The Best 2 Programs to Teach Children Self-Regulation Skills

What is Self-Regulation?

Self-regulation refers to our ability to manage our alertness to meet the demands of tasks, respond to stress appropriately, regulate our emotions, and control our impulses. Poor self-regulation is very common among children with Autism, Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADHD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Nevertheless, since self-regulation skills are not innate but taught, any parents, caregiver, teacher or health professional can benefit from learning how to teach these skills within the context of play.

There are a variety of tools out there to help us teach children how to self-regulate. However, in this blog post I will be talking about best two programs I have found. These are the ones I use daily in my practice as a pediatric occupational therapist.

The Zones of Self-Regulation Represented Like Traffic Signs

The Zones of Regulation Curriculum

“The Zones of Regulation” is a systematic, cognitive behavior approach used to teach self-regulation by categorizing all the different ways we feel and states of alertness we experience into four concrete zones. Each of the zones is represented by a color to help children become more conscious about their feelings:

  • Red: intense emotions such as anger and explosive behavior.

  • Yellow: moderate emotions such as stress, anxiety or overexcitement.

  • Green: emotions that make you feel calm and alert.

  • Blue: low emotional state with feelings such as sadness or tiredness.

Classifying Different Emotions Into Zones of Self-Regulation

The “Zones" provide a framework for therapists, teachers and parents to teach self-regulation and emotional control. It helps children understand emotions and monitor their own behavior. I find it incredibly useful to help children become aware about their emotional states and the relationship between their emotions and their behavior.

It has been particularly helpful with children that struggle with low frustration tolerance and escalate quickly between one emotion to the other.

If you're interested in learning more about this curriculum in depth head over to their website. They sell a book outlining numerous lessons to be followed in order with great ideas to teach this framework to children. It also brings a CD to make it easier for us to print their handouts, which are part of the lessons.

The Alert Program of Self-Regulation

“The Alert Program” was developed to teach children how to regulate their alertness and to teach adults how to support learning, attending, and positive behaviors. Their famous analogy goes like this “If your body is like a car engine, sometimes it runs on high (hyped up), sometimes it runs on low (lethargic), and sometimes it runs just right (alert and focused)”. This engine analogy is incredibly useful when working with young children and can be adapted to fit any specific child.

Visual Representation of The Alert Program

This program has been great and useful in helping some of my kids regulate their activity level. I draw this out for them in the board to help them bring awareness into themselves and monitor their behavior. It has been particularly helpful with children that tend to be hyperactive and do not understand how their behavior is affecting the situation and/or other people AND children that seem to need a little bit of help getting started.

If you’re interested in learning more here’s the link to their website. I especially love this program because there is research supporting its effectiveness in helping children learn self-regulation skills.

I think both programs are great at teaching self-regulation skills and it really depends on the child which one I choose to use. If self-regulation is an issue for your child and it is interfering with their everyday functioning, consider getting an evaluation from an experienced pediatric occupational therapist to find the right approaches for your child.

Check out my blog post “What is Self-Regulation” to find more information and ideas about how you can help your child improve their own self-regulation.

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