Why kids of divorce don’t feel safe (Part 2)



Children of divorce might not trust you. And in children’s ministry, that’s a real problem. I want to show you how to build their trust. Establishing trusting relationships will enable you to meaningfully minister to these kids.

Why children of divorce have trouble with trust

When children fear something, they want and expect the adults in their lives to protect them and keep them safe. In the previous post, we said that children of divorce have lost their sense of trust in the very people who are supposed to keep them safe.

As children’s leaders and ministers, we must help them feel safe so that they can develop a healthy relationship with the heavenly Father and can trust Christ.

“In order to feel safe, in order to experience security, you must be able to trust in something or someone greater than yourself, greater than your fears,” writes John Indermark in Turn Toward Promise (Upper Room Books)

In a church environment, you become the person who provides that secure experience. You become the person the children of divorce deem to be greater than their fears.

Safekeeper concept

In the book Conscious Discipline, Dr. Becky Bailey shares Safekeeper, a great concept for helping children who feel unsafe in various situations. This is a very simple and easy-to-use approach. Tell the child, “I am the Safekeeper. It’s my job to keep things safe. And your job is to help me keep things safe.”

This almost sounds too simple to work, but I’ve used this concept for years, and it works. It works especially well with children of divorce. It doesn’t put any pressure on them and gives them a chance to actually feel safe in a nonthreatening environment.

Many of these kids have been in a lot of trouble. The more unsafe they feel, the more out of control their behavior becomes, and the more adults punish them, which causes them to be more fearful. It’s a vicious circle these kids spin around in every day. We can help them by being understanding, telling them that they are safe, and keeping them safe.

Don’t try to get philosophical or scriptural with this phrase. Keep it simple. Almost every discipline situation fits in the Safekeeper concept. Once you have it down, then when you encounter a discipline situation, all you have to add is what the child is doing.

Here are some examples

  • “Whoa there, Aiden! I’m the Safekeeper, and my job is to keep you safe. Running is not safe. What could you do that would be safe?”
  • “Gage, I’m the Safekeeper, and talking when it’s someone else’s turn is not safe. What could do that would be safe?”
  • “Heather, standing on a chair is not safe. What could you do that would be safe?”
  • “Beau, what are you doing that is not safe? What could you do that would be helpful and safe for all of us?” (I use this one only if the child is older, has a relationship with me, and has been with me for some time.)

Sometimes when children are out of control, saying in a firm but caring voice, “You are safe. You are safe. You are safe” helps them calm down. However, this won’t work with preschool-age children because they can’t turn pronouns around. When you say, “You are safe,” the child can’t turn it around to say, “I am safe.”  This might also be true of some elementary-school-age children who have delayed emotional or intellectual skills.

One time, I worked with a second-grade boy who was big for his age and wore a men’s large shirt. He started to go ballistic, and I said, “You are safe. You are safe.” After the second “You are safe,” it dawned on me that he didn’t understand, so I said, “I am safe. I am safe.” Within seconds, he started repeating, “I am safe. I am safe.”  He wanted to feel safe and needed to feel safe but didn’t know how to get there. He needed me to gently guide him into feeling safe.

In DivorceCare for Kids (DC4K), we call our teachers and leaders Safekeepers. It helps the children know immediately that their safety is of utmost importance to us. If you don’t feel comfortable being called a Safekeeper, call yourself a Shepherd.

In the Bible, shepherds kept their sheep safe as they provided for them and took care of them. Can we do any less for our sheep?


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2 thoughts on “Why kids of divorce don’t feel safe (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: DC4K » Question of the week: What should I say when a kid says something about court, custody or divorcing parents?

  2. Pingback: DC4K » Question of the week: How do I help a mom whose child has been physically abused?

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