Self-Regulation and the Zones of Regulation

Some time back, I noticed posters like this in our school hallways. I found out from learning support that they were to help the children learn self-regulation. The posters were based on a concept called The Zones of Regulation.

Zones of Regulation

Source: Pinterest

What is Self-Regulation?

Selfregulation is the ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses, and to think before you react. – Mind Tools

In school, children need to be able to self-regulate to help them be ready to learn. Children whose states of arousal are too high or too low will struggle to focus on the learning task at hand.

What happens when children cannot self-regulate?

Children that are unable to self-regulate are prone to the following:

  • tantrums and outbursts
  • abusive behaviours – e.g. self abuse, punching, kicking, biting
  • emotional distress
  • inattention/distractibility
  • refusal to participate

How can we help children learn self-regulation?

To help children learn self-regulation, we need to work on their:

  • executive functioning – memory, planning and behaviour inhibition.
  • emotional regulation – initiating, inhibiting, or modulating our state or behavior in a given situation.
  • sensory integration – the process by which we receive information through our senses, organise this information, and use it to participate in everyday activities.

What are the Zones of Regulation

The following video provides a terrific summary on the Zones of Regulation and how they help children with self-regulation.

The Zones of Regulation is a cognitive behaviour approach for helping students self-regulate their behaviours, emotions, and sensory needs. By using concepts and visuals to help students learn to recognise their feelings and level of arousal, it allows them to employ strategies for optimal learning.

The Zones can be compared to traffic signs.  When given a green light or in the Green Zone, one is “good to go”.  A yellow sign means be aware or take caution, which applies to the Yellow Zone.  A red light or stop sign means stop, and when one is the Red Zone, this often is the case.  The Blue Zone can be compared to the rest area signs where one goes to rest or re-energize.  All of the zones are expected at one time or another, but the curriculum focuses on teaching students how to manage their Zone based on the environment and people around them. For example, when playing on the playground or in an active/competitive game, no one would think twice about one being in the Yellow Zone but that would not be same in the library. – Zones of Regulation

Although the Zones of Regulation is often used to support the needs of children with ASD or ADHD, it is very much applicable to all children, and even adults. The ability to recognise our own state of arousal and to make the necessary adjustment so that it is appropriate for the occasion we face is something we all require to function optimally.

The Four Zones of Regulation

Zones of Regulation

  • Blue Zone: low level of arousal; not ready to learn; feels sad, sick, tired, bored.
  • Green Zone: calm state of alertness; optimal level to learn; feels happy, calm, focused.
  • Yellow Zone: heightened state of alertness; elevated emotions; has some control; feels frustrated, worried, silly/wiggly, excited.
  • Red Zone: heightened state of alertness and intense emotions; not an optimal level for learning; out of control; feels mad/angry, terrified, yelling/hitting, elated.

Strategies for Regulation

For the Blue Zone – increase arousal:

  • swinging or spinning
  • stretching or jumping jacks
  • strong scents
  • vibration
  • crunchy foods
  • bright lights
  • listening to loud music

For the Yellow and Red Zones – decrease arousal:

  • deep pressure
  • slow movement
  • heavy work to muscles
  • soft lighting
  • classical music
  • chewy foods

Sensory Activities for Sensory Integration

Some time back I wrote about sensory processing disorders (SPD) identifying sensory difficulties that affect some children and the sensory integration activities that can help address their sensory hotspots. The following image helps teachers and parents identify some of the common sensory hotspots that some children may have:

Sensory activities that can help children with these hotspots may be proprioceptive, vestibular, or tactile in nature.


Proprioception is the sense of knowing the relative positions of the various parts of our bodies and strength of effort we employ during a movement. Children with proprioceptive needs can benefit from the following activities:

  • carrying heavy baskets or objects
  • jumping jacks
  • leaning against a wall or table palm presses
  • pushing or pulling boxes; wheelbarrow walk
  • jumping on a trampoline
  • crawling through a tunnel
  • pushing against objects, wall push-ups
  • standing on toes and stretching
  • finger fidgets


The vestibular system is responsible for the sense of balance and spatial orientation for the purpose of coordinating movement with balance. Children with vestibular sensory needs can benefit from the following activities:

  • bounce on a yoga ball
  • walk on a balance beam
  • bear/crab/snake walk
  • roll neck slowly in a circular movement
  • imitation game – e.g. Simon Says
  • gentle rocking
  • jump up and down; try to touch the door frame
  • sit and spin / yoga seat
  • roll on the mat


Tactile sensory needs can be fulfilled with “touch” activities, such as the following:

  • fidgets / play dough activities
  • lycra tube activity
  • weighted blanket / objects
  • bear hugs (from behind)
  • finger paint, stringing beads
  • walk barefoot on the mat
  • squeezing / pulling activities
  • feely box activities
  • self hug and hand presses

Sensory Activities at Home

When your child needs a sensory break at home, try these activities:

  • “kid-sandwich” – pushing down on them between two pillows
  • “kid-burrito” – rolling them in lycra and gently pressing down and pretending to eat them
  • roll out the “cookie dough” with a yoga ball firmly over the back and limbs
  • pillow fight
  • mopping or sweeping the floor
  • stirring cookie dough or cake batter
  • jumping jacks
  • chewing gym, eating crunchy foods (pretzels carrots, small ice chips, or sipping water from a cup with a thick straw while doing seated work)
  • pushing or pulling boxes or laundry baskets with a few toys or books in it
  • carrying or pushing pillowcases of stuff animals around the house
  • helping with chores, pulling a heavy trash can, vacuuming, water plants
  • removing couch cushions, piling them on the floor and “crashing” into them
  • roller-skating uphill, ice skating, jumping rope, marching, hopping and skipping
  • walking on a treadmill set to go uphill
  • pulling other kids around on a sheet or blanket
  • crawling through a t-shirt tunnel
  • yard work, such as raking leaves, pushing the wheelbarrow, water the flowers
  • shoveling sand into a bucket
  • crossing monkey bars
  • swinging on a swing
  • pulling heavy items in a wagon