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Practice the Zones of Regulation framework

Practice the zones of regulation framework, young Asian girl smiling while playing with a giant bubble wand

Learning how to practice the Zones of Regulation framework can help people of ages identify, understand and regulate their emotions. Understanding the Zones of Regulation framework can provide a tangible tool to explore your emotional landscape.

Why do children struggle with uncomfortable feelings?

In my experience, kids who have a hard time tolerating uncomfortable feelings tend to struggle for one of two reasons: The first group of kids is the Deep Feelers. Deep Feelers are the kids who get flooded and absolutely bowled over by their big feelings. They are able to easily identify what they are feeling and why, but Deep Feelers experience their feelings so intensely that it is almost like they become stuck in difficult emotional states as they think and talk about and process their emotions. It is important for these kiddos to learn how to find the line between talking about and processing an emotion and ruminating about it. 

The second group of kids, the Sensitive Souls, is made up of kids who are intimidated by feelings. Kids in the Sensitive Souls group are so intimidated by feelings that they have difficulty tolerating even the thought of hard emotions. For our Sensitive Souls, often just talking about a hard feeling like anxiety or sadness can bring up an echo of that emotion. And because they are so sensitive, even that small echo of real emotions can feel overwhelming and like it is “too much,” and so they try and do whatever they can to avoid thinking about, talking about, or otherwise experiencing a hard emotion. For these kiddos, it is really important to help them learn where their “too much” point of emotion lies, and to help them practice “being in” the experience of emotions that are close to that point but do not exceed it.

How to help kids practice the Zones of Regulation framework

For both groups of kids, the Zones of Regulation can be a really helpful tool in practicing emotion tolerance and regulation. The Zones of Regulation is a framework designed to help kids (and adults!) identify, understand, and regulate their emotions. By categorizing feelings into four color-coded zones — blue (slow, tired, sad, “not enough”,) green (calm, alert, ready to learn and engage,) yellow (approaching the “too much” point,) and red (angry, overstimulated, super anxious, “too much!”) —the Zones of Regulation provides a tangible way for children to explore their emotional landscape.

Here’s how you can use the Zones of Regulation to facilitate conversations about feelings with children:

  1. Introduce the Zones: Start by introducing the four zones and their corresponding emotions to your child. Use visual aids, such as posters or flashcards, to help them visualize each zone and understand what feelings belong to each.
  2. Explore Personal Experiences: Encourage your child to reflect on their own experiences within each zone. Ask open-ended questions like, “Can you think of a time when you felt really sad?” or “What makes you feel calm and relaxed?”
  3. Normalize All Feelings: Validate your child’s emotions by reassuring them that all feelings are valid and natural. Emphasize that it’s okay to feel a wide range of emotions and that each emotion serves a purpose.
  4. Develop Coping Strategies: Brainstorm together and explore various coping strategies for each zone. Help your child identify activities or techniques that help them regulate their emotions and move between zones effectively.
  5. Practice Emotional Regulation: Encourage your child to practice recognizing and regulating their emotions in real-life situations. Offer praise and positive reinforcement when they successfully identify their feelings and implement coping strategies.

Helping kids learn how to tolerate all emotions — the hard ones and the pleasant ones — is incredibly important for their emotional development and well-being. By understanding the reasons why discussing emotions can be hard and utilizing frameworks like the Zones of Regulation, parents and caregivers can create a supportive environment where any kid can flourish. And if that doesn’t work, contact the therapists at Mirjam Quinn & Associates.

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