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This episode offers one practical play idea to help children create a feeling of safety and security at home during lockdown and the Coronavirus pandemic.

About our hosts:

Sophia Giblin

A creative entrepreneur who focuses on ways to tackle the root of children’s mental health through play and secure relationships. Due to her own challenging experiences in childhood, Sophia went on to establish a thriving Play & Creative Arts Therapy charity to support other children who have experienced trauma. Her focus is on helping therapists, businesses and charities have more of an impact for children and families that they work with through coaching, strategy, fundraising and mentoring.

Nicole McDonnell

Nicole is a mum to two young boys, who also has over 20 years of brand marketing experience. She is a previous Chair Trustee at Clear Sky Charity and has past experience on the Ella’s Kitchen board.  Her roles have included Marketing Director, Head of Ella’s-ness, Global Brand Director with responsibility of creating and building one brand inside and out – including the wellbeing and culture of the team. Nicole was instrumental in growing Ella’s into a multi-million pound international business, driven by the mission of creating healthy children.

About Treasure Time

Our vision is to drive connected, happy parent-child relationships, for the benefit of the whole family. Our mission and passion is to educate parents in how to become happy, mindful and confident in connecting with their own children through play.


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Visit @treasuretimeuk on Instagram and Facebook for den making pictures!

Value bombs and tweetables:

1. “We need to start with ourselves so we can then help our children to work their way through it” Sophia Giblin

2. “As parents it’s our natural instinct is to protect the children and help them feel safe and secure” Nicole McDonnell

3. “Children get their sense of psychological safety from us” Sophia Giblin

4. “I hope lots of children and family enjoy building dens over the next few weeks!” Nicole McDonnell



Hey, it’s Sophia and Nicole. Welcome to the Treasure Time Podcast: growing up happy. So today’s podcast is all about helping children to feel safe and calm. Nicole, how has this episode come about?


So this week so far has been a rollercoaster of emotions and such enormous changes to daily lives. It’s happened so quickly and not a lot of time to react or respond or process. And I’ve been talking to a lot of parents who are dealing with different emotional needs for their children and themselves as they try to process and make sense of it all.


It’s hard, isn’t it? I think we’re all trying to make sense of it. So it’s no wonder that our children are finding it difficult at times as we are still trying to figure it all out for ourselves as adults. I guess that’s where we need to start is with ourselves so that we can then help our children to work their way through as well.


Exactly. And that is really hard right now. Because as parents, your natural instinct is to protect the children and help them feel safe and secure. But the reality is, as parents, we are all feeling a certain degree of fear, or being really anxious of what the future may hold. And there’s lots of moments of positivity where you feel great and you’re like, it’s okay, this will be fine and then you ride that roller coaster and you’re back down into extreme fear.

So I think we’re all going through this cycle of different moments of fear during different parts of the day.

How do you think we can recognise when our children don’t feel safe? What will be we be able to see, how can we tell?


I think the first thing that we can distinguish is the between physical safety and psychological safety.

So physically, we might be safe, we might be in our homes, we might be washing our hands, doing all the things that we’re being told that we need to do. And also, we’re not in any physical danger if we’re looking after ourselves and keeping well.

So that can be something that breeds a bit of anxiety because there is the underlying fear of “what if it’s not all well”, right? That’s the physical part of it.

But I think that the bigger part of it here is that our sense of psychological safety has been shaken for everybody, particularly for us as adults because we everything is so uncertain and then there’s so questions that come up about it. What does this mean for us? What does this mean for our children? What does this mean for our jobs for our mortgages for the economy, all of this stuff, it breeds real psychological fear.

So when we’re thinking about our children, even though they may be physically safe, we’re keeping them physically safe, because that’s our job as parents, psychologically, they’re probably going through similar sorts of things that we are.

However, their sense of psychological safety comes from us from our ability to be secure and stable for them. So when children see us acting in ways that are out driven by fear, it can compromise their sense of psychological safety because all of a sudden, things are different things are not consistent. Things are not predictable. Our moods aren’t predictable. Children may be seeing us being fearful.

In terms of behaviours, we can notice it in adults as well. When we see people acting from a place of fear, we start to do things like stockpiling or hoarding toilet rolls, this is all behaviour that’s driven out of fear. And actually, I’ve been seeing it at the supermarkets, people having fights and shouting at each other. And it is because we’re all living in a little bit more of a fearful state.

So I think it’s useful to think about adults and children’s behaviours, because actually, we do the same behaviours all the time, it’s just that it’s more acceptable, usually, for an adult behave to behave in a certain way than it is for children to behave in a certain way.

So with children, we might see all kinds of behaviour. There are children that typically will up-regulate when they feel unsafe, which means that they’ll do more behaviours that look like them, potentially “attention seeking”, we might call it but I would call it “attachment seeking” looking for connection. So they might start to behave in ways that make them bigger and make them louder and make them more noticeable, because they really need us to see them and for them to feel safe and secure.

But then on the other hand, you have children who might down-regulate their behaviour, which means going internal, going inside, being quiet. That’s maybe what you would call “clingy” children sticking to parents and feeling more overly emotional than normal. There’s all kinds of things.

And I think the thing that we need to distinguish really is between what’s fear driven behaviour, because children are never just “naughty”, they’re always communicating a real need. And right now, the needs are to feel psychologically safe. In times when it’s confusing, and it is scary. Even as adults, when it’s confusing and scary for us, it’s even more confusing and scary for children because they don’t have the capacity to process in the same way that we do.


Yeah, and I think we are seeing this, I’m talking to even my personal experience, we are seeing that behaviour in both out adults and children.

What are the things that will feed into the child feeling unsafe right now? So we know what’s feeding into us as adults feeling unsafe, you only need to turn on the news. But what is it that children will be tapping into the feed into this feeling of their world no longer being safe for them?


It’s very similar actually to what it is for us as adults.

If we imagine ourselves as a safe haven, a safe space for our children, when we are calm and consistent and predictable and centered, really, our children tend to feel calm and centered themselves.

But when we go off centre and when we start to feel panicked and stressed, it has a real knock on impact. Children are so perceptive they pick up on so much. Even more so if they’re being exposed to conversations about how scary things are, or the news or more adult topics.

I understand obviously, this is something that we’re all going through right now. It’s something that children are acutely aware of, but it’s not something that they can really understand. The main thing we have to remember is to still treat children like children during this time.

Yes, it’s important to explain things to them, but in child friendly and age appropriate terms.

I think that sometimes we can get caught in a cycle of talking to children, about things that maybe they don’t necessarily need to know about. Or maybe we’re talking to them in a way that is too adult for them.

What I like to remind parents is that we can always bring it back to play and remember to be playful with our children, even if you’re wanting to explain what coronavirus is to your child, you could do it in a playful way, you could get out playdough and you could make what you think the corona virus actually looks like, or paint and straws where you could draw a splatter pictures about what a virus looks like whilst you explain it.

In these ways, you you’re talking the child’s language, so it’s less scary already, because they can understand things better through play than they can through talking. So I just recommend that we keep it playful with our children and we don’t over explain or over talk about things that are very adult around them or to them.


That’s a really good idea to get the Play Doh and make it make it a game as you explain it. I like that idea in all of the context of everything you’ve just said.

If there was one thing we could do to best help our children feel safe and secure what would you recommend parents do right now? In terms of a playful activity that you could do.


There’s something really lovely that will help children to feel safe and calm, and that is building a den.

It sounds like the most simple thing that you could do. But children will create their own little sense of safety within a physical space, particularly within the home.

So obviously, the home is a safe space. At this time, home might feel like also a little bit of a scary and unpredictable place because of everything that’s going on. So what we can do is create a little space within the home that is extra extra safe, that children can make themselves or they can make with you. And in that space, you can create a really lovely nurturing environment with them.

There’s all sorts of psychological reasoning for creating a den. It’s like creating a little womb space. It’s physical safety, emotional safety. And if you use that space as a nurturing space too, maybe do things like reading stories, or you could even do your coronavirus splat paintings or play doh in there. It’s like it provides an extra layer of sheltering for the children.


That’s really great. I think that’s so interesting my boys actually this week during one of the moments where I was trying to be playful with them, because I’m quite playful instinctively, but I have not been playful most of this week.

I’ve been hit by the fear stick too many times this week. And I was in a moment of trying to be playful and they gave the kids two or three choices of things we could do in the afternoon.

They chose to build the den and they got so excited and they spent a good 40 minutes playing, they got the blankets, they got the torches to use inside from camping, they have pillows and throws and they did it under the kitchen table. Then they moved all the chairs out made it a really massive den and positioned a pillow to be the front door and you know they were really excited by it and they actually took about 40 minutes building it together but the two of them before they even went inside.


That’s part of the play! It’s so interesting because children will do what they know they need in play. So it’s not really surprising then that your boys would pick to build a den in a time when it feels very unsafe. They would choose to play in a way that makes them feel safe. And part of that 40 minutes of building is actually 40 minutes of creating safety in it, from a psychology point of view or from a play point of view. That is the play.

Everything that comes afterwards is additional is nurturing it’s on top. It’s a layer but the actual building of the den is the creation of safety


It is so good, I hope loads of children, parents listening to this and lots of children enjoy building dens and their whole family’s doing it together over the coming weeks that’d be fantastic!


It’s super easy to do as well. All you need are some blankets and towels and throws some pillows and a space in which to do it.

Our job as parents is just to create the space and we can just allow the children to play within the realm of within the boundaries of the time that they have available and the physical space that they have available.

I just recommend then that anybody doing this with their child, just think about where your child might need their den. So Nicole said her boys made theirs under the kitchen table which was probably is okay until dinnertime right?


Then you need to clear the den away but I love what you were saying earlier. I’m creating it, and it’s something you go back to and read stories. So, you know, it’s making me think, gosh, I want to suggest doing that again, but doing it in a place that they could just leave it up.


Yeah, absolutely. You’ve got, obviously your two boys, maybe with a den that they built together. But you actually might even find that your children need their own den in their own room as well if they have it. Or if they’re sharing a room two dens in that same space so that they have their own as well, that might be important for some children.


It’s really good.


Also, the other thing is that if you don’t have a den or you don’t have the capabilities to make one, some children really love a little pop up tent as well. So it’s the same type of thing is that contained space that can feel really safe during this time. So I’d highly recommend some den building this week.


Thank you so much Sophia, that I’m looking forward to hearing about all the children across the country building dens.

If you could follow us on Instagram our handle is @treasuretimeuk, or like us on Facebook, you can find out more at You can post your dens with your children’s permission, just tag us @treasuretimeuk you’ll be entered into draw to win the Treasure Time course and a year’s worth of membership to our exclusive Facebook community where you can get lots more advice and weekly live Q&A with Sophia. So don’t forget to add #TreasureTime and we look forward to seeing you next time.


Thank you so much for listening.

Remember to go to iTunes and click subscribe so you get notified when our new episodes come out. And we’d love it if you could head over to iTunes to give us a five star review and say some lovely words. And in our next episode, we’ll be talking about home-schooling and distance learning. So we look forward to seeing you there.


Thanks so much. Bye.


Children parents play feel happy home-schooling play den home boys fear challenges safe