Some days we may feel down in the dumps. Some days we may feel a little bit silly. Some days we may feel angry. Some days we feel just right and content. These emotions are natural to feel throughout life’s processes, however what is important about emotions is knowing how to react to them. Self-regulation is the ability to recognize our emotions and manage our feelings. Some individuals have more difficulty than others learning how to regulate their emotions. The Zones of Regulation® is an excellent tool to use with children when learning how to recognize and manage emotions. The Zones are used to teach children self-regulation by categorizing the ways we feel into four colored zones. This framework was created by a school-based occupational therapist who needed a new way to help a student gain skills in the area of self-regulation.
The four zones each have a coordinating color to represent different emotions.
The blue zone is used to describe low states of alertness and down feelings. For example, an individual is considered to be in the blue zone when they feel sad, tired, disappointed, bored, sick, shy, or just moving slowly. The green zone is used to describe a calm state of alertness. An individual is considered to be in the green zone when they feel happy, proud, ready to learn, content, focused, or calm. The yellow zone is used to describe a heightened state of alertness and elevated emotions. An individual is considered to be in the yellow zone when they feel frustrated, worried, silly, wiggly, excited, or losing some control. Lastly, the red zone is used to describe extremely heightened state of alertness and intense emotion. An individual is considered to be in the red zone when they feel elated, aggressive, mean, angry, terrified, or out of control.
It is important to remember that there are no “bad zones” within this framework. The green zone can be considered the “target zone” but all zones are expected at one time or another.
Once a child understands the concept of the zones, it can become part of their everyday language and incorporated into their daily lives. The zones can be implemented in the home or school setting. In the home, a family can utilize a chart or a reward system for remaining in appropriate zones throughout the day. It is important in the home for the parents or caregivers to really show interest in learning what triggers a child and discuss different tools that can be used to change what zone a child is in (count to ten, take a break, deep breaths, go for a walk, drink some water, draw a picture, listen to music, etc.).
In the school setting, teachers can also utilize a chart for their students to report on which zone they are in through different times of the day. Teachers can also talk about what zones are expected with different activities throughout the school environment. For example, at recess, students can be in the yellow zone but need to be back in the green zone what listening to the teacher. These zones are a simple and fun, yet effective way for children to learn all about their emotions!
-Rachel Guiser, MOT, OTR/L