A calm student.
Learning Environment

7 Ways to Create a Safe Space for Emotionally Challenged Students

Safe doesn’t have to be dull. Here’s how to create space that protects and inspires at the same time.

Padded walls and bolted-down desks are just a few precautions teachers take to ensure students with behavioral disorders don’t physically harm themselves or others; however, safe doesn’t necessarily mean dull — a space that inspires creative expression is also important.

Children diagnosed with a Severe Emotional Disturbance (SED) have trouble regulating their emotions and are prone to sudden, sometimes violent, outbursts. Their emotional distress can stem from excessive feelings of fear, anger, or depression. Often times, they have a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression and struggle academically and socially.

Because their behavior can be self-destructive and disrupting to staff and other students, preparing a safe learning environment for students with SED is extremely important.

Ron DeMusey is a Behavioral Analyst for Dublin City Schools in Ohio who has been working with SED students for twenty years. His experience with students across the spectrum of behavioral disabilities has made him a leader in his field. According to DeMusey, it is imperative that classrooms be conducive to both safe learning and creative expression.

To accommodate SED students, DeMusey suggested taking the following 8 measures when setting up the physical classroom:

  1. Secured furniture, including desks and bookcases that are cleated to the floor or wall so they cannot be thrown or flipped. Consider using high-quality beanbag chairs or balance balls instead of standard chairs.
  1. Use SmartBoards or chalkboards for class activities as opposed to paper and pencil to avoid writing utensils being used in an aggressive way.
  1. Protective mats and padding to prevent self-injury.
  1. Therapy body socks for their calming effect.
  1. Creative areas or “chill out spaces” that reduce stress and encourage positive expression. A wall that students can draw or paint on or a space where they can listen to music are effective ways to help them emotionally de-escalate.
  1. A personal library for the students to keep their schoolwork. That way, they can easily and discreetly access work that was left behind in class when they made an emergency exit.
  1. A behavioral reward system to motivate the student.


From academic struggles to social inabilities, SED students face a number of challenges at school due to their extreme behavior. It is important that safety precautions are taken to ensure these students do not harm themselves or others. Teachers can help SED students achieve success despite their disorder by equipping their classroom with the right safeguards and creative outlets.


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