Trauma Informed Practice: Enabling Children to Feel Safe

This blog post is a brief summary of Pooky’s course ‘Enabling children to feel safe so they can flourish’.

Safety is a theme that I return to again and again in my work whether it’s about taking a trauma informed approach, enabling children with special needs to thrive or simply about creating an environment in which every child can flourish.  One of the most basic needs that must be met for every child is a feeling of safety and in this blog post I pick that apart and go beyond the built environment, exploring how we can enable a child to feel safe physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively.

PHYSICAL SAFETY

When we think of health and safety, it’s physical safety that usually springs to mind and this is not a trivial issue.  Children need to know that they are physically safe, that they are not going to face danger and that the worry of physical safety sits with their trusted adults. 

  • We generally meet this need well 
  • But it’s not just about reality, it’s about a child’s perception of reality
  • Some children are used not to feeling safe
  • It can take time to build trust so children know ‘I’m safe here’ 

SOCIAL SAFETY

Children need to feel socially safe too.  They need to have an understanding of what is expected of them and what they can expect of others.  

  • Imagine how you feel in a foreign culture or new place
  • Clear, concrete communication of what is expected
  • Consistency, predictability and clear boundaries
  • Social stories and scripts can help
  • If things change, we need to communicate this clearly and in good time
  • Don’t just teach a child what to do, help them understand why
  • If… then.. 

EMOTIONAL SAFETY

Children need to feel seen and heard. They need to know that it is normal and healthy to experience a range of different thoughts and feelings and that these thoughts and feelings do not need to control them and that if they need help with them, help will be given.  

  • How can we ensure children feel seen by us?
  • Running towards distress
  • Name it to tame it – emotional literacy is key
  • Learning you can change how you feel feels like a super power!
  • Creating an environment where help seeking is possible and encouraged
  • We can share the child’s emotional load, we should never expect them to share ours 

COGNITIVE SAFETY

At a point in time where perfection seems to be the new norm, how can we create a learning environment where exploration is encouraged?  Where children feel empowered to try new things and do not fear failure?

  • Become a learning role mode – talk about how you learn
  • Consider the behaviours you want to praise e.g. help seeking, research, effort
  • Explore these behaviours in low stakes activities
  • Take the fear out of failure by celebrating and sharing mistakes
  • Encourage children to step outside their comfort zone
  • Learning can be fun – find the flow, be inspired by special interests

Further Resources:

Further learning and reading

Build Bonds with Babies & Infants 

Enable Children to Feel Safe so They Can Flourish 

Create a Truly Inclusive Environment Where Children with Special Needs Can Thrive

Use Simple Self-Soothe Strategies

Books

The Power of Showing Up  – Written for parents and carers but suitable for all, I love this gentle book which teaches us how and why we can build brilliant bonds with babies and children. 

The Science of Parenting & What Every Parent Needs to Know – These two books by Margot Sunderland simplify the neuroscience underpinning bonding and explains the practical steps that we can take as parents, carers and professionals to help babies and infants develop healthily. 

Steve Biddulph’s Books – I’ve read and loved everything Steve Biddulph has ever written. Raising Girls and Raising Boys are neat summaries of lots of his wider work. 

The Parenting Patchwork Treasure Deck  – 100 colourful and versatile cards to improve relationships, assessments and interventions when working with parents, carers and children. Again, I’m a big fan of all of Karen Treisman’s books and resources, they are simply fab and very easy to use. 

Attaching Through Love, Hugs and Play – Simple practical advice for building bonds from an attachment therapist. 

Promoting Attachment With a Wiggle, Giggle, Hug and Tickle – Suitable for individual or group work and featuring structured, rewarding and fun exercises.

Parenting with Theraplay – Theraplay® is an attachment-focused model that allows parents to build confidence in their abilities and strengthen their relationship with their child. This book provides an overview of Theraplay based ideas that can be used directly by parents. Illustrative case examples detail these ideas in action.