An Introduction to the Green Zone
Updated: Apr 29
I talk about the Green Zone a lot. The term "Green Zone" comes from The Zones of Regulation created by Leah Kuypers, an occupational therapist who developed the system to help children struggling with sensory regulation and emotional control.
I show my clients the chart and we talk about what emotional regulation is and why it's important. I support my clients in learning about their Green Zone, how they can tell they are in it and when they are not. But for many parents, we are so focused on our children, that learning to pay attention to our own needs is a tough transition to make.
We are in the Green Zone when we are:
Able to respond to needs vs react to behavior
In the Green Zone it's easier to be:
Clear on your child's behavior and motivations
Connected to yourself and your own values, not just professing them
Connected to your family and doing what's best for them, not comparing yourself to other families
Able to balance a child's wants vs their needs
Allowing for consequences vs enforcing punishments
Powerful with my child vs powerful over my child
But most of us spend our time in the Yellow Zone:
Driven by fear and worry
Being vigilant, preparing for the "other shoe to drop"
Reacting to behavior
Looping or ruminating on past events or worrying about the future
Fearing the judgment of others (What will other parents think? What will my parents think? What will the neighbors think? Teachers? Principals? Coaches?
Engaging in power struggles with our child, our co-parent or other adults
In Kuyper's model, the Yellow Zone isn't bad. None of the zones are! The Yellow Zone is where we experience slightly elevated emotions, from silliness and excitement to worry and frustration. It's not a bad place to be. It's only when we unconsciously spend most of our time here that it can become unhealthy.
The Red Zone is where we experience BIG emotions. Anger. Grief. Terror. Elation. Ecstasy. Again, not bad. But these emotions can be uncomfortable. Many of us were not taught Emotional First Aid. So we ignore, stuff and numb these emotions. But they don't go away. The build and build until they (or we) explode. Explosions can look like rage. Or they can look like grief. They can last one minute or one week.
The Blue Zone is when we are tired, sick, sad. It can look like taking care of ourselves after sensory overload. It can look like how we normally feel at the end of the day. It can look like rejection. It can look like depression. But it can also look like boredom or sleeping late or resting when we're sick.
I've added my own zone. The Brown Zone. This is where distracted parenting happens. Or distracted human-ness happens. It's when you are not experiencing the world around you. This is when we numb our senses with social media. Or eat to avoid feelings of discomfort. Or have a drink or two to "take the edge off".
Now that you know about the zones, let's look back at the Green Zone. For me, I know I'm in the Green Zone when my daughter and I laugh together. I know I'm in the Green Zone when I respond to my husband's need for attention and not react to his behavior. When I can speak up for myself instead of trampling on my boundaries.
It's easier for me to stay in the Green Zone when I:
Get at least 7 hours of sleep
Have alone time every day (which looks different now than it did a few weeks ago!)
Eat every 4 hours
Meditate/Connect with my own stillness
Express my needs
Live within my values and strengths
What does the Green Zone feel like to you? How much sleep do you need? How often do you need to eat? Do certain foods affect your Green Zone? It was really hard for me to learn about my Green Zone. I had to ask my family to tell me what they could see because I couldn't see it myself.
My family knows I'm in the Green Zone when:
They feel heard
I laugh at their jokes
My eyes and my mouth smile at the same time
I remember to do the thing I said I'd do
Everyone's green zone looks different. So how do you know when you're in the green zone?
Are there certain friends you talk to?
Certain subjects you talk about?
Does the music you listen to change?
Are there certain phrases you say?
Do you laugh more?
Do you eat different foods?
Do you treat yourself better? Give yourself permission to rest? Maybe you even notice you need to rest!
(More about Green Zone Tools can be found here)
The most important thing about the Green Zone is that it provides you with a framework for self-compassion. And self-compassion is magical, y’all!