At Tanglin Trust School, we understand the importance of creating a safe and supportive learning environment for our children and young people. That is why we have implemented safe spaces in each of our schools. A safe space is a designated, contained area where students can go when they feel overwhelmed or upset to allow them to relieve stress, calm down, and recharge their emotions before returning to learning in a more balanced and positive frame of mind. This approach supports students' social-emotional learning by supporting them to self-regulate, focus on positive emotions, and manage negative emotions.
Open to all
Safe spaces are open to all children, not just those with high trauma, stress, or anxiety levels. These spaces teach students essential qualities such as respect, healing, and empathy. They also provide a zone where students can feel safe, unjudged, and comfortable coping with their feelings. This can help them regulate when they feel overwhelmed or upset, take action to avoid behaviours they know are incorrect or unhelpful or support them to reflect on previous behaviour or incidents. The safe spaces can include various elements such as books, games, fidget toys, gadgets, comfortable seating, sand trays, private zones, mood lighting and more.
Safe spaces are not used as a punishment or a “time-out” zone. Their purpose is not to isolate or teach a child a lesson. Safe spaces form part of our positive approach to behaviour management. Providing students with a healing and safe space before, during or after dysregulation or when they are overwhelmed can help to avoid moments of harmful or inappropriate behaviour, support de-escalation and self-regulation, and allows time for reflection after events. Safe spaces allow students to de-escalate and return to a calm state before returning to work. Use of the safe spaces is student-directed; students are encouraged to recognise when they need a time out, request it appropriately and are responsible for managing their behaviour in their safe space. Adults may join a student in the safe space (when invited) to help the student regulate or reflect. For students who are not able to be self-directed or wholly responsible for safe space use, they may be prompted or taught how to use the spaces by supportive adults, with the goal of establishing independent use. Safe spaces positively impact the students’ overall wellbeing and learning experience by teaching them to self-monitor and
Safe Spaces@Infant School
In the Infant School, there are many breakout spaces for each year group that are utilised throughout the day. In addition, each classroom has its own designated quiet area to use as a safe space. This could be a tepee, a soft seat away from the tables and chairs or a discrete cosy corner filled with cushions and calm furnishings. To promote ownership of their space, the children collaborated with staff when naming their zone. Class mascots have been re-introduced after the pandemic, providing our children with comfort and familiarity within class. Each class mascot has their own safe space, providing another designated area for children to access when in need of a place to regulate. We have also transformed our Koala Room near the Infant Library into a cosy, safe space that is often used by our Infant School counsellors. This multisensory environment helps to meet the developing sensory needs of individual children as appropriate.
When the Infant library was refurbished, Mr Michael Kelly, our Infant School Librarian, informed the architects that cosy, safe spaces must be incorporated into the plans. His doors are always open, and many children benefit from a pause in their day and use this quiet time to lose themselves in the magic of a story within the comfort of the tranquil surroundings.
Safe Spaces@Junior School
We have a number of safe spaces in the Junior School that support the valuable work we do with the children on recognising and managing their emotions and energy levels in different situations. Like the Infant School, in each classroom and year group unit space, the children will be able to visit a tepee or a discrete cosy corner and use a range of strategies within their ‘regulation toolbox’, to help them regulate their emotional state. These strategies can include breathing, mindfulness and visualisation techniques that support changing the child’s heightened inner state to an optimal feeling of calm, focus, and readiness for learning and social interaction.
Post Covid and with greater opportunities for social interactions, we found it necessary to provide more calming spaces during playtimes to include more collaborative play and mindfulness activities. At playtimes, the year group units transform into Junior Pastoral Hubs, where the children can choose one of three zones to spend their playtime in: The Chill Zone, for reading and talking to a friend; The Collaborative Zone, for board games, Lego, and art projects; The Mindful Zone, for calming activities such as colouring and sand play. One of our student leadership groups, The Friendship Captains, take responsibility in the space by supporting children with the activities and provide feedback on how we can make the environment even better. During these times, teachers in the year group check in with students to see how they are feeling and add support if necessary. Once a week, we also have our wonderful counselling team on hand should the children want to talk to them about an issue or worry. It is a time and space that has received excellent feedback from the children.
Seniors Pastoral Hub/counselling
Our newly opened, state of the art, ‘Wellbeing & Counselling Centre’ provides a safe space for students in need. It has been specifically designed to offer a calming and welcoming ambience, providing our students with the best possible environment to regulate before returning to lessons.
The Senior School Pastoral Hub provides a space that students can access at break and lunchtimes, and students who have been issued “time-out cards” can go there during class time if they feel overwhelmed during the day. It is equipped with large comfortable floor cushions, cosy blankets, pod seating, board games, books, and low lighting. Pastoral staff are around to check in with students if the student wishes to talk to someone. Work is underway to create another safe space, which will be allocated specifically to Years 10 and 11, allowing the current Pastoral Hub to be used for Year 7-9 exclusively. The Sixth Form Centre Common Room is set up with plenty of sofas and comfortable seating areas, and the Sixth Form Centre Office offers comfortable seating away from the main common room for students who feel upset or in need of support.
Creating Safe Spaces at home
Parents can help children create their own private space at home where they feel secure. They could consider setting up a small play tent, tepee, a special cosy chair or beanbag. Some calming activities, cuddly toys, books, soft blankets, or cushions can also comfort and soothe the child to help them regulate. Encouraging a child to use the space to feel calmer, more relaxed or positive can help when they feel overwhelmed or dysregulated. Children can self-regulate there when they choose, or they can be gently directed to the space by an adult. Taking time in a safe space can help diffuse arguments by allowing everyone time to regulate and come into a calmer frame of mind. Use of the safe space can therefore help children learn how to manage conflict healthily.
The safe space should be set up, and used during calm moments as part of finding peacefulness. Children should not be sent to the safe space as punishment or for “time-out”, and the area should not be used as a threat or consequence. Being sent to a safe space as a punishment undermines promoting self-regulation and calming.
Parents can model taking care of their emotions by using the safe space themselves (if it is in a shared area) or by having their own safe space set up and teaching their children regulatory skills. Regulatory skills include deep breathing, movement breaks, meditation, affirmations, drawing or journaling. Take note when your child makes good use of their safe space and praise them for caring for themselves and their feelings.
If your child invites you into a safe space, you can build a “relational safe space” by showing interest in your child’s thoughts and feelings, listening without judgment, setting clear boundaries, validating feelings, and providing support and understanding. All these things will go a long way to boost the connection between you and your child and their self-esteem and helps to bolster the feelings of emotional safety inside the safe space.
Children naturally seek out routine and familiarity to feel safe so their home can automatically become something that they depend upon to feel secure. It is therefore important to consider what adult conversations the children are exposed to that may impact their feeling of security. Through recent pastoral surveys and check ins with the children, we notice an increasing number of students who are anxious about the current rental increases in Singapore and what this will mean for them. Some children are not sure if they will continue to live in their home or if they have to leave Singapore if rental prices continue to soar. Security, routine and being able to plan ahead can all impact a child’s wellbeing, so it is important that they are given reassurance during this potentially challenging time, especially if change is a possibility. If a move is on the horizon, then creating safe spaces in the current home that are easily transferrable can ease the transition into the new home.
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