Danger-Spotter: Empowering Frightened Kids

Danger-Spotter: Empowering Frightened Kids

For parents whose children are unnerved after having witnessed or even after just hearing about scary events the most important message I have for you is this:

Listen, empathize, and trust in your child's resilience. 

With your trust, support and coaching, your child can find ways to overcome any challenge and will develop valuable STRENGTHs as a result. After all, bravery and courage only show up when a person feels afraid and acts anyway. The same actions taken without fear may be noble, heroic, or even just normal, like turning on a light in a dark room. When a frightened child does it, it's brave. When you do it, it's normal. Watching for hidden STRENGTHs and pointing them out will build your child's confidence and yours, in little moments and big.

For example, at age 4 one child I know witnessed a violent attack on her mother at night where the attacker seemed to come out of nowhere. Afterwards, one of the changes I saw in her was that she became easily spooked by unexpected noises, first just at night, but then also during the day.

While a heightened awareness of sounds is actually a brilliant self-protective response for staying safe in the dark, the child didn't see it that way. She felt frightened and vulnerable day and night until I pointed it out as the STRENGTH "danger-spotter" and took her for an afternoon walk in the woods to practice "danger-spotting." She immediately turned our walk into a fantasy adventure where she spotted all kinds of scary things like "wolves" (dogs barking), "pterodactyls" (birds cawing), and even a "jaguar" (leaves rustling). As a danger-spotter, she felt empowered and brave instead of helpless. The shift was immediate, lasting and a good first step. 

In extreme cases like the trauma experienced by this little girl or tragedies like the one in Nice, France, professionals can do even more. While finding hidden STRENGTHs can help a great deal, in the aftermath of a tragedy or traumatic moment, I would advise you to watch for sudden behavior or "personality" changes in your child or yourself and seek professional support as soon as possible if they appear. These are my top recommendations:

  • Child Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT) (course) - I am co-author of the CPRT Treatment Manual with Drs. Bratton, Landreth and Kellam. We designed the manual for social workers, counselors and therapists to use to teach parents to be therapeutic agents for their own children (filial therapy). The 10-session course serves two purposes - it teaches parents the skills they need to create therapeutic "special playtimes" with their own children and provides a group therapy experience for the parents themselves. If a play therapist in your area does not offer this course, ask for a referral to someone who does.
  • The Parent Survival Guide (book) - If CPRT is not available in your area, Dr. Kellam's companion book written for parents is a self-help version of the CPRT course.
  • Language of Listening® Mastery Class - This course is similar to CPRT but focuses on providing mastery of our three simple coaching skills in power playtimes with your child. We will be moving this class online to make it easier for you to participate. Watch our newsletter for updates!


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