Dealing With Big Emotions? What’s A Parent To Do?

by | Apr 26, 2022 | Family, Mental Health, Tips

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Teach your child self-regulation at home.

Your child has anxious feelings, big emotions and outbursts that make you feel helpless. You wonder, “What can I do? Nothing seems to be working.” The real question is what tools should I use to help my child. The Zones of Regulation, created by Leah Kuypers, is one tool parents can use to teach their child self regulation skills. These skills can help kids throughout life. They were specifically created to develop self regulation skills and emotional control. The Zones of Regulation will reduce meltdowns and anxiousness in your child.

What are the Zones?

Mom holding happy and sad face drawings in front of daughter

The Zones of Regulation is a tool for you to teach your child self regulation at home. It provides visuals for kids to identify what they are feeling at that particular moment. It also provides language for kids to use in supporting their feelings and how to manage them. The goal is for kids to develop an awareness of their emotional states and then have tools to support where your child is emotionally.  

The Zones of Regulation consist of Blue, Green, Yellow, Red Zones. For each color there are different feelings and emotions to choose from. 

Why use the Zones?

When our kids struggle and act out they are communicating to us that something is not right. They may not have the words to use or even recognize their emotions. The Zones of Regulation help communicate emotions and feelings. Ultimately they are used so kids and parents have the consistency of social emotional awareness. This communication is important for identification and coping mechanisms for kids. Another reason to utilize the zones is that kids are drawn to visuals. The colors help with social emotional awareness and the facial features used for each color help with interacting and reading social cues. Other reasons include:

  • Helps to identify emotions
  • Learn how to cope with emotions
  • Gives problem solving strategies for each color
  • Read social cues and learn how to interact with other

What does each Zone stand for?

Blue = Sluggish

Blue feelings include being: sad, tired, sick or bored and moving slowly

Green = Calm

Green feelings include being: happy, focused, content and ready to learn

Yellow = Heightened Emotions

Yellow feelings include being : under duress, frustrated, anxious, excited, silliness and loss of some control

Red = Intense Emotions

Red feelings include being: elated, angry, rage, devastation, terror or out of control

Triggers to big emotions 

Triggers are events or things that may cause a child to go from one zone to another. Documenting when your child is struggling is important. Writing down the time of day and the day that you notice your child being dysregulated is very important. This will help determine if it is a certain subject or activity. It may also be a noise or certain person that may trigger a child. It may also be when they are hungry or tired. Documenting the details of when they are struggling emotionally will benefit everyone. 

Some specific triggers:

Boy holding paper sign saying HELP! - big emotions
  1. Homework frustrations
  2. Get ready for bed
  3. Brush teeth
  4. Come in from outside
  5. Stop playing with a toy
  6. Stop playing with technology
  7. Argument with sibling
  8. Asked to do chores
  9. Going to a relative’s house
  10. Holidays
  11. Large groups of people

Strategies to Use for big emotions

Teaching your child how to read their body’s signals and identify their feelings or emotions will benefit them in life. It is important for kids to know that every zone is a good zone and appropriate at different times. The approach is to identify the zone you are in and then use the tools to calm down so you and others are safe. 

First identify your own feelings using the Zones language with your child. You modeling this will help your child learn about what feelings each zone identifies. Also, talk about what tool you will use to be in the appropriate zone.  Some strategies to use are:

  • Identify the feelings that go with each color.
  • Talk about what the feeling looks like on someone’s face or body.
  • Go through each color and write down or draw what it looks like and feels like.
  • Go through each color and write down what they might do to calm themselves when feeling in the yellow, blue or red zone.
  • Make a matching game of the emotional faces and words that go with each one. 
  • Make a zone toolbox for your family
  • Point out observations of your child: 
    • I notice you’re in the —zone because you’re —-.
    • What could you do differently next time? 
    • You did___. Others felt___. Others did___. You felt____.

Tools to Use for big emotions

girl with hands clenched, angry

Blue Zone:

  • Drink water
  • Take a break
  • Talk to an adult
  • Motor break
  • Eat a snack

Green Zone:

  • Drink water
  • Play a game or puzzle
  • Hug
  • Take a break
  • Eat a snack

Yellow Zone:

  • Drink water
  • Take a break
  • Fidget ball
  • Motor break
  • Eat a snack
  • Breathing techniques

Red Zone:

  • Take a break
  • Breathing techniques
  • Regulation station
  • Brain break activities

Regulation Stations

Set up a “regulation station” at home with your child to use when they are having big emotions. This might include pillows, blankets, books, headphones, fidgets, stuffed animals, and a weighted blanket. This is an area where your child can go to identify their emotions and then use their tool box. 


Kids become frustrated when they cannot communicate what they are experiencing. They often do not have the words or language to tell us. The Zones of Regulation is a tool created to help your child identify and communicate what they are feeling using visuals. The Zones are used to describe what they are feeling on the inside. It gives you a consistent tool to use for all members of the family.

Dealing With Big Emotions? What’s A Parent To Do?

by Dr. Kim Grengs, Ed.D., Parent Coach

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