A Curriculum that Can Help Reduce Meltdowns and Subsequent Holiday Stress

How four colored categories can help

While it’s not just around the holidays that parents will see their children scream, cry or fling themselves to the ground, among other fun choreographies of meltdowns, it is around this time of year that they can seem the most frequent and out-of-hand. With bustling holiday activities, loud and busy stores and sensing the increased level of stress in the home environment, holiday magic gets dampened and feelings of anxiety can arise. Cue the Zones of Regulation, along with some tips to reduce the pressure that parents put on themselves during Thanksgiving and Christmas alike. Read on for a look into the Zones and its purpose, and discuss the program with your therapist to find out further information about its benefits.


The Way I Feel

This children’s book by Janan Cain explores the various emotions that children experience, helping them to identify and express their feelings in a positive manner. Colorful, expressive illustrations and simple verse help children stay engaged.

Product: hand2mind Express Your Feelings Sensory Bottles

This set of 4 bottles provide both sensory exploration and encourage emotional regulation. Each bottle exhibits a particular emotion, color and element that kids can explore and relate to, such as happy, sad, scared and angry. As a side note, while the colors match the Zones of Regulations, the types of emotions associated with these colors vary slightly.

The Zones of Regulation

A program to improve emotional stability

Self-regulation. It is a term heard quite a bit in the world of pediatric therapy, particular when speaking about children with sensory processing issues. Difficulties in processing various types of sensory stimuli– such as sights, sounds and touch– can often lead a child to become emotionally dysregulated and act out in ways that are perceived to be inappropriate. Emotional dysregulation, in this context, describes a child’s difficulty with registering emotions, responding to social situations with appropriate emotions, and regulating their emotions.

Parents of children with emotional challenges often describe their child as exhibiting the following:

  • Frequent tantrums
  • Overreactions
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Volatile moods
  • Aggression

While treatment for sensory dysregulation involves a variety of physical activities and exercises to treat the underlying condition of sensory processing disorder (SPD), it is also invaluable to help children understand the emotions they are experiencing, give them the language to communicate their feelings, and provide strategies that may help a child achieve emotional stability in moments of dysregulation. That’s where the Zones of Regulation can step in.

The Zones of Regulation is a curriculum developed by Leah Kuypers, an occupational therapist who witnessed many children’s challenges with regulation and emotional control. On the website, zonesofregulation.com, Kuypers describes the program as, “…a systematic, cognitive-behavioral approach used to teach us how to regulate our feelings, energy and sensory needs in order to meet the demands of the situation around us and be successful socially.” The Zones, four in total, are grouped according to color, with emotions that are categorically similar organized within each group/color. These are as follows:

Blue Group

  • Sad
  • Bored
  • Tired
  • Sick

Green Group

  • Happy
  • Focused
  • Calm
  • Proud

Yellow Group

  • Worried
  • Frustrated
  • Silly
  • Excited

Red Group

  • Overjoyed
  • Panicked
  • Angry
  • Terrified

Each emotion in the Zones of Regulation is accompanied by a picture cue of a child displaying the target emotion via facial expressions and body language, which is highly effective for those who rely heavily on visuals to improve comprehension of


Regulate the Holiday Madness

Tips to make the holidays run smoothly

While Christmas usually barges it’s way into culture right after Halloween, Thanksgiving can also be stressful to prep for. Consider some tips for combating the overwhelm that can accompany these times:

Delegate Tasks

Does the idea of addressing Christmas envelopes and sending them out already leave you frazzled? Consider opting for a card printing company to address and send for you. While varying fees accompany this service, consider the valuable ways your time could otherwise be spent and decide if it’s worth it.

Less Can Be More

While you may feel like “creating holiday magic” rests entirely on your shoulders, remember that you do not need to attend every holiday event that your community holds. Chances are, your kids will be just as happy sitting at home watching Christmas movies under a blanket as they would attending yet another Christmas bazaar or concert.

Leave Perfection Behind

Social media can make many parents, mothers in particular, feel like everything about the holidays must be homemade and/or picture-perfect. Care less about how pristine a ribbon-tied present will look and more about how the gift itself will light up your child’s face. And store-bought cookies? They can be pretty delicious.

vocabulary. Visuals can also help a child feel validated in their emotions, which can be helpful for children who don’t understand their feelings and/or don’t feel that their emotions are being acknowledged by others. With appropriate use of the Zones, children can be taught how to identify their feelings, recognize what zone they are in, and utilize strategies that will help bring them to the zone that is appropriate to the situation at hand (known as Zones Tools).

Examples of Zones Tools include the following for each zone:

Red Zone (to reduce anger, frustration and extreme feelings):

  • Deep breaths
  • Heavy work
  • Taking a walk/run
  • Listening to music

Yellow Zone (to ease worry, tension and silliness):

  • Stretching
  • Writing in a journal
  • Talking a walk
  • Being in nature

Green Zone (to maintain a level of calm):

  • Reach out to a friend
  • Write a list of accomplishments
  • Reflect on what you’re thankful for
  • Help someone

Blue Zone (to reduce feelings of fatigue, loneliness or illness):

  • Rest
  • Do a puzzle
  • Read
  • Talk to someone

Many strategies are helpful for a range of emotions. For example, breathwork, journal writing and taking a walk could all be potential strategies listed under the blue, green, yellow and red zones.

To help children learn the Zones, parents can identify their own feelings in the presence of their child, such as stating, “I’m sad right now. I’m in the blue zone. I think a bubble bath will help me feel better.” Similarly, you can label your child’s emotions throughout the day to help them begin to recognize how they feel, and help guide them to strategies that would appropriately regulate their emotions.

As parents, it can be difficult not to mimic the zone that our children are in. After all, a child having a major meltdown likely drives their parent to feel on-edge as well. Similarly, the stress of parents can sometimes transfer to their child without conscious awareness. It is worth it to pause and evaluate our emotions and what zone we are in before expecting our child to modify their behavior.

Content of this newsletter was written by:
Megan A. Miller, M.S., CCC-SLP

Please contact Megan with any questions or comments at: megan@ctctherapy.com