Personal Safety For Children Through Positive Practice of Skills

Written by Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director

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Personal safety education for children and teens using Kidpower’s Positive Practice Method empowers young people to take charge of their emotional and physical safety to avoid and stop most bullying, abuse, and other violence. We use the term “Positive Practice” to mean coaching our students to be successful in rehearsing these personal safety skills through role-plays relevant to their lives. Learning to use boundary-setting skills also helps people to develop healthy relationships.

Raising awareness is important – but telling children and teens about the dangers of bullying, violence, and abuse without practicing skills can increase their anxiety without making them safer. Talking about these dangers and worrying about child safety can feel as if you are taking action, but the reality is that talking and worrying are not enough. Kids need adult protection until they are prepared to protect themselves because they know what to do and how to do it. Adult protection requires recognizing unsafe behavior and intervening to change it as well as rehearsing safety skills with young people.

Just like a chair needs at least three legs to be stable, so does change in human behavior. Dan Heath describes these three strategies in his exceptional book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard: “Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant, and Shape the Path.” The Rider is our intellectual mind. The Elephant is our emotional being. And the Path is what defines how we can get where we need to go.

Here’s how these strategies apply to personal safety education:

  • the “Rider” requires awareness so that people understand how big the problem is and what it looks like;
  • the “Elephant” requires motivation so most people will feel strongly that kids need protection from bullying, abuse, and violence; and
  • the “Path” requires skills so that people will know what to do to intervene in the moment, persist in the face of resistance, make valid assessments, and provide support to others speaking up, even when all of these actions are uncomfortable.

Awareness, motivation, and skills are all necessary for personal safety to be taught consistently, effectively, and practically. Positive practice of these skills can help to reduce worry, develop confidence, and increase competence for both adults and their kids.

Want to learn more about how to practice? Kidpower can help! Sign up for our free enewsletter. Visit for our extensive free on-line Library, affordable publications including Safety Comics, workshops, and consultation services.


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About the Author

Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director
Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe, the Kidpower Safety Comics series, the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults, and The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People.
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