What is Protective Behaviours?

The origins of Protective Behaviours

Protective Behaviours (PBs) was originated in the early 1970s by Peg West, a school social worker in Madison, Wisconsin, USA and her colleagues Joan Levy and Donna Fortin. The prompt to do this was that some children had been coming to Peg for help, all of whom were telling her in one way or another that they were not feeling safe. Over the next few years the original programme was refined and developed into the process we now call Protective Behaviours.

It was as a result of the search by the Police Department in Victoria, South Australia, for an alternative to teaching children about stranger danger that the existence of Protective Behaviours was discovered as a suitable vehicle to do this. Peg was subsequently invited to Australia in 1985 to conduct some training in the Protective Behaviours process. Di Margetts was one of the people who received this training and in 1990 she came to the UK via a connection between the police in Australia and England. Di was asked to call in at Milton Keynes Police Station to explain how the process worked. Having done this she was asked to conduct a workshop before returning to Australia.shutterstock_3404369 (Large)

Di’s visit inspired a huge enthusiasm for Protective Behaviours with the result that she returned to the UK and began to train people all over the country. After this, many people became involved in Protective Behaviours as both trainers and practitioners with the result that Protective Behaviours is now established nationally in a great variety of services and settings e.g. parent support, domestic abuse, abuse prevention, crime prevention, restorative justice, mental health, anti-bullying etc. The process has been used in Universal, Targeted and Specialist Services.

The Protective Behaviours process

Protective Behaviours (PBs) provides a framework for personal safety, self- esteem, resilience and confidence building.  It is an internal process where each person applies the ideas to their own unique experience.

There are 5 main elements of the PBs process, which are presented here separately as they are on a Protective Behaviours Level 1 (Foundation) Training Course. In practice, they all interact and support each other. To take one section out leaves the others incomplete.

Unwritten Rules and Beliefs

Beliefs and Unwritten rules both have a powerful influence on our choices of behaviour. Whilst beliefs and unwritten rules can be positive and help to guide our interactions, many of them tell us that we ought or must behave in a particular way. For instance, children should do as adults tell them; professionals should always have the answer, men should not show their feelings and women should behave in a ladylike manner. Unwritten rules are not written down, are often contradictory and do not seem to fit with our own experience. During training we look at their function, how they develop, their effects, whether they are helpful or not and how to change them if necessary.

Feelings, Thoughts and Behaviour

During this element we look at the interaction between our feelings, thoughts and behaviour. We see that feelings are feelings and that they are neither, right, wrong, good or bad. Some people may mask one feeling with another or use behaviour as a way of avoiding or covering feelings. We look at how behaviour is a choice with an effect, usually affecting others as well as ourselves. Sometime we do not know what our choices are or they may be limited by factors we cannot change. Once we are in touch with our feelings it helps free us to use our thinking. Our thinking can influence both our feelings and behaviour.

Theme 1: We all have the right to feel safe all the time

We explore this theme in detail, carefully looking at the connection between rights and responsibilities. We also take the concepts of blame and punishment out of commonly held ideas associated with responsibilities. Instead, we focus on the ‘ability to respond’ contained within the meaning of the word. The difference between having a responsibility for ourselves and to others is also examined. Next we discover for ourselves the difference between feeling safe, fun to feel scared (adventurousness), risking on purpose (which may not feel like fun but we still have choice) and feeling unsafe. These differences are manifested by what we call our ‘Early Warning Signs (EWS), specific bodily responses which tell us when we do not feel safe. It is these universal body signs which mean that Protective Behaviours is accessible to all people, irrespective of age, gender, nationality, and their ability or belief system.

Theme 2: We can talk with someone about anything even if it’s awful or small

This theme is also explored in detail. In particular we focus on the ideas and effects of ‘talking’ and what might happen if we do not believe this theme. We encourage everyone to develop their own personal networks of support, those people they could turn to if in need. Desired qualities of network people are identified and we examine how we would know if someone has these qualities. Types of networks and ways of letting people know we need to talk with them are also explored.

The Seven Strategies

These implement the 2 PBs themes and core ideas. They are:

  • Theme Reinforcement – reinforcing the two themes verbally, visually and especially by example.
  • Network Review – constantly checking to ensure that our networks are available and still fit our needs.
  • One Step Removed – using a ‘third person’ approach for problem solving, to seek assistance or to check out someone’s ideas before making a disclosure. This might include role-play, videos or asking for help for another person.
  • Protective Interruption – any action we take to interrupt or halt any potential or actual unsafe situation, for instance, saying ‘no’ when someone is encouraging us to do something we feel is wrong.
  • Persistence – persisting in seeking help until we feel safe again and our EWS have gone. This includes seeking further help if our EWS return.
  • Risking on Purpose – deliberately choosing to take a risk when the outcome may be what we want or need, for example, going for a job interview or asking for help. It also includes remembering our responsibilities towards others’ safety.
  • The Language of Safety – this is the glue that holds all the Protective Behaviours elements together. It includes re-framing our language into an empowering, non-victimising and non-violent format which is consistent with the PBs process. It also means we acknowledge that language is a powerful tool in forming and maintaining a positive self-image and in enhancing and building relationships. We demonstrate the difference between ‘political correctness’, when we do not need to believe in what we are saying, and PBs language where we know, for example, that racist words are never acceptable because someone is likely to feel unsafe if we use such language. This would mean we were not observing our responsibility to other people’s right to feel safe.

Uses of Protective Behaviours

shutterstock_226610086 (Large)The PBs process is being used in many places and by a variety of people. It is being used by schools, residential care services, mental health teams, children’s centres, family intervention teams, domestic abuse services, mediation practitioners, police, counselling agencies, probation workers, youth workers, social services, disability service workers.

The process can be used in many ways including abuse prevention, staff wellbeing, practical tools for direct work, crisis intervention, bullying prevention, policies, managing challenging behaviour, crime prevention, counselling, assertiveness training, staff development, parent support work, Restorative Justice, mediation, conferencing and conflict resolution to name a few.

Because of the universal ‘we all’ in PBs it can be, and is, used by anyone irrespective of their ability, belief system, race, gender, sexual orientation, profession, age, physical or mental abilities.


There are a variety of books, videos and curriculum material available for all age and ability groups. These resources support people wishing to implement the process.

In addition there are materials published by Families Feeling Safe Ltd for parents to use for themselves and with their children.

For further information about Protective Behaviours please get in touch with us at

Families Feeling Safe, Protective Behaviours Services



Tel: 01438 728653