The Zones of Regulation program is a self-regulation tool to help kids identify, address, and use strategies to achieve self-control and emotional regulation in a non-judgmental and safe way. All of us can use zones of regulation activities to monitor, maintain, and change our level of regulation. Here, you will find zones of regulation activities and tips to work on self-regulation of emotions through fun and interactive activities. These are DIY Zones activities that you can make as part of your occupational therapy treatment and can be used over and over again!
Using interactive zones of regulation activities can be helpful for kids who struggle with self-regulation.
Zones of Regulation Activities
Activities to support emotional regulation and coping skills can come in many forms. In this resource, you will find specific activities to add to a zones of regulation toolbox, so that monitoring and maintaining a functional level of regulation is possible in any situation. There are zones of regulation posters, worksheets, self-regulation checks, zones of regulation games, and even cootie catchers. All of these regulation tools are strategies to help kids become more aware of their self in order to function. Let’s break it down further…
What is self-regulation?
Well, let’s break it down. “Self” means you or me. “Regulation” means the process of being in control or to have management. So, add these two terms together and you get “self-regulation”. Self-regulation means you or me being in control and having management of ourselves.
Self-regulation is a skill that many children have a difficult time learning and achieving without help. In a given day, a child (and an adult) encounters multiple situations and circumstances that require an awareness of self and others as well as the ability to have or gain self-control.
Generally speaking, a child should achieve an optimal level of self-awareness and mindfulness to identify their inner feelings and emotions and be ready to regulate themselves when the time comes. They need to learn strategies and techniques that work for them to assist them in leaving a less optimal level in order to get back to a “ready-to-go” level of regulation.
Here are more mindfulness activities that kids can use in their Zones of Regulation Toolbox.
There are many different programs that offer self-regulation curriculum. These are regulation programs and interventions that can assist a child (and adult) to learn the skills necessary to achieve emotional regulation fit for every situation, circumstance, and environment.
Amazon affiliate links are included below.
Many programs, curriculum or interventions are created by occupational therapy professionals e.g., Zones of Regulation, The Alert Program, Test Drive, The Sensory Connection, and a new program called, The Regulation Rocket.
One of the common self-regulation programs is the Zones of Regulation.
The Zones of Regulation program is what most of our children use in their schools and homes. This program helps kiddos to identify, address and use strategies to achieve good self-control and emotional regulation in a non-judgmental and safe way. Using the zones helps to take the focus off of the child as being “good” or “bad” and places the focus on obtaining control to get back to the “green zone.”
The self-regulation program teachers children and their parents or teachers how to recognize the relationship between emotions, feelings, and their internal “state of being” with the behaviors and actions that we see. This relationship impacts attention, learning, and emotions. When students understand the connection between their arousal states and their ability to self-regulate, they can identify different zones or levels which they are currently in at any given time. They can then use regulation tools or strategies to impact their arousal so they can appropriately and efficiently respond to the demands of a given task.
What is regulation?
Self-regulation is the ability to attain, maintain, and change one’s arousal level, emotions, and behaviors. This ability to self-control relies on impulse control, working memory, and generally speaking, the ability to keep oneself “in check”. The ability to experience feelings and desires and make decisions based on those concepts requires motivation, willpower, higher level thinking.
It requires the ability to self-monitor our thoughts, actions, feelings, internal body processes (interoception), and then make choices. These decisions can sometimes occur in a moment. For some, this instantaneous decision-making can lead to poor regulation.
Emotional regulation can look like a bad decision based on inner thoughts, or being in a grumpy mood and as a result being mean to a friend. Emotional regulation has to do with inner decisions related to emotions and moods.
Behavioral regulation refers to decisions related to actions and what we say, do, or think in response to inner thoughts and desires.
I think we can all say that one time or another we had something that we were expected to do but we really did NOT want to do. Maybe that was mow the lawn when we really wanted to watch a movie inside. Maybe we wanted to sleep in when we actually had to get up for an early meeting. These would be examples of behavioral regulation. Knowing that those tasks needed to be done and making the decision to do them rather than giving into impulses is a form of self-regulation.
We have a few blog posts here on the website that explain self-regulation in greater detail. This article on using the Mightier program for self-regulation shows how to use the application and game to help a child identify their feelings and utilize coping strategies that impact those various emotional regulation changes. The games adjust to challenge the child as they become more proficient in coping strategies.
In this self-regulation craft and activity, we used a lion and a lamb concept to bring the abstract meaning of regulation to a concrete place of learning and exploration, by helping kids to see that self regulation strategies can make a huge difference in paying attention and learning in the classroom or completing tasks that need to be done at home.
In this article, we covered the connection between executive functioning skills and emotional regulation.
What are the zones of regulation
Well, in brief summation, the Zones of Regulation program is a curriculum or framework created by an occupational therapist, Leah Kuypers, which is designed to help a child navigate their sometimes confusing emotions. The curriculum helps a child to achieve self-regulation and emotional control by gaining skills in self-control and problem-solving based on targeted zones that are identified with colors.
These zones help a child recognize, categorize, and communicate their feelings or emotions based on a specific zone. This makes the program an effective and fluid tool for a child to understand, learn, and achieve without feeling judged or different.
Let’s quickly review the zones so you can have a better understanding of the reason behind my fun tool creations. I designed these tools for individual children to help them better understand and navigate their emotions while identifying strategies that help them shift from a less desirable zone to a more calm and focused zone, which is better for participating and learning at school, home, church, and in therapy.
What do the Colors in the Zones of Regulation Program Mean?
The Red Zone is an extremely heightened state of alertness with intense emotions and is typically viewed as the child being “out-of-control.”
Red zone behaviors might include:
- Out of control
- “Hands on” physical reactions
- Extreme feelings
- Feel “ready to explode”
Red Zone Activities may include:
- Heavy work (Try these themed heavy work activity cards)
- Running, walking
- Deep breaths (try these themed deep breathing cards)
- Listening to music
- Talking to someone
- Activities listed under the other zones
The Yellow Zone is entering a heightened state of alertness and elevated emotions typically viewed as heading toward the red zone, but the child still has some control.
Examples of Yellow Zone behaviors include:
Yellow Zone Activities may include:
- Enjoy nature
- Drink a glass of water
- Listen to music
- Write in a journal
- Activities listed under the other zones
The Green Zone is the optimal level of alertness and is typically viewed as the child being “good to go” and ready for leaning and social interactions.
Examples of the Green Zone behaviors include:
- Positive responses
- Ready to go
Green Zone Activities may include:
- Write in a journal
- List out accomplishments
- Help someone
- Reach out to a friend
- Activities listed under the other zones
The Blue Zone is a low level of alertness typically viewed as the child running slow.
Examples of Blue Zone responses include:
Blue Zone Activities may include:
- Talk to someone
- Build a puzzle
- Read a book
- Color or draw
- Think about positive mindset strategies
- Activities listed under the other zones
Fun Zones of Regulation Activities
What is the best part about the fun tools I created? YOU can create them and use them with most any regulation program based on the programs framework.
One of the key pieces to the Zones of Regulation is the point that there is no one “right” zone to be in. It’s OK to be in the red zone or the yellow zone. We all have fluctuations of moods and behaviors. The part that is important for us as advocates for children is to offer strategies to help kids understand and identify their feelings and emotions. It’s important for kids to understand how their reactions impact others, particularly when they are not able to manage their emotional or behavioral response.
All of the Zones of Regulation activities that are listed above can be interchanged, and used as able to help move from one zone to another. Each child will be different in the zones strategies that works for them.
The resources in the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook really go into detail on this concept, in using movement and sensory tools as regulation strategies and coping tools to help kids function, within their daily functional tasks. For example, it is possible to incorporate regulating activities within the classroom, home tasks like self-care or chores, and the community. Check out the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook for more information on this concept.
Look at the fun tools I created and take the general structure and design to build essential tools to go with whatever program you may be utilizing in therapy, the classroom, or at home.
1. Zones Pocket Play for Emotions and Coping Strategies
In this zones activity, kids can make the tools they need to work on self-regulation. Have kiddos fold file folders to create a pocket on the bottom. Trim off the edges. Use hot glue to turn the large pocket into four sections (red, yellow, green, and blue). Color and label the sections based on zones. Have kiddos label craft sticks with either emotions or coping strategies and insert into the correct pockets.
This Zones Pocket Play for Emotions and Coping Strategies Folders can be used in the home or classroom.
2. Zone Check-In Tube
Have kiddos paint or wrap colored tape around paper towel tubes according to the zone colors. If painting, wait to dry. Follow up with kiddos writing emotion words or even drawing emotion facial expressions onto the matching tube color. Place a hair band onto the tube to roll up and down as needed to perform check-ins with children throughout the day.
3. Zone Check-In Frame
Hot glue colored craft sticks according to zone colors (red, yellow, green and blue) to create a square frame and then have child write the zone title on one side and zone emotion words on the other side OR have child write zone emotion words on one side and coping strategies on the other side. Place a clothespin onto the frame to clip as needed to perform check-ins with children throughout the day. This tool can also be used to teach and review while learning the program zones as well.
4. Zone Grab Bag Game
Have kiddos create an emotion identification grab bag game. This can be done in differentiated ways:
• Draw emotional expressions as faces on matching color dot stickers and place on bottle caps (for younger children).
• Simply draw emotional facial expressions on bottle caps directly with a black marker (for older children).
• Draw emotional facial expressions on plastic spoons with matching colored markers (for younger children).
• Draw emotional facial expressions on plastic spoons with a black marker (for older children).
Once these are created, toss only the caps or only the spoons into a grab bag or simply toss them all into one bag.
When children grab a cap or spoon from the bag, they decide which colored mat they belong on to identify the correct emotion and zone.
4. Zones of Regulation Craft
Use this Lion and lamb self- regulation craft to identify emotions and talk about “lamb” emotions and responses and “lion” emotions and responses.
5. Make a Coping Skills Toolbox
Identifying coping strategies that work for each individual can make all the difference in having a set of “go to” regulation strategies when the need presents itself. This massive list of coping strategies for kids are perfect for filling a coping skills toolbox. Write them out on slips of paper, add them to a flip book, make them into coping skills Popsicle sticks, or add them to a coping strategies bulletin board. Kids can go through the various calming and alerting activities and use them to self-regulate.
6. Make a Zones of Regulation Chart
Use a file folder or slide a paper into a page protector to create a Zones of Regulation chart using movement activities in the classroom. Kids can mark off their zone and pick from a coping mechanism to help them get to a zone in which they can learn and pay attention.
7. Keep a Self-Reflection Journal
Using a printed journal like our Self-Reflection Journal or the Impulse Control Journal can help kids identify more about themselves, become more self-aware, while reflecting on their day and week. They can write down their actions, emotions, and responses and then look back at what worked and what didn’t work. By using a written journal, children can describe good and poor choices that they’ve made and then write out tools that they can try next time. Journaling is a conversation tool to use when talking about what works and what doesn’t work for a child with a variety of needs.
The Impulse Control Journal takes self-reflection a step further by working on the impulses that impact behavioral regulation or emotional regulation and the actions that we see. This tool is effective in helping kids and teens to identify emotions, reactions, responses, and learning strategies to change their regulation through self-awareness. Kids can choose strategies independently and see progress by working through the Impulse Control Journal pages.
8. Identify emotions through Play
The first step of self-regulation is the ability to identify emotions. Social emotional learning begins with naming emotions, matching emotion names to faces and body language. When kids identify emotions, they can begin to develop empathy for others but also become more self-aware of their own emotions, the things that impact those feelings, and how they respond. Some ways to identify emotions through play include:
- Using play to identify emotions can be done in so many pretend play activities.
- Use pictures or video modeling to help kids identify emotions and label the terms.
- Act out emotions with toys and name the emotions that the toys are demonstrating.
9. Explore self regulation skills
When kids explore self regulation skills by experimenting with sensory input, kids can identify the terms that their body feels when they are exposed to that sensory input. If done during a calm time, when the child is at high alert and concentration, they are able to fully experience the input without distraction. Kids can then create a zones toolbox using the self-regulation skills that work for them.
Try these self regulation skills exploration with kids:
- Try a variety of sensory foods and ask the child to identify how their mouth feels with each food. Does the food taste salty, sweet, chewy, crunchy, or sour? How does their mouth feel after trying each food? Awake, sleepy, happy, calm, alert? Ask the child to put a name to each food. Mark these down on a chart and use this as a regulation tool.
- Try different types of movement using Sensory Diet Cards. Kids can try the sensory activity and identify how their body feels. Mark it down and add those calming or alerting activities to their regulation toolbox.
Self Regulation in the Classroom
Self regulation in the classroom can impact learning, attention, focus, and student interaction.
Now that you know some zones of regulation activities, you can use them in the classroom or learning environment. Whether that be in the traditional school setting, in homeschooling, or in remote learning settings, the Zones of Regulation is effective to foster learning.
Go ahead and make these fun and easy Zones of Regulation tools to help your kiddos learn emotional regulation and self-control to help them succeed in their daily lives so they can feel good and remain cool. Kiddos will enjoy the interactive components and you’ll see learning and regulation evolve! They can be used at home or in the school environment.
In the learning environment, kids can identify how characters of a book or reading assignment feel.
Help students identify emotions in magazines or online.
Identify specific tasks that the characters could do to get to a zone that would help them in the situation they are in. This can be a great group activity for students.
Come up with group or small group coping tools that students can use as a brain break or movement break.
Have students make a DIY quiet fidget tool that they can keep in their pencil pouch or desk.
Explore these sensory strategies for school and come up with regulation activities that work for the learning situation.
There are so many options for zones of regulation activities for kids. What would you add to this list?
This post was written in part, by The OT Toolbox contributor, Regina Allen. Read about Regina in her Contributor Author Spotlight.
Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.