Transcribed by Kanako Suwa
[ Introduction music plays ]
Welcome to the SENIA Happy Hour, where you get 1 hour of learning in less than thirty minutes.
Lori: Hi all it’s Lori Boll, your host of the SENIA Happy Hour podcast. Today, I have the great pleasure speaking with Leah Kuypers, who’s the creator of Zones of Regulation which has been enthusiastically received by educators, therapists, and parents around the world. Leah’s book, also entitled The Zones of Regulation, has sold more than a hundred thousand copies worldwide. If you are new to the zones or you need a refresher, then be sure to join us for the SENIA Virtual Conference in December as Leah will be teaching us about the basics of the zones of regulation. In today’s podcast, we learn about her inspiration behind creating the curriculum and how teachers and parents can implement it into their classrooms and homes. We discuss what it means to feel regulated and also about the impact of COVID on our children’s ability to regulate on a daily basis upon returning to school. I learn more each time I read about or attend a presentation of Leah’s, and I hope you’ll be inspired to try the Zones of Regulation as well.
And now, on to the show. Hi Leah, and welcome to the podcast!
Leah: Thank you Lori, it is an honor to be with you today!
Lori: Well, as both a learning support teacher and an intensive needs teacher, and a mom of a child with special needs, I have been using Zones of Regulation for years and it seems whether I’m checking out classrooms in the US or overseas, the zones are everywhere.
Leah: Yeah, um, it’s very… Humbling to see the impact it is having across the world.
Lori: I imagine, I imagine. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey in creating the zones?
Leah: Sure I am an occupational therapist by trade. I was working in the schools as well as I had some clinical practice, but I really saw the need come through when I was in the school based settings, and had so many students on my caseload who couldn’t stay in class, they couldn’t regulate, and it was impacting their participation with academics as well as with peers and socially. It was heartbreaking to see these punitive measures be applied over and over again, and not impact results; the students weren’t becoming more engaged. In actuality, we saw that negative self-esteem impacted more so, and withdrawals. So I felt it was my duty to figure out how can they become more functional in the classroom, engaged in these meaningful tasks throughout their day, and build relationships.
As an OT, I just didn’t have all the tools and resources I needed, so I start taking more graduate courses. I ended up getting a autism resource graduate certificate, and applying things I was learning to my caseload. Eventually this idea of these 4 zones popped in my head, and I started trialling out my ideas. I had kindergarten classrooms up to high school classrooms of kids with really significant behavior needs. They were in all special ed schools, self-contained classrooms within those schools, and it was very much this behavioral based model with a lot of punitive measures to try to curb that behavior. So I wanted to go about it and truly teach them lessons, build more capacity for them to manage themselves and regulate through the stress or so that they could be more successful. So, a lot of trial-and-error, a lot of collaboration with my colleagues, a lot of continuing ed that to just get more pieces of the puzzle to fill in, and eventually I wrote the curriculum first as my graduate Capstone, and was then really fortunate to have interest from publishers, and from there, worked with social thinking to transform it into the curriculum it is today.
Lori: Yep, Yeah well did it surprise you when this concept, like, spread worldwide?
Leah: Yeah, it is just mind-boggling to me really. You know, I think about those kids on my caseload that I was desperate to try to figure out some different strategies to support them, and I really thought you know, this is something I see for therapists to be using, special ed teachers to be using, and hopefully we can get it to generalize into some regular item in classrooms and reported across settings, and see the adoption in the General Ed and move from school wide to district wide, and it’s been amazing. It just really touches me because I know so many kids fall through the cracks, they don’t get identified as needing services or they don’t qualify, but there’s clearly needs, there’s kids who internalise a lot of their dysregulation and find unhealthy ways to regulate as they get older and so it really brings me a lot of joy to think about when, with the adoption of this across schools, across countries, how many kids we’re helping by building a life skill that everyone uses for their lifetime.
Lori: Yeah, I love when General Ed takes it on. Our last school that my husband and I were at in Bangkok, there was a presentation given at the school and then almost every elementary school teacher adopted it in their classrooms. It was really powerful to walk in and see all the kids in the community discussing their Zone and strategies that they can do. It’s just powerful.
Leah: Yeah, it creates an inclusive environment where all of the learners are supporting each other. You know, I hear from teachers that it really shifts the lens in which the kids see each other. It’s not about the behaviors anymore, they understand each other based around feelings when zones is part of the language in the classroom. And yeah, it’s not that one kid who then is using the zones and now has no to little support network, it’s everyone speaking the same language , everyone has a toolbox, and that’s okay that they look different. That’s a part of the regulation on what the zones really are. It teaches you that you can individualize your toolbox based on how you perceive these zones, and support you and regulate them.
Lori: Can we back up a little bit just in case people are unaware of the term regulation and self-regulation can you briefly describe that for us?
Leah: Sure. You think about regulation as being able to regulate your sensory needs, so thinking about your states of alertness and being maybe in a heightened state because you just heard a loud bang, and physiologically your body changes; that heart races, that eyes popped open, alert, looking for danger, muscles tense, to we can have really low states of alertness. Think about feeling groggy in the morning when that alarm clock goes off, and so these states of alertness change throughout the day and certainly those with sensory needs can perceive more heightened states of alertness from the sensory environment around them and vice-versa, moving to lower states of arousal to more easily. So, we think about regulating that, as well as emotions. Which is just innate, that’s who we are, as humans we have feelings. So that’s natural and we work to regulate these states of alertness and feelings and energy levels in context of what’s going on around us.
We also think about task demands that are before us, and maybe it’s trying to work through this problem to work through your homework. Or maybe it’s trying to engage with some classmates at lunch and have someone to talk to. We think about those goals, whether they’re ones right in front of us having fun while we play this game, or even as we are more perceptive as we’re aging up to those long -term goals; I wanna get into a good university. So regulation entails monitoring and managing these different feelings and states to achieve these goals and meet the task demands, and establishes a sense of wellbeing.
Lori: Thanks. Thanks for that.
Leah: And then when you think about self-regulation, we’re doing this independently. Much of what we’re doing is co-regulation, where there’s a social factor involved in this. Thinking about a baby coming out of the womb and being comforted by caregivers. Or you, as an adult, after a frustrating day at work, finding a colleague or partner to vent to. We co-regulate throughout our lifetime too.
Lori: Yeah, thank you. So at the upcoming SENIA Conference, you’ll be giving us all an introduction to the Zones of Regulation. I absolutely can’t wait, I know so many of our participants are really really looking forward to it. Without giving away your whole presentation, can you give us just an introduction to the zones?
Leah: Yeah, so I’ll be talking about the zones as a simplified way to think and talk about all these feelings we experience and the zones of Regulations gives us this visual structure, an easy way to communicate where we’re at. So with these four coloured zones, we categorize all these different feelings and states, and then once we have that awareness of what zone we’re in, we can start thinking about what are our tools and strategies to help us regulate that zone. So for example, the Red Zone tools, when we’re in this zone, we’re in a heightened state and this really big overwhelming emotions, those tools and strategies are going to look different to when we’re in the Blue Zone, and we’re in that lower state of alertness, our emotional needs being down in that coloured zone, so our strategies look different. The zones then really emphasize that all feelings are okay, all zones are okay, and your zone is based on how you’re feeling on the inside, it is not defined by your behaviour on the outside that may or may not match what’s going on inside.
Lori: I think that’s really important. But “all zones are okay” it’s a, it’s a hard kind of… I think for a lot of teachers, a lot of therapists, when we, when we see a child in the Red Zone, we automatically want to, you know, jump in and help. So how, how do we balance that thought with all zones are okay?
Leah: Yeah, well, understanding you know, really, I think of behaviour as communication and this child in need of something and isn’t feeling quite right in their situation. So one thing we stress is we ask you to have compassion and empathy and try to take away that judgement. Seeing a child in that heightened Red Zone state might be an opportunity for us to connect, even nonverbally, with them and we could use visual supports if they’ve been familiar with these visuals ahead of time, you don’t wanna spring it on them when they’re in that Red Zone, and with trust and rapport and building tha relationship, which is something we really stress when introducing that Zone of Regulation framework, we can support them in finding healthy tools to help regulate.
Maybe we’ve pre-taught and practiced going to a comfort corner or regulation station that they’re familiar with. So we can use the zone structure and language, and that can be done nonverbally, with visual support too, to guide them to this tool that we talked about and practiced.
With time, maybe that individual become more independent in being able to self-identify and say “yep, I’m in that Red Zone and this is my go-to tool that I know helps me when I’m in that Red Zone” so we overlearn these responses to how to manage our zones so it becomes easier and second nature. But that does take time, it takes practice, and there’s a whole curriculum that walks us through that, teaching that, and gives the individuals you’re teaching time to practice and exposure in setting up that climate that allows for it to be safe and to have these emotions and use these tools to regulate.
Lori: Great, yeah, I had a student in one of my intensive needs classroom, she had autism and sometimes she’d walk in and her emotions were waaaay in the red, and we had the signal of… I would just point to this sign, what zone are you in? And she’d look at it and she’d say “I’m in the red zone” and then trot off or storm off to the sensory room where she would get on the swing and swing for.. She’d set the timer for like 3 minutes, and she’d come out and she say “okay I feel better, I’m in the green zone” so it was really just such an easy way to state the obvious without stating the obvious.
Leah: Yeah, I think that brings you to this much more conscious level of awareness and gives us this easy way to kind of think through… like, “okay yep, I’m in this red zone, and here’s what I do” or “Yep, I’m in the Blue Zone today, and I need this to help me”
Lori: Again, I’m so excited for everyone to learn about this at the conference. They’re gonna love it.
Leah: Well, thanks! I’m excited to share it. It’s fun to do what you’re passionate about.
Lori: Oh yeah, definitely. Well, I reached out to some of our SENIA Board members to, and the Directors and the Associate Directors, to see if they had any questions for you and they did. They said, one said, “Zones of Regulation is a tool that is often used at school but can it be used at home? How can parents use zones with their children?”
Leah: Great question. I’m a parent of an 8 and 11 year old, and we’ve had it in our home since my son was about 3 so it certainly is easy to adapt to the home environment. I hear from a lot of parents that give me the feedback that the book is very… it very much lends itself to be used in the home, as well as you know schools or therapeutic settings. So they’re, with getting caregivers on board, we now provide this consistency and you have that co-regulations support from caregivers, again, creating the safe space to talk about feelings and using those strategies to support that. I think it helps with caregivers too, I know as a parent, I had all this training as a therapist but it still doesn’t prepare you to be a parent.
Lori: Nothing does!
Leah: You know, your kids’ doing something and it’s frustrating, you know, it’s like… Even this morning, you know, it’s the third day of school and my son who’s 11 was really upset that we didn’t have Nutella. So we have never had Nutella in the house. So this girl in his class is getting peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches and he really wanted this and we haven’t gotten to the store since school started so it is what it is and it’s, he offered last night to buy the Nutella, and I was like, Yeah, you can bike to the store in the morning and get Nutella if you wake up early enough… but you know we’re not going just for Nutella… And so he’s kinda storming around this morning, and you know, we check in, and he tells me, he’s like, Yeah, I’m almost in the red zone. And I’m like let’s stop and think about this. You know, so he decides to take his breakfast and eat alone by himself to help him. We hear him fuming. And I go, Daniel, is this… are you kind of stuck on the Nutella? And he goes. YES! And my husband goes, don’t tell me this is all about Nutella… and I said, David, this isn’t about Nutella, but Nutella is what is at the surface of this and a lot more other things going on, but you know.. Gives us a different lens to look at it. Does that make sense?
Lori: Oh, absolutely. He’s got to have so many feelings… third day of school, he’s meeting new people, we don’t know what interactions are going along at school… what his relationship is with his teacher, I mean… there’s so much.
Leah: And we have this grumpy, irritable kid, who seems obsessed with Nutella, but yes this is the behavior were like observing, and underneath this though, are a lot of feelings, you know. It is really at the heart of it, so my husband was like oh yeah. And he kinda just backed off. You know, we’re not gonna talk logic with him about Nutella, we’re just going to understand there’s a lot of feelings underneath his behaviour and I think that that’s something the zone lends caregivers to see a little easier, is that it’s not just the behaviors and me getting frustrated with my kid who’s not acting the way I really hope they will. And I’m getting uncomfortable with those feelings too because now I’m frustrated, and it puts this language back to base it back in emotion and not so behaviour based.
Lori: And maybe once he’s in the green zone, tor a while, you can do the more deep dive into the feelings, right? Well, I hope you work out that Nutella situation…
Leah: Well, I might have grocery shopping on my to-do list this afternoon…
Lori: and he’ll probably try it and hate it! So…
Lori: Well, and um, another one of our associates asked, “something I’ve noticed in both my daughters is the social anxiety piece, having to go back to school and interact with their peers. COVID really isolated us and now it’s trying to help our girls with feeling nervous, scared, etc… so in the classroom, and maybe how to use the zones in a morning meeting type environment to help children start to identify what zone they’re in and strategies to use within their interpersonal interactions…” I guess that’s not more… it’s not really a question but more of a statement of how how their teachers could support them.
Leah: Yeah, I know a lot of schools are starting to integrate what we call “zones check ins” into that morning meeting or opening circle time with their classrooms, and it’s a great read for teachers to gage where their students are at, who they may need to personally connect with… You know, you see a student maybe check in in the red, and that’s time well spent if you can support that learner and have a successful day as an outcome versus kinda letting that boil to… you know, get maybe breakdown later. But what this also does is it gives our learners the opportunity to just pause and reflect where they’re at. And with that, for many of them, they might realise “hey, I am coming in to school this morning in the yellow”, which is before the red zone, where our feelings are getting more intense but not as overwhelming as the red zone, and for them, they might just… notice and check themselves. And think, ok, what do I need to do to take care of my yellow zone? Maybe it is take a deep breath, or you know, find a way to move before I have to sit, or something like that. So it gives them the opportunity to self-reflect and evaluate what might be best to support them.
Lori: Yeah, and I’m also wondering if maybe the underline question here is is more about COVID and the effect of the isolation for the past year… Have you heard from teachers or what is your experience now with kids heading back to school and their their levels maybe?
Leah: Uh, Yeah, I think we have just a big mixed bag of emotions, you know… and parents too. Speaking of personally, there’s a lot of things up in the air and new norms and yeah, social anxiety is huge, I think. For a lot of these kids. And their learning style at home was maybe a lot more accommodate than what it might be in the classroom so it’s now back to a more traditional learning gormat that some of our kids are really going to struggle with, having kind of that flexibility to learn upside down or in a soft chair, or sprayed out on a rug, or whatever it may be. So I’m really hoping that we have schools, teachers, who can offer some flexibility in meeting our kids where they’re at, and really taking note of some of the lessons we learnt during COVID that our kids can learn a lot of different ways and the more that we can support that, you know, allow for that regulation to happen, we’re going to have more attentive kids ready to take in that knowledge that’s
Lori: Yeah, I think you know, also, Just that you hear so much about all we need to fill in the gaps from last year the academic caps from last year and you know if I if I had if I ran the world I’d be like can we not focus on that? Just focus on these kids and getting them to feel comfortable and less anxiety about the return to school…
Leah: Yeah, I know, my daughter is in the third grade and she said, “yeah mom, there’s some kids I don’t think they’ve been in school for a loooooong time, I think they forgot how to go to school”
Lori: What an observation for a third grader…
Leah: Yeah, and I’m thinking about all these teachers.. You know, I think we just need to offer a ton of grace to kids and teachers and all just be really flexible. And um, what this might look like and how can we shape education going forward to really support these different needs of the kids.
Lori: Yeah, yep. Thanks. Well, finally, you’ve recently released some new products… tell us tell us what they are! I know we have zones story book series and tools to try card decks…
Leah: Yeah, so um, myself along with one of my close colleagues, Elizabeth Sadder we worked together and created a 2 book series that really explains the Zones of Regulation and how to use tools to regulate our zones and puts it together in a this, pathway that we call “road to regulation”, which is the title of the first book. And the second book is called “Regulation Station” and that’s where they’re thinking about their tools and how those tools help them manage each of the zone. So that storybook set is really designed for our primary age kids, elementary school, 5-12 year olds.
And then we have the same characters featured in our Tools to Try Cards for Kids, and that is 50 different tools or regulation strategies for them to explore and reflect on how these tools might help them in different zones and helping to ultimately create this, toolbox, that is taught in the Zones of Regulation curriculum.
We also have the Tools to Try Cards for Teens and Tweens, which is for those you know, adolescents, could also be used with adults, these cards are illustrated in a style that is more appealing to the adolescent population. Some of the core tools are the same but we also introduce new tools for that population. More cognitive based tools, thinking strategies, mindfulness straegeies, and those card decks are great to pull you know, one tool a day, not a day, one tool a week, and just focus on it as a tool of the week and let the kids explore it. And then at the end of the week, reflect on what zone this tool will help me in. And building that tool box. So yeah, it’s been fun to create these products. It’s all intended to be used in conjunction with the curriculum itself, and that’s gonna give you that format, the detailed lesson, that structure. And these are to enhance and extend learning.
Lori: Oh, I wish I had that card deck when I was teaching middle school. That would’ve been so perfect! But now I know about it and I wanna grab it for some other students that I’m seeing now. So. I’m excited about it. So thank you! Well, Leah, that’s all we have time for today but thank you so much for talking with us and joining us on this podcast!
Leah: Yeah! And I meant to say this when we were talking about caregivers too, I made a video during COVID, super awkward video, I’m not intended to be a YouTuber, however, I did my best and so we created a Zones check-in video of how you can do this at home and it helps the learners and caregivers set this up for the home environment. And that is available on our website at zonesofregulation.com!
Lori: Yeah, and I’ll put all of that in our shownotes and link the video as well.
Leah: Awesome! Thank you! Thanks Lori!
Thanks for stopping in to SENIA Happy Hour, don’t forget to head over to SENIAinternational.org/podcasts and check out our show notes from the discussion today. We at SENIA hope you’re enjoying these podcasts. There’s so much to explore and we’re at the very beginning. So feel free to drop us a note and let us know what you’d like to hear more about during your next SENIA Happy Hour. Until then… Cheers!