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Zones of Regulation

By Apricus Health

2nd June 2021

A common misconception about the Zones of Regulation is that it is a tool to teach us how to make our way to the “green zone”. In fact, the purpose of the Zones of Regulation Curriculum is to teach us how to monitor, evaluate and self-regulate our different emotions, or “zones” in a safe and socially acceptable way.   

Too often, children are reprimanded for having “negative” behaviour when all they need are some tools on how to manage their emotions. The Zones of Regulation is an amazing resource for educators, parents and professionals to incorporate into everyday life. 

Often children, as well as adults, really struggle to manage their heightened states such as anger, rage, elationdevastation etc. These emotions all fall into what is called the “Red Zone”. In the Red Zone, we are often “out-of-control” of our emotions. The most important thing to remember and to remind children when they are in this state is that it is OKAY and normal to feel these kinds of emotions. What is not okay is hurting ourselves or others when we are in this state, so it's important to learn the tools to manage those big emotions. 

There are so many different tools we can use to manage our “red zone” emotions, but I will share a few, simple yet effective tools that can be used no matter where you are. 

  • The most accessible tool we have is our senses: Touch, Taste, Smell, Hearing and Sight. The next time a child or an adult is displaying heightened emotions remind them to do this simple activity: Take a deep breath. Use your senses to calm your body. What can you see around you, are there smiling faces? Is the sun shining? Are the trees blowing? Now, what can you smell? Is the air fresh? Do your clothes smell like fresh laundry detergent? Can you smell the rain? Now, what do you hear? Is there laughter? Are there cars driving by? Is there a bird singing? Now for touch, see if there is a stress ball they can use to squeeze as hard as they can. Maybe they need a hug to reassure them. Maybe they can take their shoes off and feel the grass on their feet. Taste may require prior planning but maybe offer a snack or a drink of water, anything to take their mind off what might be upsetting them helps.  This tool is a version of what is called a “body scan”. Not only does it help us tune in to our feelings, but it helps us to stop and think about something else other than our current emotions. 
  • Another great strategy for managing the “red zone” is going for a walk or a run. Exercise releases endorphins and helps us to feel calmer and gives us the space to think about the size of the problem we are heightened over. If it is a child, offer to take them for a walk and let them know you are there if they would like to talk, but just being there with them helps them to know they are safe. 
  • Many heightened emotions are a result of sensory overload. A tool that takes a bit more consideration and time to plan but that is very effective is a sensory toolbox. Having a box of items such as a stress ball, a pinwheel, a fidget toy, a weighted pillow and a glitter bottle can be a great resource to help a child through an emotional moment. Removing them from the current environment, giving them a safe, quiet space and a sensory toolkit may be all they need to regulate their emotions.