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?


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 for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)