we can constructively and in many cases, clearly establish a means of addressing or solving the problem.

Of course, additionally, this approach is only used in appropriate contexts, in that AISHK places the wellbeing and welfare of our students above all else. We encourage communication between staff and students, and should any major incident in fact be reported, the due process would be strictly adhered to. The above are only examples of how you might use the scale and illustrate the importance of searching for perspective.

It is a great exercise as a family to devise your own catastrophe scale before anything goes wrong so that you can use this as a frame of reference when there is an incident. You can also use a catastrophe scale in your own context. As parents,  we sometimes overreact to relatively minor incidents which occur in our lives. Often, the more we have and in the absence of major issues in our lives, we can fall into the habit of over catastrophising the smaller and less important daily annoyances which happen to all of us.

Of course, we cannot avoid all unpleasant or unfortunate things happening to us, but if we are in the habit of being able to place things into perspective and a broader context, our ability to cope more aptly when these things do occur will become easier.

Mark Hemphill | Head of School