How Can I Talk To My Kid About The Scary Stuff Without Terrifying Her?

by Abbie Schiller
Originally Published: 

Every parent has a “thing” – that one scary horrible thought about their children that freaks them out more than anything. What keeps you up with worry? For some it’s choking. Or drowning. Abduction. Pulling a hot pot off the stove. Falling. SIDS. You name it – they’re all horrible.

When my sister was a single parent to a 3 year old, she used to play a “game” with her daughter to teach her about her safety. It was called the “911 game” and it went like this:

My sister: Hello, 911 operator, what’s your emergency?

3 year old: Um, my mommy (the humor of that answer was never lost on us)

My sister: Is something wrong with your mommy? Do you know her name?

3 year old: (she would make up an “emergency” like “she fell down”)

My sister: OK – what’s your address, little girl?

And it would go on.

It was a smart way for my super prepared sister to have her little girl learn her address, phone number, mom’s full name and what to do to get help. (Something most kids – and some adults – can’t remember.) She wanted to make sure that if something were ever to happen to her – choking, passing out, falling – the only other person in the house would know how to get help. I wondered, how do most kids learn to call 911? We all remember the examples we’ve heard on the news of the amazing two-year-old hero who saved their epileptic parent after having a seizure.

Most parents intentionally or unintentionally freak their kids out to try to scare them to be safe. “A stranger might take you/don’t talk to strangers” has been the misguided mantra to “teach” kids personal safety. But here’s the sad fact: 90% of the harm done to children is from someone they know. So statistically, with 6 million abuse cases reported a year, 5.4million cases of them are not by strangers.

Kids need to be taught to trust their gut/fear and to know what to do when something feels uncomfortable. (Wouldn’t we all be better off with that advice?) They need to be heard and respected when they hesitate to hug Uncle Joe at the Thanksgiving table – whether that hesitation is founded or not. If they feel icky about it, let’s not force the situation.

But beyond abduction or abuse, what about teaching them about what to do if they’re lost? Did you know that 7 out of 10 kids get lost in their lifetime? Teaching children to look for a police officer is also outdated info. The new approach is to teach them to look for a mom with kids (generally the safest option) since moms are easily recognizable and available. Children also need to know their parent or caregiver’s name and phone number.

Let’s stop and help our children TODAY to stay safe without scaring them.

Here are some empowering rules to embrace… (thanks to the amazing children’s safety educator, Pattie Fitzgerald of Safely Ever After, Inc)

1. Empower kids to trust their “uh-oh feeling”.

2. Encourage them to “check first” when they want to go anywhere we don’t know about.

3. Teach them that they are the “Boss of their Body” and that no one is allowed to hurt them.

4. Practice saying their name, address and phone number so they know it – and if they’re too young to learn, engage them in this duct tape craft to help them learn it.

5. Let them understand that safe adults don’t ask kids for help.

6. Empower them to say no if something feels wrong – they don’t have to be polite in that case.

7. Everyone’s bathing suit parts are private.

8. If they get lost, freeze and yell or ask a mom with kids for help.

Knowing how to talk to your kids about these tough topics should take some of the scare out of the conversation. You can still expect plenty of questions – and that’s a good thing. This isn’t a one time conversation – it’s an ongoing imparting of knowledge. Hopefully these tips will go a long way towards keeping your kids happy, healthy and safe.

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