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Communicating with children

Guideline 2C

Create “safe havens” as part of communication


“Safe havens” are spaces where vulnerable children can go in a time of crisis. They can be physical, mental or emotional places where children feel that they are listened to and someone knows how they feel. They are places where children feel protected and safe from harm and can gain a sense of trust in the world and optimism about their lives. The need for a “safe haven” can range from children living in emergencies, those experiencing abuse, and those whose wounds or fears emanate from discrimination based on disability, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, caste, etc.

Children need safe havens in order to survive and thrive. Across the developing world, it can sometimes be difficult for overworked and overwhelmed adults and families to provide such spaces for children. “Safe haven” communication is important because safety and security are foundations for developing and learning well. Even if young children do not talk about sensitive or difficult issues they can still feel many emotions that can have a negative impact on all areas of their development.

Although communication cannot replace human interaction or special therapy, it can help children understand that they are not alone and provide examples of how they and others can cope and be comforted. Safe havens can soothe and create a respite from existing pain, even for short periods of time.

Positive Examples: Create “safe havens” as part of communication


See Something Say Something (Bold Creative for Nickelodeon UK) is a series of short films about bullying, produced for an anti-bullying campaign in the U.K. Developed after research, including workshops in primary schools and interviews with children, the series presents different perspectives: the bully, the bullied and the witness to bullying.


The first story is narrated by Marcus, a young boy who bullies another boy until the boy’s mother talks to him about the consequences of bullying and he reconsiders his behaviour. Alaskah, a 10-year-old girl, is the victim of bullying on the playground, trying to understand why another child would harbour angry feelings. Kelly is a witness to bullying and takes action to have an adult teacher intervene. Mark describes being bullied as having a cage put around him that becomes smaller and smaller.


 All offer ways that children can end bullying, including asking for help from teachers and by calling a “hotline” telephone number. They are a model of a “safe haven,” where both children who bully and those who are bullied can find identification, help in understanding different perspectives and practical suggestions for changing and healing.

 Turning Theory into Practice

This can be translated into communication in many ways, for example: 

  • Emphasizing the good in people, modelling warmth, care and joy found in small things
  • Using stories told in first person about difficult emotions and experiences such as fear, illness or death (e.g., “My mum died from AIDS and I would like to share my story with you,” “There is lots of fighting in my town these days. I get very afraid. Here are some things I do when I am afraid,” “I learned to be a bully because I could never tell others what I really needed. I was bullied at home. I need your help to stop being a bully,” “When I was abused I felt all alone. I learned to be assertive, to not blame myself, to reach out for help, and to say ‘no.’”)



 Guideline 2A  Guideline 2B  Guideline 2C



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