Safety, relations and regulation

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Research into the needs of children and young people who have been exposed to hurtful experiences or grow up in unhealthy conditions, shows the importance of safety, positive relations, and assistance with regulating emotions, impulses and behaviours in order to promote growth, development and learning (Howard Bath, 2009). Do keep in mind that these three areas describe fundamental needs for all children, and create good classroom- and learning environments when implemented in school.

1. Safety

Feeling safe is the most important thing in children’s lives. They need adults they can trust in their lives. Safe attachments provide protection and promote growth (Kvello, 2015).

What constitutes as “safe” differs between individuals and depends on prior experiences. Some pupils have reactional patterns that may seem irrational, overly dramatic, unpredictable and disrupting. Reactions like these can be understood as expressions of pain, and be rooted in emotions the pupils have yet to master. Expressions can be both outward (shouting, swearing, running away, etc.) and inward (acting passively, being quiet or rejecting, etc.). Increased safety can be achieved by having at least one adult who meets the child’s emotional needs; someone who supports the child, is understanding and helps regulate negative emotions.

2. Relations

All children and young people are in need of positive, long-lasting relations. The relation between teacher and pupil is imperative for pupils’ learning and well-being (Hattie, 2009), and has a big impact on emotional, cognitive and social development.

Relational competency in schools is about the staffs’ attitudes toward children and young people, and being conscious of your own behaviour and emotional expressions in the face of different pupils’ behaviour. Professional competency and relational competency complement each other and help you see every individual pupil’s needs, emotions and academic potential (Lund, 2017).

3. Regulation and co-regulation

Emotions are the driving forces behind our actions, and we need to look past those actions to understand what causes them. The child’s ability to self-regulate is shaped by the sensitivity they are shown by their caregiver(s) (Kvello, 2015). Children who are assisted with regulating hurtful or difficult emotions and verbalizing their experiences, are also being trained in how to self-regulate their emotions.

However, safety and positive relations are prerequisites to working with regulation of behaviour.

Many children have not learned how to comfort themselves and need adults who can “co-regulate” them when emotions become overwhelming. One of the most important aspects of this is to not exercise any of your power or control over the child, but rather be an attentive listener, accept frustrations and support the child’s self-regulation, and adjust when necessary. A lot of children find it helpful to stimulate their senses, either to calm down or to liven up, for instance by listening to calming or energetic music.

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Kristin Larsen is a special education teacher at Lianvatnet school, a school department in BUP (Division of Mental Health Care, Department of Children and Youth). She has extensive experience with children and young people who display problematic behaviour in school. She has also worked as both principal and education inspector, and has further education with subjects from the master’s program “Children and young people’s mental health and child welfare” from NTNU. In addition to educating, assessing and evaluating she provides counselling and competency training for school employees.