Is Your Child Out of Control? Try This!

Try the ZONES of Regulation!

Is your child out of control? Or, as I I prefer to say, does your kiddo struggle with “big feelings”? Do they go from 0 to FREAK OUT in 2.5 seconds? Behavioral responses associated with sensory processing could be to blame. When a child’s sensory system is not functioning optimally, their behaviors may be unexpected. They may respond negatively to sensory experiences that most tolerate without difficulty.

We all have different neurological thresholds for various types of sensory information. Some kiddos have a high threshold for movement, for example, but a low threshold for auditory (noise/sound) information.

“Solo” Cup vs. “Dixie” Cup

Allow me to use the visual of a large “Solo” cup to represent their movement threshold, and a tiny “Dixie” cup to represent their auditory threshold. Now, imagine a child with this sensory profile in school all day…not enough activity to satisfy their need for movement and overwhelmed by all the noise and verbal requests surely experienced throughout the day. Now home from school, their “Solo” cup is nearly empty, and their “Dixie” cup is filled to the brim. Perhaps you’ve seen this movie before. You may already know how it ends!

Not enough movement to satisfy the child’s movement threshold


Too much noise now overwhelming the child’s auditory threshold


This isn’t going to end well!

With their Solo cup now only half full and their Dixie cup filled to the max, one simple request (“Come inside and wash up for dinner.”), and it’s game over!! WWIII!! It could have been most any request really. You might think it’s disobedience, but perhaps it was simply the last possible drop the tiny “Dixie” cup could hold. Indeed, the body is also still craving that “Solo” cup to be full. It’s the perfect storm! Tsunami!! They are now out of control! We can use this simple scenario for any variety of sensory experiences. So now that your child has gone from 0 to 60 in just 2.5 seconds, turning them around is not easy!

But there IS hope!

First, if it seems that your child is seeking or avoiding sensory experiences so much so that it’s impacting their daily functioning, relationships, or ability to participate to their fullest at school, it may be time to have them evaluated by an Occupational Therapist experienced in sensory processing. OT’s provide treatment to “rewire” the Central Nervous System so it can better processes and respond to sensory information.

Second, I highly recommend the ZONES of Regulation. I have no affiliation, but I love it and use this system for nearly every kiddo that enters our clinic. The Zones of Regulation, created by Leah Kuypers, MA ED., OTR/L, is a “framework designed to foster self-regulation and emotional control.” This program categorizes feelings and states of alertness into four colored zones and teaches kids (and adults) how to use tools to regulate their Zones. They also learn how their Zones and behaviors impact others. It’s really powerful! You can find tons of FREE resources on the ZONES of Regulation website at www.zonesofregulation.com. Let’s learn about the four different colored Zones.

The ZONES of Regulation

From Sunshine on a Cloudy Day at Teachers Pay Teachers

BLUE Zone: Sad, Tired, Sick, Board, Moving Slowly. (In this Zone the body is in an under stimulated state of of alertness).

GREEN Zone: Happy, Calm, Focused, Feeling OK, Ready to Learn. (In this Zone the body is in the just right state of alertness).

YELLOW Zone: Excited, Silly, Worried, Frustrated. (In this Zone the body is in a slightly elevated state of alertness).

RED Zone: Out of Control, Angry, Yelling, Hitting, Terrified. (In this Zone the body is in an extremely elevated state of alertness).

Using the Zones of Regulation can help your child understand what they are feeling emotionally and how their body feels in a particular Zone. Clearly our body FEELS differently when we’re in the GREEN Zone (calm and focused) than when we’re in the RED Zone (Out of Control).

ZONES “Check In”

I recommend making a family “ZONES Check-In” so everyone in your family can begin to identify their Zones and use tools as needed to remain in the expected “green zone”. While all the Zones are OK (because all feelings are OK), they should match our situation and size of the problem. Be creative and make it visual!

Help your kids learn their “Triggers”

You probably already know what “triggers” your kiddo. However, your kiddo may not know what “triggers” them!! Help them to understand that a trigger is something that can irritate or annoy them and put them in the YELLOW or RED Zone. You can use a simple chart like this one (also found on Sunshine on a Cloudy Day at Teachers Pay Teachers, or you can make your own. For younger kids or those who may need more guidance, I often write out a list of common triggers on a sheet of paper or dry erase board. I then read them one by one and circle (or have them circle) what is true for them. Most children are well able to identify those triggers that resonate with them. Some need additional guidance or encouragement by a parent to recognize or admit that a particular scenario is a trigger for them. A child understanding their triggers is extremely important. By knowing what triggers may send them to the RED Zone, they can put in a tool BEFORE hand and pause in the YELLOW Zone without getting out of control.

How Big is the Problem?

Using a “How big is the Problem” meter can provide an excellent visual to help your child understand if their behavior matches the size of the problem. For example, if a bully punches your child or pushes him down on the playground (a gigantic problem or emergency in some cases), he may be angry or even become out of control and retaliate. This level of arousal could be expected in this situation. However, if your child loses a game (a tiny problem), it would be unexpected for him to become out of control and freak out. In this case, his behavior would not match the size of the problem. Here is an examples of how I’ve made this visual for some of the kiddos with whom I work. The “How Big is My Problem” meter is from Sunshine on a Cloudy Day at Teachers Pay Teachers.

As you can see here, loosing a game, waiting in line, or being told, “No” are all tiny problems. In contrast, breaking an arm, biting, fighting, a house on fire, or a tornado are all emergencies. Losing a game might FEEL like an emergency or a gigantic problem, but in reality it’s not! It’s only a tiny problem. Using visual examples can really help drive this message home for many kiddos.

Make your own ZONES of Regulation Sensory Check In. Here’s how! Click Here

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