April 27, 2022

How the “Zones of Regulation” Can Help Children With Sensory Issues

Helping children with sensory issues cope with their emotions

Key takeaways:

  • The Zones of Regulation helps kids regulate their bodies and emotions and increase their attention spans.
  • There are four main Zones: Green, Blue, Yellow, and Red
  • Specific strategies can help kids regulate their emotions and stay in the Green Zone.
  • The Zones of Regulation also help children manage their Zone (emotions) in different environments.

Occupational therapy is a vital tool in treating pediatric sensory issues. The curriculum helps children with sensory processing issues like ADHD, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), anxiety, and other challenges.

“Zones of Regulation” is one key strategy used by occupational therapists and social workers. This approach helps children learn how to self-regulate their bodies and emotions.

Let’s discuss what Zones of Regulation is and how it can help your child.

Explaining the Zones of Regulation

The Zones of Regulation, created by occupational therapist, Leah Kuypers, helps children regulate their bodies and emotions, improve impulse control, increase body awareness, and increase attention. It incorporates Social Thinking® concepts and visuals that help kids identify their feelings and understand how their emotions impact their behavior and reactions to certain situations.

There are four main zones in the Zones of Regulation:

  1. Blue
  2. Green
  3. Yellow
  4. Red

Let’s go over each one.

1. Blue Zone 

Children in the Blue Zone are usually experiencing low states of alertness and down feelings.

Associated emotions: Bored, sad, sick, tired

2. Green Zone

Think Goldilocks when it comes to the Green Zone as your child feels “just right.” Children in the green Zone are alert, focused, content, and can think clearly to make good decisions.

Association emotions: Calm, content, focused, happy, positive, proud

3. Yellow Zone

This is the “warning” zone similar to a yellow traffic light. Children in the Yellow Zone might feel frustrated, angry, excited, or silly. The heart rate might increase, and they might also start to breathe faster.

Association emotions: Anxious, frustrated, excited, nervous, silly, wiggly, worried

4. Red Zone

If your child enters the Red Zone, they might feel and act overwhelmed, out of control, or enraged. The heart rate is likely to be very high, and they may have difficulty thinking clearly. This is known as the “emergency” zone.

Association emotions: Angry, rage, overjoyed, elated, panicked, terrified, devastated, physical reactions, ready to explode

Note: Children experience the Zones of Regulation in different ways. What puts one child in the “red zone” may not have the same effect on another child. It’s also important to remember that it’s okay if your child feels all of the emotions associated with the different zones. The goal is to learn how to self-regulate and stay in the Green Zone as much as possible.

Identifying Zones and emotions

Zones of Regulation provides a framework for students, and strategies to manage their Zone and emotions in different environments. For example, suppose your child is swimming or playing soccer. In this scenario, they might feel a sense of silliness and excitement (i.e., Yellow Zone). There isn’t as much of a need to manage their emotions and behavior in those situations.

However, feeling silly or excited at school could be a problem. Classroom settings require different behavior and interactions with other students and teachers. Your child needs to be able to adjust their behavior depending on the setting.

Coping strategies

Therapists use many different coping strategies and activities to help regulate children’s emotions and help them stay in the Green Zone. Everyone is different; what may be regulating to one person may be overstimulating to another. It is important to work with an occupational therapist or social worker to find calming strategies that work best for your child.

Occupational therapists and social workers can teach children (and adults) some of these strategies. Some common ones include:

Deep breathing: This is a great way to calm down when you feel overwhelmed. Occupational therapists can teach you and your child how to do deep breathing exercises that can be done anywhere at any time.

Physical activity: Sometimes, physical activity can help calm emotions and improve behavior. Activities can range from running or walking to yoga and stretching.

Muscle relaxation: This technique involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups. It helps reduce stress and calm your child before they jump to a different, more volatile zone.

Visualization: This technique can be used to help your child calm down. It works by having your child picture a peaceful place in their mind.

Sensory strategies: Occupational therapists can also teach children to use different sensory strategies to regulate their emotions. Activities might include using a weighted blanket or fidget toys. It could also involve using essential oils or listening to calming music.

The benefits of the Zones of Regulation

The Zones of Regulation offers a practical, proactive approach to building skills and self-regulating emotions. There is a systematic framework with a precise sequence of lessons so your child can improve their behavior and focus better in class. This approach can also be adapted to fit the needs of each child. Let’s look at the benefits more closely.

Benefit 1: Inclusivity

The Zones of Regulation provide a framework that supports positive mental health and social/emotional learning (SEL). It also helps children with ADHD, ASD, and neurodiversity issues participate in class since it’s specifically tailored to them. The Zones ultimately help create communities where learners can find the resources they need to navigate life’s challenges successfully.

Benefit 2: Best practices

The Zones of Regulation integrate best practices for Trauma-Informed Care and mental health support. It aligns with CASEL’s core competencies (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning): self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. This method also uses best practices for instructing neurodiverse learners.

Benefit 3: Skills-based

The Zones of Regulation focus less on “behavior” and more on developing universal coping skills and regulating emotions. Ultimately, your child will be able to function better in school and other social situations after participating in the Zones of Regulation framework. They will be able to focus better in class, forge stronger relationships, and participate in more activities.

Benefit 4: Common language

The Zones of Regulation simplifies language and organizes it in an easy-to-understand format. This system can help improve communication for students, teachers, and family members.

Benefit 5: It’s effective

The Zones help increase coping skills in students. They also reduce the need for “punishment,” instead, offering a way for your child to talk about their feelings and find ways to control their emotions.

How Lumiere Children’s Therapy can help

Lumiere Children’s Therapy offers occupational therapy for children with sensory issues related to conditions like ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and other neurodiverse disorders. We focus on each child’s individual goals and needs. As with all developmental issues, we want children to become as independent as possible.

Along with sensory processing issues, occupational therapy can help children with diagnoses related to:

  • Prematurity
  • Developmental delays
  • Fine motor delays
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Motor incoordination
  • Down syndrome
  • Brachial plexus injury
  • Chromosomal abnormalities
  • Visual processing disorders
  • Learning delays

We also provide other comprehensive therapies so children with a wide range of physical, emotional, and developmental conditions can achieve traditional milestones.

Our other services include:

  • Speech therapy
  • ABA (behavior) therapy
  • Developmental therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Social work
  • Augmentative alternative communication
  • Early intervention
  • Teletherapy

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.

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