Regulating Emotions With Jenga

Our family have always enjoyed playing Jenga. So when I stumbled across a post by The Chaos and The Clutter I was inspired! I knew that I could adapt this idea to work our wonderful speech therapist has been doing around recognising and regulating emotions.

The Zones of Regulation

The zones of regulation is a cross-disciplinary framework for exploring and self-regulating emotions. We have been working on emotions with Mr 9 for over 3 years with little progress. I have watched various therapists bring up “feelings” in session, only to have him use all of his best diversionary tactics to avoid answering any questions. Mr 9 will use physical barriers (such as holding a book in front of his face), slide off his chair onto the floor, or start a parallel conversation about his obsession of the moment… anything to get out of talking about feelings! It is like trying to move a mountain :).

Zones of regulation check-in boards
We use the happy faces when in the green zone, and sad faces for the other zones.

S.T. Jo made us these extra large emojis and backboards to introduce us to the 4 colours used in the zones of regulation system. Mr 9’s vision impairment means that all therapy tools need to be adapted in some way; in this case it was enlarged and simplified faces used. We planned that each of the family check in each day. We would use a single emoji to identify the zone of our emotion of the moment. This would lead to talk about simple strategies for moving toward the green zone if needed.

It Worked In The Beginning

I attached the boards to our whiteboard in the hallway as soon as we got home from S.T. At first it appeared to be working! Mr 9 was quick to choose an unhappy face and place it in the blue zone. Over the next few days we found that he always identified as “sad” or “depressed” and in the blue zone. He resisted all conversations about strategies to move to the green zone. Even when I caught him at moments when he was clearly having fun, it was always the same answer.

We tried a few other strategies using the zones before we decided to take a break and re-approach it in a few weeks.

That was when I saw this great idea on my Facebook feed. They had taken a normal game of Jenga and turned it into a fun way to talk about emotions. I decided to do the same, tailoring it to the emotions we were working with from the 4 zones.

The Game

I matched paper to the backboards we had been using and added words to each of the blocks. 12 blocks for each zone left me with a few spare, so I gave those the headings of each colour. For the full instructions on making your own Jenga emotions set, make sure to check out this post.

Jenga emotion blocks showing the 4 zones of regulation
We included the headings for the Zones of Regulation that we use

The boys set up the game and we played as usual… but each time we took a block from the tower we would:

  1. Read the word
  2. Talk about the meaning, a time we felt that way, or use body language to show what that feeling is like.
  3. Put the block on top and continue with the next player.

And it worked! Mr 9 was resistant to start with so I made sure that he took the third turn. By that time he was happy to choose a block, read the word, and give a definition to match the feeling.

The Benefits

The first time we played I focussed on it being relaxed and fun. We each chose which type of response to give. When Mr 9 became stuck on using the same facial expression to describe every feeling, I steered him towards talking about an example of when he noticed or thought someone else had felt that emotion. This took the pressure away from him, and we were able to continue.

Now that we’ve added this game to our regular rotation, I’ve noticed other benefits:

  1. It’s been great for Mr 5’s literacy skills. He is now easily reading words that he would not have been exposed to in Kindergarten, even though they are handwritten (and not at all neatly!)
  2. It has helped us all become familiar with the zones in a fun and fast way.
  3. We can still play the game in the normal way, developing strategy skills, manual dexterity, and fine motor skills.
  4. I am more mindful of finding strategies to move from the yellow and blue zones, before feelings escalate to red! And I have been more mindful about us all practising these techniques.
  5. More family time. Any fun activity that we can do together gets a big tick from me!
  6. Jenga emotions should be as fun as you can make it
  7. As always, the best part is when the tower falls!

Update November 2018

We pulled this game out for a play with Mr PWA tonight…. it’s been a while since we used it and it was hubbys first time. Mr 7 was so keen to act out the emotions! I also found conversations about coping skills being stimulated as we played first one round, then another. How far both boys have come! But the best part was still the collapse of the tower 😁.

A Few Helpful Links

Check out these links for more information:

One thought on “Regulating Emotions With Jenga

  1. Pingback: Tutorial: Make Your Own Jenga Emotion Game – Parenting With "A"s

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