James Van Der Beek has a brilliant colour-coded warning system

With six kids at home, it’s no wonder the actor has some savvy tricks in his parenting arsenal.

It’s not surprising that while in the throes of the nine-month sleep regression with baby Jeremiah and road-tripping through America with six kids total (yup, six!), James Van Der Beek has been trying out some new parenting tools—but he seems to have landed on a winner. In a recent Instagram post, the Dawson’s Creek alum real-talked about a trick that’s been helping him cope with life on the road.

“So far, I’ve changed six flat bicycle tires. I’ve had wonky RV reservation web sites leave us with no spot for the night. Our baby is going through his 9 month sleep regression – which means we don’t get to sleep,” he said of the trip with his wife of 11 years, Kimberley, and their adorable kids—Olivia, 11, Joshua, 10, Annabel, 8, Emilia, 6, Gwyndolyn, 4, and Jeremiah, 9 months.

“We’ve had spilled smoothies, broken glass bottles, tantrums, tears, a crack in our windshield, and I’ve had so many moments of frustration with the kids that we’ve instituted a color-coded warning system to keep them abreast of just how little patience I have left, i.e. ‘Guys, I’m at an orange, please put your shoes on!’ (Pretty sure this is not great parenting but it is a survival tactic).”

Stars, they’re just like us—living day by day in total parental survival mode. Sigh. But we love the idea of helping our kids to understand when we’re at our breaking point, or nearing it, and just need a break. Because we all deserve one from time to time—and in a family, communication is key.

As far as Van Der Beek’s saying he’s pretty sure this is “not great parenting,” we think he should give himself more credit.  The trick definitely calls to mind the Zones of Regulation, a framework and curriculum that educators use to help kids identify and regulate their feelings by attaching colours to different emotions (e.g. red for intense emotions like anger that it’s hard to control; yellow for elevated emotions that you still have control over, like worry or silliness; green for calm states like feeling proud or content; and blue for when you feel down and less alert, like when you’re sick or bored).

Commenters were quick to get behind the colour-coding idea, too, with a number of educators singing his praises. “Early child educator here– the color system is actually on point, expressing how you’re feeling and giving people (your tiny humans) a heads up is VERY healthy.” Just because we can identify our own emotions as adults, doesn’t mean our kids understand them, so why not make colour-coding a two-way street? I wonder what colour “my kid just dumped an entire bucket of sand on her head” would be…

But that doesn’t mean the Van Der Beek trip has been a complete haze of orange, and the voice of Vampirina‘s Boris Hauntley closed his caption with a pretty perfect summary of parenthood. “In between… we’ve stumbled into moments of pure joy. Of discovery. Of freedom. It’s amazing how life can surprise you if you remain dogged about not getting stuck in a moment. Because sometimes… the magic lies just on the other side of chaos.”

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