Emotions ahead: handle with care

It is so important that we not only learn how to handle our own emotions but also the we meet the emotional needs our children and any children that we may know as well. At my school we have been running a program called the Zones of Regulation. I implemented the program just over a year ago and it has been well received by the whole community. I really couldn’t recommend adopting this language for your own children more.

It is a curriculum designed to help kids learn to identify their feelings and emotional reactions and learn sensory and perspective-taking strategies to encourage better self-regulation across different situations.

The Four Zones: Our Feelings & States Determine Our Zone

The Red Zone is used to describe extremely heightened states of alertness and intense emotions.  A person may be elated or experiencing anger, rage, explosive behaviour, devastation, or terror when in the Red Zone.

The Yellow Zone is also used to describe a heightened state of alertness and elevated emotions; however, one has some control when they are in the Yellow Zone.  A person may be experiencing stress, frustration, anxiety, excitement, silliness, the wiggles, or nervousness when in the Yellow Zone.

The Green Zone is used to describe a calm state of alertness. A person may be described as happy, focused, content, or ready to learn when in the Green Zone.  This is the zone where optimal learning occurs.

The Blue Zone is used to describe low states of alertness and down feelings, such as when one feels sad, tired, sick, or bored.  

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There are many more emotions that can also fit into these categories. It is important to note that NO emotion is a bad emotion. There are negative emotions and positive emotions, but not in the sense that we should not feel a certain way. It is more than okay to be angry, sad or nervous, and often we enter many different zones within any hour of the day. However, these negative emotions prevent us from taking in new information, inhibit new relationships and also impair our ability to make good decisions. Therefore we want to acknowledge the emotion and put a strategy or tool into place to lessen the duration and intensity of the emotion. Similarly if we are in the wrong zone for a situation, even with a positive emotion, for example feeling elated when trying to do silent reading, we will be distracted and unable to concentrate on the task. The Green Zone, a zone full of positive emotions at a calm arousal state is optimal for learning.

Getting into the Green Zones takes practise but it’s not as hard as you think! So how do we do this?

We use our toolbox. Our toolbox is full of strategies, referred to as tools, that we can used at any time to help us transition into the Green Zone. The tools are specific to the individual and we use different tools depending on the current zone or emotions. If we are feeling tired or in the blue zone, then reading a book might not re-energise us, but going for a brisk walk might. If we are feeling frustrated and in the yellow zone then immersing ourselves in a book might calm us down. All students at one point or another have explored what tools help them to get into the green zone. What works for one students or adult, may not work for another. The trick is to experiment and test out different tools on yourself. Tools include exercise, practising gratitude, taking a break, talking to a friend/adult/teacher, drawing, getting a drink, breathing techniques...the list is really endless. Anything that brings you a sense of calm and increases your positive emotions is a tool that you can use. However, it is important that you find tools that are sustainable and are benefit your health overall as well. For example, a student calming down by playing an ipad game is not exactly beneficial to their overall health nor is an adult reaching for the secret stash of chocolate in the top of the cupboard. Reflect on the tools that you and your families use. Are they healthy and sustainable?

Next you time you sense yourself or your child unable to concentrate or reacting in an inappropriate way for the situation, firstly identify the emotion or zone and then ask yourself or them what tool they could implement to shift their current state. For younger students you might offer specific tools to use and guide them through it. It’s about teaching them how to safely travel between their zones and emotions. It is also important that we don’t suggest tools they have practised before. If a child is quite angry and you suggest breathing techniques that they don’t understand then this tool will be ineffective. The work around the tools has to be done when we are already in the green zone, because remember this is the zone where we learn the best. Then once the learning has taken place we can effectively apply the new tools when we need them.

Remember that we are their biggest teacher. If we can’t handle their big emotions how can we expect them too? It is about working through their emotions with them and assisting them in finding the right tool. If we yell at them and become frustrated, they believe that is how we handle the emotion and they will do the same. It is also important that we handle our own emotions openly and appropriately. When they see us doing this they realise that their emotions are natural and permissible. Through observation they become better equipped to handle their emotions as well. If we shut down when we get upset, or become angry then they will do the same. Be open with your children about how you feel, just by doing this they will learn so much.

Below is an overall Zones Poster that you could display at home. The strategies that are in this poster might not suit your child for each of their zones so use it as a guide and change and move different tools around. If you are after any other idea’s on how to use the zones please ask or you can find our more here Zones Of Regulation.

“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it's our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos”. L.R. Knost.

Emilly Sonsie

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