Zones of Regulation

Have you ever wondered how you can help your child regulate themselves when they are having a meltdown? Or how to get them energised when they are feeling bored? If you have doubts like these, then let’s dive into the ‘Zones of Regulation’ and how we can use it to better understand our child’s emotions and help them develop independent regulation tools.

What are the Zones of Regulation?

The Zones of Regulation is a framework that is founded by occupational therapist Leah Kuypers (2011) that aims to develop the awareness of one’s emotions, energy and alertness levels, and at the same time explore and understand different strategies that can be used to regulate one’s emotions, levels of energy and alertness.

This framework works simply by categorising our emotions and energy levels into 4 different-coloured categories, all of which are normal and expected in our everyday lives. By understanding our emotions and the zones, we can better implement tools and strategies to bring ourselves to the optimal level when engaging in tasks.

The four zones are as follows:

Blue zone:

The blue zone is the zone which shows low levels of alertness. These include feelings such as boredom, sadness and tiredness.

Green zone:

The green zone is the ideal zone, which shows the optimal level of focus and attention. The feelings under this category include happiness, being focused and calm.

Yellow zone:

The yellow zone is the zone of high levels of alertness and elevated emotions with control of one’s emotions. This includes feelings such as being frustrated, nervous, silly or even wiggly.

Red zone:

The red zone is the zone with extremely high levels of alertness and emotions. This includes feelings such as anger, rage and terror.

Is your child aware of their emotions?

Before we get into working on the zones of regulation with your child, first we need to help them build their emotional awareness. This includes understanding what the emotions look like on the outside, what the emotion feels like on the inside, and understanding when we feel these emotions. 

To guide them in understanding how an emotion looks on the outside, we can try these simple methods:

Narrate and model the outward bodily cues to them.

  • Narrating and modeling the emotions to them in our everyday conversations helps them understand what an emotion might look like on the outside. This can be done by explaining the emotions we feel or those around us such as “Mummy’s mouth is turned upwards and smiling because mummy is happy” or “Daddy is yawning and is closing his eyes because he is sleepy”. Statements such as these can help the child associate what the emotion is supposed to look like on the outside.

Emotions are also expressed internally and guiding our young ones to understand their bodily cues can help them develop their emotional awareness. Here are a few ways we can do that:

Verbalising their bodily cues to them

  • Explaining what they are feeling on the inside can help them understand what the emotions feel like on the inside and the association between that emotion and their internal bodily cues. This can be done using statements such as, “You are feeling excited and your heart is beating fast,” or “You are sad and you feel like your body is heavy”. Verbalising the things we can’t show, but feel inside, helps them to familiarise themselves with the changes that happen internally with different emotions.

Finally, explaining to your child when they feel those emotions can also help them better connect their emotions to their current state. This can be done by explaining the environment and the emotion they are expressing. This can be done with statements such as, “It’s night time and it is time for bed, so you are feeling sleepy,” or “We are at the playground and you are feeling excited”. 

For kids who are older and have a better understanding of their environment, simple activities like drawing what they look like in an environment can help them to think of what they felt in that setting, and can help them to better associate those feelings to their emotions. Simply drawing and stating what they looked like on the outside and what they felt like on the inside can be helpful in developing their emotional awareness.

How to implement the zones of regulation to your child at home?

Now that we understand what the zones are, here are some activities that can be done at home to implement the zones of regulations with your child:

1. Zones “Moments”

Have you and your child draw or act out what they look, sound or act like when they are in a specific zone. This helps them identify the physical cues that they express when feeling an emotion and understand what zone they’re currently in.

2. Zones Toolkit

Work with your child to create a toolkit, which can be used for coping in each zone. This may include doing breathing exercises when in the red zone or requesting for deep pressure massages when in the yellow zone.  The toolkit can include items such as fidgeting toys like “pop It” or bubbles that the child can take to regulate themselves. This teaches the child to be more autonomous in managing their emotions, as well as teaches them independent emotional regulation.

3. Video/ Music Modelling

We can show videos or play music that displays emotions from the different zones and model them to our child. This can help the child better associate the visual cues of an emotion and even the auditory sound of the emotion felt.

The zones can be seen through the analogy of a traffic light. The green zone is like the green light, which says that “We’re good to go!” for the activity that we currently have. The yellow zone, like the yellow light signals that we have to take caution. The red zone, like the red light, means we need to stop. Finally, the blue zone can be like the blue signs that lead us to the pit stops to take a break and rest.

There is no one right zone, as all emotions are valid and different zones are needed in different settings in life. It is normal to be in the yellow zone when playing a game and in the blue zone when we are tired. Understanding and regulating our emotions is vital for our social integration, as well as working on our communication skills. The application of the zones of regulation can be adapted to children of all ages and abilities.

This article was written by Callie Lee, our Interventionist.

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