The Zones of Regulation

Living in the context of global pandemic, with its loss of routine and pervasive upheaval, triggers strong feelings in all of us, including kids. Sometimes those feelings overwhelm us and we speak and act in ways that we regret. The more we identify our feelings consciously and then choose strategies to calm ourselves the quicker we return to a sense of wellbeing and wholeness.

“The Zones of Regulation,” developed by educator and occupational therapist Leah Kuypers, is a tool to help kids regulate their emotions and restore equilibrium in their hearts, minds, and bodies. There are four zones (blue, yellow, green, and red) consisting of a group of similar feelings. Underneath these feelings are basic needs that we all share in common and that we might experience acutely in any given moment. When kids learn to identify what color(s)/zone(s) they are in, they gain some control and are empowered to make different choices.

  1. Blue Zone: sad, sick, tired, bored, uncomfortable. In the blue zone, we move slowly and maybe reluctantly. We have a low state of alertness, and we need rest and health.
  2. Green Zone: happy, calm, focused, content, peaceful. In the green zone, we are ready to learn or engage in a fun project. We have a high state of alertness. We need (and are ready for) learning, growth, play.
  3. Yellow Zone: worried, anxious, frustrated, grumpy, excited, silly. We might be wiggly, restless, or distracted. We have elevated alertness. We are not out of control, but we need focus and some relief.
  4. Red Zone: angry, furious, terrified, fed up, elated, ecstatic. In the red zone, we have little self-control. We might yell or hit or act aggressively in another way. We very much need space, calm, relaxation, and empathy for ourselves and others.

Notice that there are no “good” or “bad” zones. Feelings themselves are morally neutral. They come and they go. It’s what we do with them that matters most.

Below, you will find three downloadable and printable charts for you to teach the zones of regulation at home. One chart explains the zones and accompanying feelings. Another chart has traffic signs to go with each zone: rest for blue zone; GO for the green zone; SLOW DOWN for the yellow zone; STOP for the red zone. The third chart includes space for kids to write what they feel and/or the choices they want to make as way of taking care of themselves. We recommend designating a “break chair” for when kids are in the red zone and stuck in the house. They can sit in the break chair for a few minutes, take some deep breaths, and calm down.

Working with the zones of regulation can increase self-awareness, contribute to self-confidence, and help kids (and adults) cope with the anxiety of these days.

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