When Life is Scary

Bad things happen to good people.  Not every day, but some days.


People make bad choices.  People hurt other people, take things from other people, and violate the personal space of other people.


People lie, cheat, and steal…even if it negatively affects other people.


People spread rumors about other people, bully other people, and intentionally hurt the feelings of other people.


Not all people do these things, but some do.  And so we need to teach our children to be aware of these not-so-nice people who exist in our nice little world.


We hoped that we could shield our kids from certain adult problems for a little bit longer.  We thought that buying a house in a “safe” neighborhood with great schools would buy them a little ignorance.  We were mistaken.


This weekend, during the hour that we went out as a family, our home was burglarized.  Many, many things were taken.  Some replaceable, some not.  Our home, or safe space, was violated and turned upside down.


This weekend, ignorance was no longer bliss.  We had to tell our sweet, innocent little kids about the not-so-nice people in the world.  About the ones who break into your home, take your things, and make a mess of everything.  About the ones who are dangerous, disrespectful, and really just rotten.  About the ones who don’t care about others.


It was heartbreaking.  We are still recovering.  We are still trying to stay calm and find our way back to feeling safe in our own home.


This weekend, we had to be strong in the face of great stress so that we could help our children feel safe and secure.


Remain Calm:  My first instinct was to get everyone out of the house and into the car.  No yelling, no panic, just a specific order.  Kids pick up on panic and anxiety.  Stay calm, use your normal voice tone, and focus on immediate safety.  Once I got the kids out of the house, I let them know that I needed to call 911 for help.


Be Honest:  When something goes horribly awry, it sometimes seems necessary to start crafting a story for the sake of the kids.  They know when something isn’t right.  Give your kids a brief, but honest explanation about the situation.  In our case, I let the kids know that someone went into our house when we were out and took some of our things, and that that is against the law.


Provide Reassurance:  Kids live in little safety nets in their minds.  They think we can handle anything.  It’s hard to imagine that something is beyond the scope of your heroic parents.  Reassure your kids that they are safe, and that safety is the most important thing.  Give them extra hugs and kisses and focus on them as much as possible.  When we panic and start running around, we signal a complete loss of control.  This is very scary for kids.  Try to focus on their needs as much as possible.


Expect Behavioral Changes:  Kids may be resilient, but they don’t bounce back in a day.  Kids will show behavioral changes following stressful life events.  It’s reasonable to expect clinginess, excessive tears, frustration, increased temper tantrums, poor sleep (difficulty falling or staying asleep), and possible changes in appetite.  Be patient.  Kids need to know that they are safe.  They will ask the same question over and over and talk about the event repeatedly.  Allow it.  Keep your answers consistent.  And let them cling for a while.


I am happy to report that we are safe and sound.  We will find our way back to normal as we recover from this event, and the kids will soon feel safe again.


Have you had to teach your kids about people who make very poor choices?


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About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes freelance for Everyday Family and allParenting, and blogs for The Huffington Post. She has a rock and roll husband and two kids. Katie believes in love, lattes, and the power of play.


  1. I am so sorry this happened to you! I can only imagine how hard it is, not only having your things taken but your sacred space violated. Being a parent of small children has to make it even more difficult.

    I have not really had to talk to my young daughter yet about people who make poor choices. But we have had to deal with a number of medical scares recently. Your tips above work very well for our situation. Really, I think they can be applied to any number of difficult situations.

    Being calm I think is the really hard part. Maybe appearing calm is the better way to put it. Because we may be freaking out on the inside, but we can’t let our children see that.

    Big hugs to you as you all continue to heal from this experience.

  2. Oh, Katie I am so sorry this has happened to you and your family. I hope that you are all able to feel safe again very soon. And thank you for providing such wonderful tips to help our children during these times.
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  3. I’m so very sorry that your family had to go through this. You are awesome parents to try and stay calm during this all.
    Big {hugs} to you Katie…I’m at a loss for words :(
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  4. I’m so sorry. When I was in high school, my parents went out of town and I spent the weekend with a friend. She and I went over to water the plants and found that the house had been broken into. It’s an awful, awful feeling, and I’m so sorry you had to deal with it when your children were with you.
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  5. I’m so, so very sad that this happened to you, sweet friend! xo
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  6. Oh Katie, this shook me to the core when I saw your news. I cannot even imagine what that felt like to come home to that scene. So very sorry, but you handled it so very well…sending hugs. xoxo
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  7. Katie, I’m in tears for you over here. I’m so sorry this happened to you. Thank you for sharing this and it really makes me sad when we have to give our kids a glimpse into this sometimes awful reality. I have been going through something awful lately and when my kids saw me cry, it was terrible. I didn’t want to tell them that I felt violated, intimidated, and just plain scared because of other people’s mean words and actions. Thank you for sharing this. You always give such great advice. Thinking of you and hoping you and your beautiful family are recovering well. Kindness always wins, no matter what; even on days when it doesn’t feel that way.
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  8. I am so very sorry this happened to you and your family. I hope that whoever did this is brought ot justice and some closure can be brought your family.
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  9. Katie, that is awful! I’m so sorry your home and your sense of safety were violated like that. It is so heartbreaking to have our little ones encounter the dark side of the world. Your children are very fortunate to have a sensitive and caring mom to help them navigate through exposure to it. Hang in there. My in-laws home was broken into while they were inside and while nothing was taken, that sense of safety we feel in our own homes was definitely disturbed. I feel for you. Take care and hugs to your family.
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  10. How scary! I’m sorry that this happened. Glad to know that your family is safe.
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  11. Rebecca says:

    What a horrifying situation! Home is supposed to be a sacred safe place, I am so sorry. We also had a crazy thing happen this weekend that require all of the pointers you outlined above. Our family was driving to a friends house, just down the street when our car was hit by a truck running a stop sign and he kept running, leaving my family unharmed but pretty scared by the bad choices other people make…

  12. So scary!!! I am glad you all are okay. I know that you are right on track for making sure your children recover from the incident. xo
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  13. Katie, sometimes great things come out of horrible circumstances and I believe this lesson is one of them. Thanks for sharing such awesome lessons from such a tough situation.

    We all hear from time to time “but he did ____,” “but why did she ______?” and we have to answer them as calmly as possible and focus on “what would YOU do in that situation?” Ultimately, in situations like this, it is hard to explain why, other than the way you have here.

    Thanks again

  14. Thank God you are okay…so sorry you and your family had to experience this. Stay Strong :)

  15. I’m sorry this happened to you and your family. It sucks when we have to teach our kids about the bad people in the world. I had to do that last year when someone broke into our truck and stole all of our luggage when we were traveling out of town.
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  16. Richard says:

    Those are the best steps that any adult can do to reassure the kids. The truth is that they need someone big and strong and that is what we should give them.
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  17. You are. An excellent example of calmness , now only if I had your blog to read when I was a teen mom!


    That explains alot!
    Katie, as always you turned a very scary situation into a life’s lesson!
    I would be packing, and moving across country in 5 seconds! (Wait I’m doing that already)

    You are a smart & brave mommy!
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  18. Nice to meet you, Katie! I think I’m the only non-mom (and male) in Christina Simon’s Mom Blogger Group on Facebook.

    Your burglary story is pretty harrowing, and I was astounded to hear how well you reacted around your kids. These sorts of traumas have such a tremendous impact on our lives and our appraisals of our safety/home environments. I was recently mugged at gunpoint while walking home from dinner with my boyfriend (right by the Grove!), and the whole experience made me feel so child-like and powerless. Even as an adult, I have to remind myself of the darker aspects of the world that are a part of our ‘world space’. I imagine you had to renegotiate your own concepts of safety, goodness, and evil after this traumatic experience.

    Glad to hear that you and your family are alright. :)



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