Background Information

What can be done to help young children understand how to keep themselves safe? It is difficult for young children to understand the concepts of risk and vulnerability, to understand
how to distinguish between a trusted adult and an adult that may harm them or do something inappropriate. A teacher’s role is to build a safe environment for students and develop a trusting relationship with both the child and their caregiver. It is essential to help children establish trusting relationships, learn good communication skills and practice safe habits.

Adverse childhood experiences negatively impact mental and physical health across the life- course. Such impacts may be substantively mitigated by always having support from an adult you trust in childhood. (Bellis, M.A., Hardcastle, K., Ford, K. et al., 2017.)

Consider the following statistics gathered from the National Center for Educational Statistics, 2019:

• One out of every five (20.2%) students report being bullied.
• 41% of students who reported being bullied at school indicated that they think the bullying would happen again.
• A slightly higher portion of female than of male students report being bullied at school (24% vs. 17%).
• Bullied students reported that bullying occurred in the following places: the hallway or stairwell at school (43%), inside the classroom (42%), in the cafeteria (27%), outside on school grounds (22%), online or by text (15%), in the bathroom or locker room (12%), and on the school bus (8%).

In addition, studies by David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, show that:

  • 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse;
  • Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident;
  • During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
  • Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
  • Children are most vulnerable to childhood sexual assault between the ages of 7 and 13.

According to a 2003 National Institute of Justice report, 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well (page 5). Every child needs an adult in their life they can talk to if they or someone they know has been hurt or if they are concerned about their safety. They need adults they can trust to help keep them safe. Trusted Adults, in turn, need to know how to help if a child ever comes to them to report they have been harmed.

Best Practices and Implications for Professional Practice

Dr. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D offers these classroom strategies in Scholastic to provide the safety and predictability that children need:

• Keep the first few weeks of school simple. Repeat the schedule and rules many times. Once a child feels comfortable with the school day, flexibility and change can more easily be introduced.
• Be predicable in your interactions with children. This is more important than the number of minutes spent in each activity.
• Be attuned to each child's overload point. Let children find some space and solitude when they seem to be overwhelmed.
• Find time during the day for quiet. Solitude allows the brain to "catch up" and process the new experiences of the day. This leads to better consolidation of new experience and better learning.
• Keep the first challenges light and the praise heavy. Confidence and pleasure come from success.
Let everyone succeed at something.
• Emphasize the importance of good nutrition and proper bed rest. Children cannot learn when they are hungry or tired. Also, let parents know that their children are likely to be more irritable at home, will need more sleep, and will need some "decompression" time at home after school. Remind them that even pleasant experiences can be stressful.
• Remember that you make all the difference. These first experiences with school can help reinforce a child's curiosity and love of learning. You create the emotional and social climate of safety that makes your classroom a place for optimal learning.

Resource Content Overview: Classroom activity in preschool through 4ᵗʰ grade environments, especially, will be reflective of the emotional struggles or situational events occurring in the lives of each of the students. Rather than fight the mood in the room, teachers should identify and take advantage of opportunities presented on any given day. Be prepared to adjust curriculum and instruction and incorporate ideas about empathy and understanding into each lesson, regardless of the topic (i.e., utilize teachable moments as they present themselves).
Instructional Practices: Positive early learning environments start with the teacher when they create a positive social and emotional environment that is built on caring and responsive
relationships. Children can't explore and learn, experience joy and wonder, until they feel secure. They need to trust their caregivers and know their needs will be met. Young children  need adults to establish the relationships by being consistent and responding to social and emotional cues, both in classrooms and home-based settings. (Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center)

Educators should:

• Identify their own feelings and reactions when they are stressed.
• Find healthy outlets to manage their emotions. Exercise can be an effective stress management practice for many people, while others find that meditation works best. Experiment and discover which strategies works best.
• Pay attention to personal thoughts and beliefs about child development, behavior expectations,and individual children. Make sure interactions are developmentally, culturally, and linguistically responsive.
• Use strategies to calm oneself to respond to children effectively and compassionately. Drinking a glass of water, singing a song with the children…find what works best.

Suggested Resources

Other Resources:

IL Department of Children and Family Services “You are Not Alone” Campaign To ensure that children know that it is never okay for anyone to hurt or neglect them, the Illinois  Department of Children and Family Services is launching the “You are Not Alone” campaign with the simple message: if someone is hurting you, there is help available.

1, 2, 3, Count on Me by Sesame Street in Communities Every child has the right to physical and emotional safety. For children who repeatedly witness violence in their communities, it helps to remember that there are trustworthy adults who are their allies.

The Five Safety Rule by The Monique Burr Foundation The 5 Safety Rules are taught to children in the MBF Prevention Education Programs. Parents or other adults can reinforce the rules with children by asking them to explain each Safety Rule and practicing the motions with elementary aged children. Additionally, parents and adults can use the 5 Safety Rules themselves to better protect children. For additional information, visit, and/or download the “Child Safety Matters” app at no cost from the App Store or Google Play.

Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape Safe Secure Kids Free resources can be found here to help caregivers prevent sexual abuse and harassment by communicating with children about respect and consent.

Safe Adults by The Monique Burr Foundation Every child needs adults in their life they can talk to if they have been hurt or are concerned about their safety. They need adults they can trust to help keep them safe. And their Safe Adults need to know how to help if a child ever comes to them to report they have been harmed. Read here to learn how you can be a Safe Adult and find additional resources.

Childhelp Resources for Teachers The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. The Hotline’s services are available to professionals
who need help to report suspected abuse. This includes school nurses, teachers, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatric dentists, fire investigators, and members of the faith
community. All calls are anonymous and toll-free.

Teaching Young Children Habits for Personal Safety by the California Childcare Health Program A published brochure can be found here from Child Care Health Connections on how to promote personal safety for young children.

School-Based Prevention Programs from the Child Welfare Information Gateway Teachers and other school staff are in an optimal position to prevent, identify, and assist victims of child abuse and neglect because of their frequent contact with students.

Sample Classroom Strategies

 IL SEL Standards:

• Goal 1: Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.
Goal 2: Use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.
Goal 3: Demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and community contexts.


These activities can be used to address the Illinois SEL Standards.

• Pre-K – Kindergarten Activities

a. My Trusted Adults Hand- Either provide a template or have students draw an outline of their hand. For each finger, have them identify the network of people such as parents or guardians, family members, teachers, and so on who are adults they trust and who listen to them. 

b. At circle time, have a silhouette outlined with Trusted Adult written in the middle. Discuss and list behaviors describing a trusted adult (i.e., complete the sentences, “A trusted adult….” and “A trusted adult makes me feel…”).

c. Talk about different situations students should report to a trusted adult.

d. Discuss what 911 is and when to use it.

e. Connect with your local Child Advocacy Center or Prevention Center for school programs available to come to speak to groups.

• 1ˢᵗ – 2ⁿᵈ Grade Activities

a. Know the Rules: Tell a Trusted Adult by NetSmartzKids- Students will learn to tell a parent, guardian, or trusted adult if anything happens to them. Students will also learn who are trusted adults. Share this accompanying video & worksheet with class.

o Discussion questions:
• Who is a trusted adult?
• What kinds of things should you tell a trusted adult?
• Who can be a trusted adult in your life?
b. Trusted Tree Activity- Have students outline a tree. Have them choose at least three trusted adults and write their names on the branches. Post the trees on a bulletin board to highlight that the students are surrounded by trusted adults should they need them.

• 3ʳᵈ – 4ᵗʰ Grade Activities

a. Download and share a video with the class- KidSmartz: Tell A Trusted Adult

• Discussion questions:
o What does the word trust mean?
o What qualities does a trusted adult have?
o Who are some trusted adults in your life?

b. Journaling- Have students journal about different scenarios describing when they
should go to a trusted adult.

c. Trusted Adult Interview from KidSmartz pgs.15 –16 - Students are to ask a trusted adult the following questions when they interview them:
• What do you think the word trust means?
• How do you try to show me you are trustworthy?
• Why is your job as a trusted adult so important?
• If I were sad, scared, confused, how would you try to help me?
• I believe I can trust you. How does that make you feel?