What’s inside this article: Of overview of The Zones of Regulation for parents interested in learning and implementing the program. Includes tips for parents to get started, how the program works, and why it’s important for children to learn social-emotional skills.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.
The Zones of Regulation is a complete social-emotional learning curriculum, created to teach children self-regulation and emotional control.
It’s often taught in school or therapy settings but parents can use and teach the Zones of Regulation at home, too.
The Zones of Regulation: Overview
Leah Kuypers created The Zones of Regulation in 2011. She and her team provide training and resources for schools and individuals looking to use the Zones Framework with children.
This article is an overview for parents. It covers a brief explanation of what the Zones of Regulation are, how they’re taught to children, and how you can begin using the concepts in your own home.
It does not serve as a replacement for the official Zones Framework, simply a starting point for parents who want to find out more.
What Does The Zones Teach Children?
This program teaches a variety of social-emotional skills to children, starting with early emotional skills and advancing on to self-regulation and navigating social situations..
Here are some skills taught during The Zones of Regulation:
- Identifying your emotions by categorizing feelings into four zones (more on this below)
- Self-regulation: Achieving the preferred state of alertness (zone) for a situation. This is all about regulating your body and emotional regulation.
- Identifying triggers: Learning what makes you “tick” and why
- Coping strategies: Various techniques and strategies that help achieve emotional regulation and manage strong emotions
- Size of the problem: Introduces the idea that the size of your reaction should match the size of your problem, how to identify the size of your problem, and strategies for problem-solving.
- Expected behavior vs unexpected behavior: This also covers perspective taking and how your behavior affects the thoughts and feelings of the people around you
What Are The Zones Colors & Their Meanings?
The Zones of Regulation uses four colors to help children self-identify how they’re feeling and categorize it based on color.
The curriculum also helps children better understand their emotions, sensory needs, and thinking patterns.
They learn different strategies to help them cope and manage their emotions based on which color zone they’re in.
Additionally, the Zones of Regulation helps kids recognize their own triggers, learn to read facial expressions, develop problem-solving skills, and become more attuned to how their actions affect other people (Kuypers, L.M, 2011).
The Green Zone
The green zone is used to describe when you’re in a calm state of alertness.
Being in the green zone means you are calm, focused, happy, or ready to learn. This is predominantly the state you want your child to be in.
It’s also the state most needed in the classroom in order to learn.
The Yellow Zone
The yellow zone describes when you have a heightened sense of alertness. This isn’t always a bad thing, and you still have some control of your actions when you’re in the yellow zone.
Being in the yellow means you may feel frustrated, anxious or nervous. But, it could also mean you’re feeling excited, silly, or hyper – which is okay in the right situations.
The Red Zone
The red zone describes an extremely heightened state of intense emotions. When a person reaches the red zone, they’re no longer able to control their emotions or reactions.
This is the zone kids are in during meltdowns.
Being in the red zone means you’re feeling anger, rage, terror, or complete devastation and feel out of control.
The Blue Zone
The blue zone, on the other hand, is used when a person is feeling low states of alertness or arousal.
When you’re in the blue zone you may be feeling down – sad, sick, tired, or bored. You’re still in control, as you are in the yellow zone, but with low energy emotions.
Teaching the Zones of Regulation
You can purchase the entire Zones curriculum online from Social Thinking.
However, as a parent, be aware that most of the activities and lessons are created for small groups of children so you may need to make modifications to the lesson plans.
But, there are lots of ways you can help your child learn the Zones at home without using or purchasing the entire curriculum.
I offer several activities and printables that anyone can use here.
Free Zones of Regulation Webinar
You can sign up and watch a free webinar where the Zones of Regulation creator, Leah Kuypers, talks about:
Zones of Regulation Apps
There are also two Zones of Regulation Apps available from the Amazon app store. They aren’t free, but they are low cost.
Teaching Kids to Identifying Zones
The first step in teaching the Zones to your child is teaching your child the four zones and which emotions fall into each zone. The apps and the webinar above can help you accomplish this.
It’s necessary that your child is able to accurately identify which emotions belong in which zone. This is the first step to their success.
You’ll achieve this through practicing with your child, talking about The Zones frequently and in different environments, and encouraging them to identify which zone they’re in.
- Zones of Regulation Bingo – Use these free Zones bingo sheets but instead of playing a traditional Bingo game, try this: Get kids to use red, green. blue, and yellow bingo chips to mark which zone each of the feelings belongs to.
- Books about Feelings – Read different books about feelings to your child and actively refer to which zone the feelings in the book belong to.
- Match TV characters to Zones – When you’re watching TV with your child, ask them to identify which zone their favorite characters are in throughout the show. This is a great way to turn your child’s screen time into a learning experience and to show your child that the zones can be found everywhere.
- Body Check Activity – Use this activity to help your child identify how they experience different emotions. Talk about which zone these different feelings are in.
- Snuggle Buddies – These Snuggle Buddies are from Generation Mindful and they are perfect for children who are learning the Zones. The pocket in the back of the snuggle buddy has four colored emojis – blue, green, yellow, and red. All three of my kids have one and even my 3-year-old is able to explain how to match these to the Zones.
Teaching Strategies for Getting Back to The Green Zone
Along with being able to identify the zones, and know what zone they’re in, your child also needs to know strategies to help them get back to the green zone.
Practicing co-regulation and self-regulation strategies while your child is in the green zone will help them learn the best ways to get back there during times when they’re feeling stressed, frustrated, sad, etc.
Here are some posts to help you get started:
The Importance of Recognizing Emotions
It’s so, SO important for children to learn how to recognize their own emotions but many parents may overlook the fact that their child is struggling with this skill.
Think about this:
Let’s say your child recognizes they’re angry because whenever the get mad, their heart races. So – they feel their heart race and the result is an angry outburst. Red zone.
BUT – Fear ALSO causes our heart to race. If your child isn’t able to recognize the other sensations that happen when they’re both afraid and angry then they’ll react angrily when they’re actually scared – and they won’t understand what’s happening or how to regulate that emotion.
The Zones of Regulation can help teach children all of the physiological sensations they feel in response to different emotions.
When kids fully understand what they’re feeling, they can make sense of, and regulate their emotions much better.
The lessons are designed for all ages, starting with pre-school , for children without development delays. However, when working with young children, I often find they need a lot of repetition to solidify the early concepts and the more advanced concepts aren’t developmentally appropriate.
Usually children around 7 or 8 years old start to grasp the concepts better and the Zones also help older children, and even adults.
The zones of regulation is currently a practice-based framework , based on evidence-based strategies.
Before something is considered evidence-based, it must undergo a minimum number of peer reviewed studies.
Because the Zones of Regulation is used widely across schools in the US and internationally, there are many research projects being conducted and/or awaiting peer review. However, this is a process that can take a significant amount of time.
When taught and implemented consistently and in a developmentally appropriate way, the Zones of Regulation can help children understand and regulate their emotions.
Children should be provided numerous opportunities to practice these skills over a range of environments. It’s helpful if parents, educators, and other caregivers use similar language when talking about their emotions, as well as providing visual supports such as posters.