Emotional Regulation

3 Aug, 2020

Behavioural struggles are a common experience for children and adolescents with disabilities inclusive but not exhaustive of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Intellectual impairment and global developmental delay. Difficulty processing and responding to situations appropriately is commonly described as ‘emotional dysregulation.’ Read more below about how emotional regulation can help your little one.

Occupational Therapists can assist children and their families to gain the skill set they need to regain control of their actions. This increases their ability to participate in activities completed in the home, school and community settings. These skills can be taught through a program called “The Zones of Regulation”.

Emotional Regulation is a commonly used and evidence based intervention to increase self-regulation skills.This structured program can include a variety of calming strategies, cognitive strategies and sensory supports specifically addressing the child’s needs. The “Zones” can be used as a visual and interactive tool to categorise a variety of emotions and behaviours. The four zones of Regulation are listed below:

  • Blue: low state of alertness, when one feels tired, sick, sad or bored. When one’s body is moving ‘slowly’
  • Green: used to describe an ideal state of alertness. A person may be described as calm, happy, content. A strong sense of internal control is felt by the child.
  • Yellow: Used to describe a heightened state of alertness, they may be experiencing stress, frustration, anxiety, excitement, silliness, of fear when in this zone.
  • Red: Used to describe an extremely heightened state of alertness/ A person may be experiencing anger, rage, explosive behaviour, panic, extreme grief, terror, or elation in this sone. They feel a loss of control.

Within Generation Physio, paediatrics is a dominant area of our practice. It is very common to see children ages between 3 years old and 16 years old with difficulties regulating or communicating their emotions effectively. Therefore, by implementing the ‘Zones of Regulation’ into our intervention plan we can allow children to learn how to understand, communicate, control and learn adaptive behaviours to manage their emotions. When children and families receive an individualised approach for their behavioural difficulties, the child’s strengths and abilities can shine through and children can be supported to thrive and flourish in their own unique way.

Here are some of the fun ways we implement the Zones of Regulation into kid’s therapy plans:

The Zones Robot! See the photo on the right, which a 6 year old client made. Your OT may have helpful suggestions on how to make the Zones of Regulation engaging and fun for even the youngest clients. This also implemented fine motor skills and planning into its creation!

Zones of Regulation ‘Guess Who’! By adapting the game, Guess Who, loved by all children and families, orientating the questions around what their face is communicating about their emotions, it is a great way to learn about non-verbal communication.

Zones of Regulation Bingo! This game teaches children to be able to match facial expressions to emotions, and use coloured chips that correspond with each zone that the emotion falls under.

The Toolbox! This involves providing the child a ‘Zones Tools Menu’ and working through it collaboratively to find tools that they can implement into their daily life to assist them to move into the ‘green’ zone when they are feeling out of control, angry or sad.

Emotional regulation

The Zones of Regulation in Action

For an example of amazing improvements seen by a client through implementing the Zones of Regulation to manage his emotional regulation, read about our case study – Tommy!

Tommy is a 5 year old boy with autism and ADHD. Prior to starting OT, Tommy had difficulties regulating his emotions and would react to conflict or things not going his way by yelling, hitting, spitting or throwing objects.

Tommy engaged in weekly OT where one of his therapy goals orientated around Zones of Regulation. Tommy made coloured posters correlating with each zone where he cut and stuck pictures of what made him feel in each zone. He also engaged in role play activities where he had to show and/or guess what zone he was in based on his facial expressions and body language. Once Tommy gained an understanding of how his emotions can be categorized into each colour, he was able to use his posters to communicate to his mother what zone he was in and why. Additionally, through OT Tommy also learnt of ways to get back into the ‘Green’ zone (happy, calm, relaxed) through trial of different strategies. Now, Tommy has implemented not only in his home, but also within his classroom that when he is feeling out of control or angry, that when he closes his eyes, takes 10 deep breaths and thinks of his favourite place, the beach, he is able to feel more calm and resist his previous urges to yell or physically lash out.

Talk to your OT today to see if your child would benefit from building self-regulation skills through the Emotional Regulation program!

You may also like…