Supporting Safe Experiences in Early Childhood Care

Are you passionate about creating a safe and nurturing environment for young children? Well, you’ll love this topic – Supporting a physically and psychologically safe experience in Early Childhood Care. Let’s explore how we can create a warm and welcoming space that supports the growth and development of our little ones! Early childhood educators play a pivotal role in fostering a sense of safety and security for children in their care, especially for those who have experienced trauma or instability in their lives. Here are several strategies with supporting examples educators can use to help children feel safe:

Offer predictability.

Create a predictable environment by establishing and maintaining consistent routines. Knowing what to expect from their day can help children feel secure and grounded. Post visual cues and reminders about the daily schedule. Remind children often about what is coming up next.

First, we will have our morning meeting, and then when you hear the music start to play, we will move on to our centers.

Create a safe environment.

Design the classroom to be a welcoming and safe space. Ensure it is clean, well-organized, and filled with comforting materials. Areas that allow children to have their own space can also help them feel secure. Keep things simple, use color-coding or symbols to label supplies and toys.

If you want to read a book about animals look in the blue baskets. If you want to look at a book about fairies and unicorns look in the green baskets.

Be curious.

Respond and interact with children sensitively. Try to consider, “What has this child experienced?” Be attentive to children’s needs and respond to them caring and empathetically. Showing that you understand and care about their feelings can help build trust. The behavior you observe might be the only way a child can communicate their experience at this age. Does your body need a break right now? Maybe you can walk with me to get a drink of water.

Set expectations.

Set clear and consistent boundaries, rules, and expectations in an understandable way for children. Consistent boundaries can make the world seem more predictable and less frightening. Do not expect children to remember everything after only telling them once or twice. Remind children often about the boundaries, rules, and expectations. During our morning meetings, please keep your hands and feet to yourself.

Empower children.

Encourage autonomy and choice whenever possible. This can help them feel empowered and have a sense of control over their environment and experiences. Provide a limited number of simple choices to provide children with ownership without overwhelming them. Do you want to start with the ABC Center or the Science Center?


Build strong, positive relationships with each child. A secure attachment with caregivers can be a significant source of comfort and safety for children. Have fun, play, and laugh with children.

Wow, I see a cat on your shirt, I have a cat at home named Fluffy.

Emotional awareness.

Recognize, name, and validate Feelings. Acknowledge children’s feelings and let them know it’s okay to feel however they do. This validation can help them feel understood and supported.

It is so sad when playground time is over. I know it is hard to stop swinging on the swings because you enjoy it so much.

Share your calm.

Model calmness and patience. Children are very perceptive and can pick up on the emotional states of adults around them. A calm presence can be very reassuring.

Let’s take a deep breath together. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Great. Let’s do that one more time.

Practice safety protocols.

Conduct regular safety drills (e.g., fire drills) in a way that is not frightening but empowering so children know what to do in an emergency.

We are going to practice what to do if our fire alarm ever sounds during that day. You don’t have to worry, there is not a fire now, but we are going to practice. In a few minutes, you will hear the siren and it will be very loud. When you hear the siren, go quickly to the side of the room and get into a line.

Collaborate with families and caregivers.

Work closely with families to understand the child’s background, any specific fears or triggers, and strategies that work well at home. This collaboration can ensure consistency and a deeper understanding of each child’s needs.

Let’s call your grandmother to tell her about your good morning painting with your friend. I think she was right, when you have a morning snack, you feel better.

By implementing these strategies, early childhood educators can create a secure, stable foundation, allowing children to explore, learn, and grow confidently.

Download the free resource below to start building deeper connections with the children in your care!

School readiness and success: Are you meeting basic needs?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Circle of Courage model of Resilience

Conversations and curriculums to promote school readiness in early childhood programs tend to focus on cognitive development, academics, concentration, and focus. In many cases, the priority must be basic needs. For children to be successful in school, they need to be well-fed, sleep well, feel safe at home, and have confidence in themselves. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a popular theory, which focuses on a series of needs to be successful.  He considered five needs – physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization- and put them in a pyramid. A person reaches their fullest potential, beginning with the foundational aspects of the basic needs – physiological and safety – and only when those needs are met does a person eventually reach self-actualization.   

The Circle of Courage, a model of resilience, suggests there are four universal needs for all human beings. These fit within the framework of Maslow’s Hierarchy and include belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity.

Both are helpful reminders that all learners are less likely to succeed if their basic needs are unmet. And for many children experiencing too much stress and trauma, their needs are not met.  The hierarchy of needs can help identify gaps; for example, breakfast might need to be provided for children who come to school hungry.

Considerations and Suggestions for meeting needs in early childhood centers

If you go through the details of the needs, this may become clearer in the context of children who are experiencing stress and trauma and what they need most to have a successful school experience.

Physiological needs include proper nutrition and water, access to fresh air, and enough rest, exercise, and warmth. Trauma-informed considerations include:

Is the child eating enough nutritious food?
What is the child’s sleep schedule?
Does the child have shoes that fit correctly?

Suggestions to meet physiological needs:

  • Snacks, free and reduced breakfast, and lunch options.
  • Available drinking water, working drinking fountains, and extra water bottles for those who need them.
  • Extra clothes, coats, hats, and mittens for accidents and playing outside in colder weather.
  • Nap or rest time.
  • Plentiful undirected play and exploration.

Safety needs are about security and feeling safe – physically and emotionally, as well as the need to have shelter/home and stability in one’s life. Trauma-informed considerations include:

Does the child know what to expect?
Do they have a predictable routine?
Is support provided when the child is learning a new skill?

Suggestions to meet the need of safety:

  • Rules – many verbal reminders and visuals posted.
  • Expectations – consistent and follow through.
  • Support during transition times.
  • Feedback and support with everything.

Belongingness and love have to do with others, the social side of feeling that you belong, are connected, loved, and included. Trauma-informed considerations:

Does the child have friends?
Is the child securely attached to at least one caring adult?
Have adults modeled how to share and take turns?

Suggestions to support meeting the need for belonging and love:

  • Cooperation experiences with ample support.
  • Opportunities to take turns and share toys and supplies.
  • Plentiful social and playtime with other children.

Esteem, Mastery, and Independence concern the inner self – having feelings of achievement, being recognized, having power over one’s life, and being a unique person with strengths and talents. Trauma-informed considerations:

Does the child have someone who pays attention to their achievements?
How often does the child receive compliments?
What is the child good at doing?
Does the child have access to co-regulation with a caring adult?

Suggestions for meeting the needs of esteem, mastery, and independence:

  • Notice children – often smile, wink, fist bump, and say their names.
  • Compliments from adults and peers.
  • Laughter and smiles galore.
  • Practice and support with emotional awareness and regulation.

Self-actualization and Generosity involve achieving one’s full potential, being creative, and finding that specialness of oneself. Trauma-informed considerations:

Does the child have access to a safe area to play with supervision?
Has the child ever completed a chore such as putting away toys in a box?
Does the child show empathy for others?

Suggestions to meet the needs of self-actualization and generosity:

  • Free play and exploration.
  • Opportunities to help one another.
  • Age-appropriate classroom jobs.
  • Service learning – making pictures/cards for hospitals.

Find more resources for supporting kids in early childhood care here.