Categories: 2012, October
CAN SELF-REGULATION SKILLS BE TAUGHT to children
with ADHD? "Yes," says occupational therapist and social learning
specialist Leah Kuypers, "they can be taught to all children who
struggle to control themselves, including children with ADHD."
When it comes to regulating our levels of arousal and emotional control,
says Kuypers, specific skills are required. Most children develop these
skills as they grow. For children whose self-regulation skills are
lagging behind, however, these skills need to be taught. Kuypers
developed a curriculum designed with this in mind: teach children with
lagging self-regulation skills how to effectively regulate themselves at
school, at home, and in the company of their friends.
Called The Zones of Regulation—The Zones
for short—the curriculum categorizes states of arousal and
emotional control into four easily identified color-coded zones:
the Red Zone, where emotions are so
intense that we feel out of control
the Yellow Zone, where emotions are not
as intense, at least not as yet, and we still have some control
the Green Zone, a calmer place, where we
feel focused, alert, in control of our emotions, and ready to learn
the Blue Zone, a low state of alertness,
too low to get much work done.
We know we’re in the Blue Zone, for example, when we’re
not feeling well, we’re tired, or maybe when we’re too bored
to focus. The Zones can be explained much as we would explain traffic
signs. Red means stop. Yellow is a warning to slow down and be cautious.
Blue is like a rest area off the freeway, a place where we can stop,
take a break, and get re-energized. Green means we’re good to
"There are no good zones or bad zones," Kuypers explains. "All zones
represent states that we’re all in from time to time. But our
zones need to match the situation. This is what the curriculum helps
children learn to do. How to match their zone to what’s expected,
based on the environmental and social demands. It may be okay to be in
the yellow zone on the playground, just not in the library."
Within the course of eighteen lessons, children learn ways to identify
their different states of arousal and emotional control. Children who
previously struggled when asked to explain how they feel now have a
vocabulary for doing so. Children also learn about different tools for
moving from one zone to another, including tools for staying in the
Green Zone, a zone they need to be in to function well in class. There
are different tools for different emotional states. Some tools help us
to stay calm. Some help us to be more alert. Some help us to stay in
control. Children have an opportunity to explore which tools work best
in which situations. They also practice executing them in situations
where they’re needed, "at the points of performance." Kuypers is
well versed in practices designed to help children with executive
function challenges. Lessons incorporate activities with these
challenges in mind.
Lessons also teach children to recognize personal triggers that
typically send them into yellow and red zones. Then they practice ways
of identifying and preparing for triggers beforehand. This way they can
prevent themselves from losing control in situations where losing
control has occurred in the past. In order to encourage children to take
more ownership of their self-regulation skills, Kuypers also
incorporates a number of cognitive behavioral strategies designed to
increase positive self-talk, as well as self-monitoring and
Lessons focus particular attention on teaching the self-regulation
skills we need to be successful in social situations, especially when it
comes to making and keeping friends. Children learn how their reactions
in different zones affect others, including other children at school.
They also practice recognizing other people’s facial expressions,
and how different facial expressions relate to different zones people
are in. Children become more skilled at appreciating other
people’s moods and emotions. For teaching social skills, The
Zones draws upon several of Michelle Garcia Winner’s
strategies for teaching Social Thinking (socialthinking.com).
The curriculum is intended for anyone who works with students in
grades K-12 who struggle in areas associated with self-regulation. In
actuality, though, the curriculum has broader applications. Since most
of us struggle from time to time in managing our emotions and
controlling our behavior, many teachers are using The
Zones for their entire class. Teachers and others using the
curriculum also say the strategies help them in their own personal
lives. The curriculum has also been successfully adapted to teach
Lessons are intended to be taught in groups, but can also be taught
individually. Kuypers has written a book, The Zones of Regulation: A
Curriculum Designed to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional
Control (Social Thinking Publishing, 2011), which includes a
CD-ROM containing reproducible visuals and handouts related to
Kuypers currently conducts trainings around the United States for
educators, clinicians, parents and others interested in learning more
about the curriculum and self-regulation. Visit her
website, zonesofregulation.com, or email Kuypers directly
(firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn more about
The Zones or to find a schedule of upcoming trainings.
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