How to Talk to Your Kids About Scary Situations

This post originally appeared in January 2017 as a response to threats to Jewish Community Centers (JCCs). Over the years, PJ Library has continued to update this post with new resources to help parents talk to children about challenging topics. The most recent update to this post was made on March 10, 2020 to include information about the COVID-19 virus.

Sometimes scary things happen in our community—tragedies, threats, hoaxes, natural disasters, or acts of anti-semitism. And while we do our best to shield our children from the scarier parts of life — what do we do as parents, educators and community members when these things hit close to home? How do we talk to our children and support each other through these events? As parents and educators who work with children, we can continue to reassure our kids—and each other—that we'll be there to protect them and do what we can to keep them safe.

We've pulled together a short list of links and resources that parents may find helpful in discussions with their children. 

Related: Videos to Help Parents and Kids Talk About Scary Situations

Talking to Your Kids

The Child Mind Institute recommends parents do the following after a frightening incident like a tragedy or an evacuation:

  • Break the news
  • Take the cues from your child
  • Model calm
  • Be reassuring
  • Help children express their feelings
  • Be developmentally appropriate

For information about developmentally appropriate guidelines for talking school safety with your children, use the following guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Young children need brief simple information that should be balanced with reassurance. 
  • Upper elementary and early middle school children can handle the information parents have about the school's safety plan.
  • Upper middle school and high school students may have strong and varying opinions about causes of violence in school and society. Parents should stress the role that students have in maintaining safe schools.

*NEW* The following posts include comics and talking points to help assuage fears children may have about the coronavirus or quarantine:

More:

Planning and Being Prepared

The American Academy of Pediatrics has several comprehensive guides for parents:

Consider also developing a secret code with your children. In a blog post about safety in crowds and during marches and large gatherings with kids, blogger Jenn Sutherland-Miller writes:

"Once in awhile we find ourselves in a situation where we want our kids to listen and act immediately. It’s not the time for discussion, or questions, or a debate, or a demand for the reason why. It’s time to shut up and do what Mom or Dad says. We call these “grasshopper” moments. Grasshopper was our first secret code word...if they are in danger, or need us to listen to them for a health and safety alert, they can holler, or whisper, “Grasshopper!” and we’ll drop everything and follow them without question."

More

We will continue to update this post, so please do not hesitate to send us suggestions via our Facebook page.