As youth programming begins with the new school year, it's important to remember that creating a safe environment starts on day one—not when something goes wrong. These tips can help you develop a structured program that minimizes problems and makes staff feel in control of their program.
Set Clear Expectations
Setting clear and high expectations is important to create a safe environment.Regularly referring to these expectations will underline their importance and reinforce everyone's commitment to them. Not only do they provide consistency—staff can refer back to these expectations when a child is not following them—whether it be with the child, or the parent.
Kids crave structure. When there is a lack of structure, children are uncertain, and it can make them feel anxious. This unpredictability can lead to negative behavior and can make it difficult for staff to control the group.
Designate Safe Spaces
A designated safe space—a separate space with soothing activities—provides an opportunity for children to remove themselves from the group in order to become calm and maintain control when they feel angry, frustrated or sad. Coping doesn't always come easy to kids, so this space allows that time to calm down while staff can continue to manage all of the other children.
Provide Positive Reinforcement
It's important to recognize and praise positive behavior. Children like to please adults, and by rewarding good behavior, you also model appropriate behavior for the other children, too. Reinforcing positive behavior will result in continued, and more, of this behavior.
Say What You Want
“Don't be mean to your friend!” is something that you might often find yourself saying. Rather than telling a child what you don't want, tell them the action you do want to see—"Be nice and kind to your friends.“ Kids respond best when directions create a visual image of what you want to see, so there is less misunderstanding.