The Zones of Regulation (or “The Zones” for short) involve four different colored zones that help students gain skills in the area of emotional self-regulation. Self-regulation can go by many names, such as self-control, self-management, and impulse control. The zones describe our emotional state at any given time, and they can and do change throughout our days.
At any given time we are experiencing one of the four different zones. When in the green zone, we feel “good to go” and show control, this is the zone student generally need to be in for schoolwork and for being social. Some green zone feelings include happy, calm, ready to learn, and thankful. If we are in the yellow zone we need to slow down, because we are starting to lose control. Frustrated, silly, annoyed, grouchy, upset, and nervous are a few of the yellow zone feelings. If we are in the yellow zone and we don’t slow down we could end up in the red zone, which means that we are out of control. Other red zone feelings include angry, aggressive, yelling, and mean. The blue zone is used to describe low states of alertness, such as when one feels sad, tired, sick or bored. This is when our bodies and/or brains are moving slowly or sluggishly.
It is important to remember that the zones describe our emotional state rather than our behavior, and there is nothing inherently wrong with being in any of the zones. The zones are intended to be neutral and not communicate judgment. There is a saying “all feelings are okay, it’s what you do with them that counts”. When talking to children about their zones, it can be helpful to distinguish between their zones and the actions they choose in order to express how they’re feeling. While feeling that one is in the red zone is okay, expressing it by kicking or breaking things is not.
Over the course of the day there are many opportunities to discuss the zones. When reading a book or watching a movie, we can observe the zones of the characters. We can also model discussion of our own zones. For example, one could say, “I couldn’t find my glasses so I was briefly in the yellow zone, but now I found them and I’m reading the menu so I’m back in the green zone”. We can also share with children how their behavior is affecting our zones and feelings by sharing our observations. “I was in the blue zone because I was sad that we can’t go to the party, but when you gave me a hug that helped move me to the green zone,” is one example. Just as children's’ actions can change our zones, it is important to remember that our actions as adults can also change their zones.