Tips from Allison Briscoe-Smith: How to Talk to Your Children About Scary Things

Allison Briscoe-Smith

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a clinical psychologist whose research has focused on trauma/ PTSD, and how children understand race. She was director of Children’s Hospital Oakland’s Center for the Vulnerable Child and is now an adjunct professor at the Wright Institute, and a consultant to nonprofit organizations seeking to become trauma-informed and culturally accountable.

How to Talk to Children About Scary Things

On April 28th, Allison Briscoe-Smith, PhD, offered a wonderful workshop to Step One parents on How to Talk to Children About Scary Things.Here are some communication tips on how to approach difficult conversations with honesty and caring.  

  • Create a family mission statement. This allows you to refer difficult questions back to your family’s core values.
  • Listen to what kids are really saying, not what we’re afraid they are saying. The question might be simpler than you think! Pause to understand what your child is asking.
  • Dont feel like you have to have all the answers. You can say, I dont know,or ask your child I wonder what you think?
  • Accept that you and your child can handle being open about difficult feelings. Children are resilient!

Techniques to try:

  • Accept that you may not be in perfect control during a hard conversation. If you cry, its OK to say I have big feelings about this. I have big feelings but Ill be OK.
  • Emphasize resilience: always connect to a piece of hope. You might tell a child, This is difficult, but were together and were OK right now.
  • Kids worry about connections, love, and care. These factors are at the core of many of their worries. Emphasize I will always love you.


Allison Briscoe Smith’s website:

The Invisible Thread, Patrice Karst – Children’s book about the continuity of love. Can be used for conversations about loss.

Creating a Family Mission Statement:

Allison recommends Sesame Street’s exceptional resources for helping families talk about death: