EPIC Blog: How to Use Engine Plates - 4KIDS
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EPIC Blog: How to Use Engine Plates

June 19th, 2020 l Author: Holly Fregin, MS

As a parent, you may find yourself constantly overwhelmed by your child’s big emotions and meltdowns. One of the first steps in really being able to change this behavior is to help kids know what is really happening in their bodies when the tantrums arise. The “engine plate” is a great tool to teach this!

An engine plate is a physical tool that you and your child create to help them identify their emotions, as well as explore how these emotions feel in their bodies. It’s incredibly beneficial for you as a parent to make an engine plate for yourself as well— modeling is the best way to teach!

To make one, all you need are some white paper plates, coloring markers, brass fasteners, a ruler, and black construction paper. Using your ruler, divide your paper plate into three sections. One section will be filled in red, another blue, and the last one green. Cut out an arrow with the black construction paper and use the fastener to secure it to the middle of the plate.

Make sure you pick a time when your child is calm, rested, and well fed to explain how the engine plates work. Tell them that their body runs a lot like the engine of a car or a train, and each color on the plate represents a different set of emotions inside them.

Describe what each color would mean for them:

An engine running on RED:

  • You are feeling very hyper. You might have so much energy you feel like you could bounce off the walls, or run all over the house, or you can’t stop jumping up and down.
  • You might be feeling angry. You might feel so mad that you could punch something, or are feeling like you might explode. Your fists and all the muscles in your body might feel tight.
  • You might be so hungry you are feeling upset.
  • You might be so tired that you are feeling so cranky.
  • You might be feeling scared. (Children who have experienced trauma often have overactive fear response systems and their brain may be triggered throughout the day because of this).
  • You might be so excited about something that it is making you feel stressed.

An engine running on GREEN:

  • You feel just right. You feel calm, relaxed, ready to learn, able to concentrate, your tummy is fed, you have gotten the right amount of sleep, and/or you have had ample time to play.
  • The muscles in your body feel loose and relaxed.
  • You feel happy.

An engine is running on BLUE:

  • You may be feeling tired.
  • You may be feeling lonely, sad, or worried.
  • You may be hungry or thirsty. You feel so weak that you feel like laying down.

After explaining to your child what each of the colors mean, you’ll want to teach them strategies to use when they realize their engine is running on red or blue to help get their engine back in the green. The goal of this activity is to empower kids to be able to move from to red, to blue, to green throughout the day successfully, not to shame them depending on which color they are at.

Make sure you keep the engine plates in the area of your home that you are all in most often. Perhaps for you, this might be the kitchen, and you keep your engine plates on the fridge so you can refer to them throughout the day. Including these plates in your daily conversations will help your kids become aware of their internal state and teach them coping skills for getting their bodies and brains back to a place where they are calm, focused, and ready to learn.