Red Zones in Schools and Churches—When Kids Don’t Feel Safe!

Red zones in schools and churches—when kids don’t feel safe!

Ever heard of the “Red Zone”? Many of us understand that when something enters the red zone, it can prove to be a daunting situation. For example, if your car overheats, and the temperature gauge moves into the red zone, it’s important to check the engine to see what’s going on. Otherwise, the car may overheat or cause a fire, and you may find yourself stranded and standing on the side of the road. Wikipedia has a few examples of the Red Zone:

  • Unsafe areas in Iraq after the 2003 invasion
  • A region of France decimated during WW I
  • The area on the field between the 20-yard line and the end zone in American football

With this understanding of the red zone, you may be wondering how your classroom or other spaces in your church could be considered a red zone. You may be questioning how your classroom could feel like a war zone.

Allow me to give you a couple of examples of the red zone for some adults, and then we’ll move into the children’s areas.

Adults’ red zones

The first example is a mother whose military husband pushed her into a closet and, when she broke free, had a rifle aimed right at her heart. She came to our Single & Parenting group. One day, as she entered the classroom, she said, “This room is the place I feel safe. Can I just put a cot over in the corner and sleep here at night?” She said it with a laugh, but we all understood her vulnerability at that very moment. Her home was the red zone, and our church class was the safe zone.

The other example is a lady in our church and GriefShare group who recently attended a celebration-of-life event for a family in the church. During the celebration, a poem was read, and it hit my friend really hard. She began to weep. She rushed out of the event to look for a tissue. She automatically ran to the room we use for GriefShare.

She said when she arrived in that room, she let out a long breath. She said, “I realized this room was my safety zone. This is the room where I feel safe grieving and where I now help others grieve.” This room was the place where she connected with others who were also grieving. The room was used for a men’s Bible study and many other groups, but to my friend, it was a safe place. It was not a red zone.

These two people are adults who have the cognitive ability to think through situations, yet in their lives, they knew they felt safe in a particular place in the church. That place was a place they related in their minds with safety, connections and warmth. Do you have those places for children, or do you have red zones for kids who are struggling?

Is your classroom in a red zone for children of trauma, including children of divorce?

Kids’ red zones

What does your church do for the scared child, the child of divorce, the child who has been abused, the grieving child, the foster care child, and even the children in step- and blending families? Are your rooms red zones, or do these children feel safe?

  • For abused children, do you offer two ways in and out of the room? Do you allow them to sit in the back or on the side of a large group or where they can see the door when in a circle? Putting these children with their backs to the door is a red zone.

They are always looking for a way out for fear they will need it if someone comes at  them. They may even flinch if someone comes toward them. Do you provide space for them to feel safe?

  • For children of divorce, do you give them a clear view of the door, so they can clearly see when their parent arrives with nothing blocking their view? Blocking the view of the entry door might be a red zone for these children. Do you realize that many kids of divorce fear that the parent who brought them might leave them there alone?

They need to feel your warmth and assurance that you will take care of them, and the parent will return. Some younger children might even need to see a digital clock, so they can keep track of the time and stay aware of when the parent should be there to pick them up.

  • For foster children, do they feel warmth in your group? Or do they feel judgement toward them because they are different from other kids? Any sense of judgement on your part is a red zone to them. Do you help them feel wanted?

Perhaps you can pair them with other kids who come regularly and can help them connect and form relationships within the group.

  • Kids from blended families may have several different issues. Like children of divorce, they may only come sporadically because they are at the other parent’s home. These kids might need space from their step-siblings.

They may need spaces where they can be with other kids away from step-siblings. Being made to stay with and take care of their step-siblings just might prove to be a red zone for these children.

How red zones might affect kids

If there are red zones, you may see some kids have stomach aches and other digestive problems. The fear affects their little tummies, causing them to be anxious and their tummies to be upset.

For other children, red zones may cause breathing problems. They may breathe higher up in their chests, and for many children, the stress affects asthma issues. Rapid breathing or deep sighing can be heard when they are uncomfortable in your classrooms.

Look around your church this next week, and try to identify any red zones. It could be something as simple as your check-in system. Do you have kids standing in long lines on their first visit? This can be a little daunting to many children. They just want to see where they are going to be, and they might want to see other children.

For other children, overflowing trash cans and dirty floors signal you aren’t prepared for them. Christmas decorations still up on Valentine’s Day say you don’t care enough to take time to keep things current.

Even if your church has spent thousands of dollars on equipping and setting up your children’s ministry area, you may still have red zones. It may take a keen eye to see those red zones, but perhaps if you look at your area from a hurting kid’s point of view and from a child’s eye level, you can observe the red zones.

Years ago, I read an article about whether children who had cancer would trust a new doctor. They drew this conclusion within a few seconds of arriving at the doctor’s office. Do you know what that one factor was? If the plants in the waiting room looked healthy and vibrant, they felt the doctor cared enough to provide the best care for them. If the plants were dry and had yellowing or dead leaves, it said to the sick kids that if the doctor didn’t care enough about keeping plants alive, the doctor might not care enough to keep them alive.

Hurting kids, like sick kids, know when you care enough. And when you care enough, you will get rid of all the red zones.

This article originally appeared here.

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Linda Ranson Jacobs is one of the forefront leaders in the areas of children and divorce and single-parent family needs. Having been both divorced and widowed, Linda was a single mom who learned firsthand the emotional and support needs of broken families, and she developed a passion to help hurting families. As a children’s ministry director, children’s program developer, speaker, author, trainer, and therapeutic child care center owner, Linda has assisted countless single-parent families and their children. In 2004, Linda created and developed the DivorceCare for Kids program, a biblically based, Christ-centered ministry tool designed to bring healing, comfort, and coping and communication skills to children of divorce. Local churches use this lay-led, 13-week program to launch a children’s divorce recovery ministry in their church and community.

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