The United Nations Convention on Human Rights in 1990 stated that each child has the right to grow in an atmosphere of love, happiness and understanding. This includes being healthy, live in a safe environment with the opportunity to develop to the best of their abilities. It does not mean that children and young people have to be locked up in a safe place where nothing occurs, and nothing may afflict them because they need stimuli and action for their healthy development. Unfortunately, adults cannot eliminate all the dangers children and young people may be exposed to inside and outside of school, but we can teach them how to recognise and overcome dangerous situations, and how they can protect themselves, or find help. All children and young people need strategies to make certain that they can protect themselves and make appropriate decisions about their safety. Although it is important that children and young people learn to protect themselves, at the same time is equally important that they take their own risks as long as there is no chance of significant harm. It is part of the teachers’ and teaching assistants’ job to encourage pupils to take certain risks that are necessary or even beneficial as a challenge. However, there are unavoidably situations in life when a child or a young person will have to face danger alone. Being equipped with the necessary skills, however, enables them to overcome these situations and even benefit from the experience. In fact, working in an educational setting is not only about learning the curriculum; it is also about teaching life skills and today a good schools’ curriculum should cover also the necessary skills that children have to acquire in order to stand their ground against the modern society’s challenges.
First, young children in particular need to learn about strangers, as some people are not always going to be kind to them, but also the significant message must be that not everyone they encounter is going to be someone who will do any harm. As practitioners, we can explain that most people care and protect children, but there are some adults who may try to hurt them. It is important to reinforce that maltreatment should never happen to them. Children and young people need to have good self-esteem and confidence together with a good self-image; therefore, it is important to make sure that they know they are important, that they should be respected by everybody, and that there are trusted adults who can help them and keep them safe.
Adults should always communicate openly with children and young people: they need to reinforce about the correct conduct with higher risk activities, for example teaching children how to cross the road safely (Road Safety, Green Cross Code, Cycling Proficiency), and about the dangers that are posed by some adults, which helps to minimise the risk. Adults should also reinforce the concept of body safety. This conversation could begin by introducing the parts of the body that should be kept private. We should explain to children that sometimes we may need help with tasks related to our bodies such as bathing or seeing a doctor. A parent or doctor might sometimes see those private parts to clean or check them to ensure they are healthy. However, a parent or a doctor should always ask for permission. If anyone else tries to touch the body in a way that frightens the child, we have to explain that he/she must say NO (in a firm voice), and in the case this happens, the child should immediately speak out about it. It is also important to tell the child that it is nice to have hugs and kisses, particularly from close family members, but these should never be kept as a secret. Children need to be aware that they have to decide if and who they share hugs and kisses with and if they would like someone to stop tickling them, they can do so immediately. Parents and adults should not try to dictate these decisions for child who should be allowed to decide whether or not they would like to kiss or hug someone.
Adults should explain to children not to talk to strangers when they are left alone with them. If a stranger, bully or even someone who they know tries to harm them, tell them to leave and get help, for example we can suggest going towards a crowd or a shop if they can. It is important that children understand that they should say “no, thanks” to an offer of a hug or a kiss from both children and adults, and that they are not expected to always accept them. Explaining to children that they are able to say no can be very empowering for them as they begin to exercise and assert their needs and desires to the rest of the world.
If a child is only taught to say “yes” and please others, this can increase their susceptibility to different forms of abuse. Children should feel confident enough to say “no” when they are invited to engage in activities that make them feel uncomfortable. It is important that children practice their skill of assertion; practitioners can role play with them in order to reinforce their ability of saying “no”.
Children today are exposed to tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs at increasingly younger ages. In fact, as children enter school and spend more time with their peers, they become more influenced by the media and the world around them.
Adults and practitioners should articulate and reinforce the difference between right and wrong behaviour. Talking about the importance of physical activity and diet for a healthy lifestyle, drug, alcohol, sex and relationships education and their effects, it is very important. Adults should give strategies at the appropriate developmental stage. All schools should have in place a guidance on all matters relating to drug education and the management of drugs within the school community. The document should define drugs as including alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs, as well as medicines and volatile substances and should outline the important role that schools play in tackling drug misuse in England, by providing drug education and wider support to all pupils, in particular those who need extra help. Drug education should be delivered as part of Personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education, which is an important and necessary part of all pupils’ education.