Developmental Readiness

Won’t and Can’t

Sometimes we forget (or don’t realize) that a child cannot do what we ask. We think they won’t do it. Often on some level, we believe that they are choosing either to do something or not to do something. We need to remember where they are developmentally. This is fairly easy with preschoolers, but as students move through elementary school, middle school and high school, we often assume they have more skills than they do. We have to keep the development of their brains in mind. Today we know that the part of our brains responsible for many social-emotional and executive function skills is developed last, and in fact, is not fully developed until a person is in their early to mid-twenties.

It is particularly frustrating when a child did something yesterday but for some reason, today they do not …. or more likely, they cannot. We need to remember the other factors involved, which could include fatigue, hunger, stress and especially for older children, social and peer influences, etc. For some children, trauma is also a factor and for others maybe it is their mental capacity or cognitive ability.

One of my favourite quotes from Dr. Ross Greene is, “Kids do well if they can.”


When children enter preschool they still depend on adults to control their behaviour and regulate their social and emotional experiences. Social and emotional skills for preschoolers include:

  • basic friendship skills
  • play skills
  • emotional understanding
  • intentional self-control
  • basic social problem-solving.

Opportunities to practice skills need to be plentiful, so that young children experience repeated, adult-supported opportunities to use and refine their skills performance, with feedback and positive consequences. Preschool children may also need explicit support to develop:

  • vocabulary
  • oral language
  • social perception
  • reasoning skills

(p. 138, Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning)

These foundational skills are important to support as children grow older. If anything interferes with these skills, it may also interfere with their social-emotional development.

The Zones of Regulation

FAQ – The Zones Of Regulation

What is “The Zones of Regulation” framework?
The Zones of Regulation® is a way of teaching self-regulation developed by Leah Kuypers. Regulation is sometimes called: self-control, self-management, or impulse control. We now know that it is much more than this.

How does an awareness of our energy and emotions affect our ability to self-regulate?
When we regulate, we match our state of alertness of both the body and emotions to our immediate situation. For example, when a student plays on the playground or in a competitive game, it is helpful to have a higher state of alertness (level of energy). However, that same energy level would not be appropriate in a more quiet setting, such as a library. The lessons and learning activities are designed to help the students recognize when they are in the different zones as well as learn how to use strategies (tools) to change or stay in the zone they are in.

What will students learn?
-a vocabulary of emotional terms
-the importance in reading facial expressions and body language
-perspective about how others see and react to their behaviour
-insight into events that trigger their behaviour
-calming and alerting strategies
-problem solving skills

How can I support my child?
Use the language and talk about the concepts of The Zones as they apply throughout your day and in a variety of environments. Make comments aloud so your child understands moving from “zone to zone” is natural and that we all experience the different zones and use strategies to help (or regulate) ourselves. For example, “This is really frustrating me. It is making me go into the Yellow Zone. I need to use a tool to calm down. I will take some deep breaths.”

Point out your observations as your child moves from one zone to another. For example, “Your body looks like it is tired. You might be in the Blue Zone.”
Validate the zone your child is in and help your child brainstorm expected ways to self-regulate so their behaviour is expected for that situation. For example, “You look very upset. Maybe you want to have some time to yourself while you calm down? Or would you rather I stay near?”

Share with your child how his/her behaviour is affecting the zone you are in (as a parent) and how you feel.

Show interest in learning about your child’s triggers and Zones tools. Ask if your child wants reminders to use these tools and discuss how you should present these reminders.

Make sure to positively reinforce your child for recognizing their zone and managing their behaviour while in it, rather than only pointing out when your child is demonstrating unexpected behaviours.

It is important to note that everyone experiences all of the zones—the Red and Yellow Zones are not the “bad” or “naughty” zones. All of the zones are expected at one time or another, just as we experience a wide range of emotions, as human beings. The Zones of Regulation is intended to be neutral and not communicate judgment. All emotions are okay and all the zones are okay.

How Can I Get More Information on self-regulation?
Share this introduction story with your child:

Introduction – Primary
Introduction – Intermediate

Talk with your child’s teacher about the self-regulation lessons in the classroom. Look up Leah Kuyper’s website or email me for more information about the Recipe for Regulation units.

Mindfulness – A Special Tool For Self-Reg

Teen Mental Health