Responding to Scary Events

Violence, war, and loss have become common in our communities. Parents and other caring adults can positively support children as they hear about scary news or experience traumatic events that happen in school settings or in the community. For children of all ages, a safe and trusted adult is the most important protection. Caring adults allow children to ask questions, process their feelings, and find comfort. UW-Extension of Dane County is here to provide parents and caregivers tips for talking to your children, including how to coach them through big feelings.

Below are some tips for parents and caregivers:

  • Check your response. Children can sense adults’ tension and fear about news or events. Monitor your own conversations about scary news with adults in your household.
  • Notice and help name your children’s feelings. If you notice they are quiet or angry, they might be stressed from the scary events. Rather than ignore their behavior, you can try to notice and help them name their feelings. Assure your children are safe and that you will take care of them. Use LEAPS to guide your children through big feelings.
  • Talk with your children when they are ready. When talking with your children, use simple and honest explanations that are appropriate for their age. Young children require less detail about the scary events and more reassurance that they are safe. School age children may ask lots of questions. You can answer their questions while reassuring them that adults are working to keep them safe. Tweens and teens will have ideas about how schools or society could change to be safer. Listen to those ideas. Remind teens that adults are responsible for keeping kids safe but teens can help by telling adults when something seems unsafe. For more tips on how to talk to your children about scary events visit the National Association of School Psychologists.

Additional resources:

To learn more about LEAPS and emotion coaching with children, read below and visit the Strong Feelings website for videos and additional information.

Young Children
Death and Grief or Responding to Scary Events in the Parenting the Preschooler series support caregivers of 3- to 5-year-olds in processing and talking about death, grief, and scary or violent events.

For elementary aged children our Raising Caring Kids series might help children process how others are feeling. In particular, the Raising Caring Kids fact sheet A Little Caring Goes a Long Way may help elementary-ages kids and their caregivers think about responding with empathy.

A short video about Responding to Scary Events from our Parenting: Behind the Behavior Series offers ideas on protecting kids from feeling overwhelmed by scary events and how to talk about these experiences. (The link will bring you to Facebook where this is currently posted.)

This article is for parents of teens about terrorism and mass violence and what parents can do to process these events with teens.

If you have additional questions about scary events that your children may/have encountered and how to support them please contact Kula Yang Bilingual Family Engagement and Relationships Educator (Hmong) at or call 608-224-3700

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