Zones of regulation: The tools your child needs to understand emotions

'Zones of Regulation' is a whole learning curriculum, developed to teach children (and adults too) self-regulation and emotional control. It was created by Leah Kuypers.

What does the Zones teach children?

The curriculum teaches a variety of emotional coping strategies and social skills, starting with early emotional skills and working its way up to self-regulation and navigating social situations.

Some of the skills include:

  • Identifying your emotions by categorising them into four zones

  • Self-regulation: achieving the preferred state of alertness (zone) for a situation

  • Identifying triggers

  • Coping strategies

  • Size of the problem matches the size of the reaction

  • Expected vs unexpected behaviour: Teaches other people’s viewpoints, and how your behaviour affects the thoughts and feelings of the people around you

Sleek Therapy UK uses the Zones of Regulation curriculum to help your child understand and learn to control their emotions. In this blog post, we explain the zones and how you can teach your children emotional regulation at home. This is not a substitution for therapy and is for information purposes only.

What are the zones?

The Zones are colour-coded to help children self-identify how they’re feeling. It helps children to recognise their own triggers, learn to read facial expressions, develop problem solving skills and become more attuned to how their actions affect other people.

Green Zone: In this zone, you child will be feeling calm and alert or ‘just right’. This is the zone you want to be in, although the yellow zone is sometimes okay, depending on the situation. Some of the other zones are expected depending on the situation as well.

Yellow zone: This is where there is a heightened sense of alertness. You still have some control over actions. Yellow means frustrated, anxious or nervous and also excited, silly or hyper which is okay in the right situations.

Red Zone: This is where you are in an extreme heightened sense of alertness where emotions have become intense. In the red zone, you can no longer control emotions or reactions. This is the zone children are in during meltdowns. Emotions include anger, terror, scared, rage or devastation.

Blue Zone: In this zone, you are in a low state of alertness or arousal. Emotions include sad, sick, tired, or bored. A child is still in control of themselves, as they are in the yellow zone, but with low energy emotions.

How to teach your children the zones

You can play a variety of games and role plays that will help your children identify the zone and associated emotions.

  • Emotion bingo – children use red, green, blue and yellow bingo dabbers to mark which zone the facial expression belongs to

  • Emotion jenga – label the bricks with a variety of emotions. When you successfully retrieve a brick, you identify the zone, and then give a story of when you felt that emotion. Both you and your child would do this in turns

  • Matching zones to TV – when watching a programme, ask your child which zone the characters on in on the TV. Ask them how they know this (you may need to scaffold this depending on their age)

  • The document below contains a plethora of games and information on the Zone of Regulation

Download PDF • 14.06MB

Getting back to the GREEN zone

When our children are in the yellow, blue or red zone, we may need to help them get back to the green zone. We do this by being with our children, rather than against them. This means that instead of scolding, yelling at or sending them for a time out, we sit with our children, holding them and helping them use calming strategies to return to the green zone.

What happens when you feel angry or sad? Do you want people to walk away from you and leave you alone? Sometimes. But often it makes use feel even worse. We seek comfort. Our children are no different.

Every 'The Mental Health Exchange' email contains a section called The Tool Shed which provides a new coping strategy or technique that will help you and your child return to the Green zone.

Don’t forget, this isn’t just for children. You can also work on identifying your Zones, reasons why you are there, and ways to help yourself return to the green zone. Afterall, a calm parent is a parent who is regulated and therefore, is able to help their children with their emotional dysregulation.

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