“Reducing stress and establishing a positive emotional climate in the classroom is arguably the most essential component of teaching,” -Mariale Hardiman, Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education.

As a parent or teacher you want the children to feel safe and secure in your presence and environment. One way we do this is by treating children with kindness, awareness and appreciation for their individual styles and interest. But we also work hard to be sure that all children feel physically and emotionally safe in the environment that we create for them. Interestingly, studies are showing the essential link between children’s brain development and the sense of feeling safe and secure in school and at home. When “children feel secure and calm they can take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxious fear.” (http://heartmindonline.org/qualities/secure-and-calm)

When children do not feel safe and secure they are distracted from learning. The brain is always on high alert and so basic skill learning “takes a back seat”. The part of the brain called the amygdala mediates emotional response, memory, and regulates what is often called  “the fight or flight” mode. When this kicks in it is difficult for children to remember what they are learning or focus on a task. This is why the Kinderpillar program places so much attention on creating a safe and secure environment for children. Our brain based educational program is designed to support healthy social and emotional development through positive interactions and essential safety precautions. Building a safe and secure environment works best when we involve children in creating that sense of safety and security. When we involve children in setting safety rules they are more likely to comply and become a more active community member. Here are some suggestions for both school and home.

Provide a “soft and safe” zone for children. Studies show that children need a safe and secure place they can go when they feel challenged. Soft toys, pillow and a blanket create a snuggle area that children can retreat to when they need a recharge.

Talk to children about being responsible.This might be a big new word for some young children. Discuss what that means and invite children to think of ways they can “be responsible”. For example, you can be responsible by carefully opening and closing the door, putting toys away so that other won’t trip on them, or taking turns without pushing others. When children learn how to be responsible for themselves and others they naturally become aware of safety issues. In the early years children are just learning how to be responsible. It can be a big deal just to be able to watch where they are going and what they are doing! But they learn to be responsible by taking action and applying the skill in many different play activities.

Instead of “telling” children the rules, invite them to participate in creating them together. Children will be more apt to follow the rules and health precautions if they know why they are important AND have created them together with you. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Take a positive approach!When creating rules together strive for stating what you want children to do…not what they can’t do. This positive approach helps children to hear the expectation not the misbehavior. A great trick is the use of gerunds… words that end in “ing”. For example, if you want children to sit to listen to a story you would say “sitting” or if you want children to walk in a particular area instead of run you would say, “walking”. You will be stating in one word your positive expectation for children.

Take a safety inspection walk together around the classroom, school and playground. For parents, you can take a walk around your home and the neighborhood. Invite children to look for any potential safety problems.  Discuss what they see and cooperatively create safety procedures.

Keep the school and home first aid kit current, well stocked and at easy reach.Go over the contents with children and talk about safe usage.

Invite cooperative problem solving, discussion and sharing. One way to get your kids talking about the of safety is to fill a box with some safety props such as a toy stop sign, a telephone, sunscreen and a garbage bag. Bring each object out one at a time for discussion. You might ask: What is this? Why do we need this? What can we do with this object to keep us safe? Introduce one object at a time and use this activity over time to get children talking about safety.

Invite children to problem-solve play problems together. Children need to know how to solve sharing, turn taking and social interaction problems with other children. These situations are bound to happen but it is through these play activities children learn how to express a problem they see and communicate ideas and feelings about it. They learn how to think through the problem and create solutions.

Act out the role of a Safety Helper.By physically acting out a safety helper role or a safety procedure children learn how to use their body and mind in an emergency. Of course the process of talking about safety enables children to deal with fears and emotions related to this important topic. Invite children to share what they know about these community helpers and what they do. Place costumes in the play area for children to experiment with these roles.

No matter what you choose do with children…just remember to focus on the ways that children are actively involved in creating safety for themselves and others. This is essential because you will be empowering them instead of frightening them.