Safety and Children: Teaching your child protective behaviours and how to develop a safety network

Children in most schools receive some education regarding their personal safety and keeping safe. Often these sessions are presented by Bravehearts or the Daniel Morcombe Foundation. The principles of protective behaviours for children have been around for years and remain just as relevant today for teaching children about safety.

In 2000, I completed my first protective behaviours training and since then I have been lucky enough to share protective behaviours to children at many different schools. At the time, police attended schools and spoke to children about how to keep safe. Whilst the presentations have changed slightly, the principles of keeping safe resonate throughout the different programs.

Often the information that children receive will depend on the age of the children. A preschool child will be exposed to the very basics of principles such as rights to safety, talking to someone and family passwords. Protective behaviour principles remind children to listen to their bodies, as their bodies give good clues when something isn’t right.

Children are reminded about some of the clues their bodies might give, such as:

  • - hair standing on end
  • - butterflies in tummy
  • - pounding heart
  • - wobbly knees
  • - sweaty palms
  • - crying

  • Generally, the discussion is then guided into the children talking about what to do if they feel unsafe (when their body has given clues). Suggestions include running, screaming, ringing an adult and saying NO. It’s worth remembering that as parents, guardians or teachers we spend a lot of time telling children not to hit, scream or run in the house so it is useful to let children know that we can break these “rules” in a personal emergency.

    Safety Networks

    Safety networks have been used as part of protective behaviours for a long time. They are effective and fun to do. If your child hasn’t done one at school you could easily do it at home. Basically you trace around a hand (an adult hand is a good idea as it is large), then on the fingers of the hand the child can write the names of people they can talk to. It should be people who will listen, believe and take appropriate action. If you are doing this activity with your child, remember to guide them to include adults who are both male and female, someone in the home, people outside the home and people outside the family.

    A good mix of people will mean your child has a range of people they know they can talk to about anything. A hand might include mum or dad on one finger, teacher on another, a grandparent on another and a friend’s parent is often a good choice, or a trusted neighbour. Sometimes children want to include people or things that you know can’t actually help but they want them on there. This might be a sibling, a toy or Santa. You can use the palm of the hand to write that person’s name. But it is important to explain to children that they can ‘practice’ talking to the people on the palm but it’s the people on the fingers that can help.

    Don’t forget to remind children how they can contact emergency services on 000 and also tell them how to make an emergency call. Explain that they may be asked what service they require: police, ambulance or fire. It helps if they know their address and their parent’s names - not just mum and dad.

    Don’t forget to remind children how they can contact emergency services on 000.

    Place your completed hand somewhere visible, maybe on the fridge. Remember to revisit your child’s network when situations change. Such as if your child changes school or you move house. The more current the people on the network the more likely it is that your child will go to someone who can help. Remind your child that if they don’t get a response from the first person they try to choose another person on the network.

    If you have a child with special needs, The Daniel Morcombe Foundation has created activities to help explain safety to them. Click here for more information.

    More general information about children and safety planning is available at:

    by Virginia
    Virginia is the State Education and Engagement Co-ordinator (Qld) for the VCSS program with a background in personal safety, protective behaviours and juvenile justice.