Comforting Your Child When Something Scary Happens

The world can be a scary place, and any number of experiences can prove to be traumatic for a young child. Something Scary Happened by Darby A. Strickland helps children process their feelings after experiencing trauma and provides comfort through the story of a little lamb named Miles.

Miles is a happy little lamb until something bad happens. All of a sudden, Miles feels like he is alone in a deep dark valley, but it is there in the valley that he meets his good Shepherd who promises to always be with him, no matter what. Strickland, a counselor and trauma expert, uses the story of Miles to help parents and caregivers share the comfort of taking their fears to the Good Shepherd by applying Psalm 23 to difficult experiences.

In this interview, we talk to Darby about more about comforting your children following a scary event.

Q: Please introduce us to your new children’s book. Where did the inspiration for Something Scary Happened come from?

Something Scary Happened is about Miles, a little lamb who finds himself struggling after a traumatic event. In the story, he is introduced to our Great Shepherd from Psalm 23 who tends to his fears.

I wanted to write this book because I work with women in domestic abuse situations. Some of them see their children being traumatized by the conflict that takes place in their homes, and they don’t know how to talk to their children about the hard things in their lives. Although the women know their children are struggling and suffering, they are also so overwhelmed themselves. This little book can help know where to start these conversations.

I also work with a lot of adults who have suffered childhood trauma and as they tell me their stories it becomes clear: When they were children, no one walked them through their trauma. They often were left alone and in distress, and no one talked to them about significant events in their lives or how they were doing. I truly believe that parents, if they shepherd their children through trauma, can help their children’s healing journey start earlier. The child will feel supported, and ultimately the impacts of trauma will be less on the child throughout the course of their lifetime. So, I wrote this book to help parents shepherd their children toward healing, and in hopes that the impacts of traumatic and scary things will be lessened over time.

Q: The story doesn’t say what kind of scary situation Miles experienced so that his situation doesn’t scare little readers, and so that children can relate the story to their own trauma. Can you give a few examples of scary or traumatic situations that a child may have gone through that could be relatable to Miles’s story?

Children can be scared of many things. Something Scary Happened hopes to speak to both the small and big scary things. For example, my children have been afraid of many common things like the dark, thunderstorms, or a cruel friend. And there are children who face more significant scary things like a parent or a sibling being very sick, a house fire, or a natural disaster. Then, certainly, this book hopes to speak directly into the category of traumas like a child who has been physically or sexually abused or has been affected by a school shooting.

Q: Miles didn’t want to talk about the scary thing that happened. How important is it to get children to talk about what happened to them?

What we know about trauma in general is that it is important to talk about it. Talking about the experience is actually key to healing, and as Christians, this is even more true. People need to process their story of suffering in light of Jesus’s larger story for their lives.

We also need to talk about trauma because the events are often confusing. Children can believe that the bad things happening are their fault, and we do not want to leave children feeling guilty when there is no blame. Children are also creative in coming up with explanations when they don’t understand things properly. In other words, they fill in the gaps to make sense of things, and they are active interpreters of their own world. As Christians, we don’t want to leave children to try to figure things out—we need to be aware and guide them in their interpretation of suffering and the Lord’s care of them.

Q: How does Miles react to what’s going on around him following the scary event? What are some of the signs parents should be mindful of that indicate a child is struggling as a result of trauma?

What I love about the character of Miles is that he shows what a child looks like when they are in distress. Children can relate to Miles and his reactions. Since children sometimes lack the vocabulary and emotional understanding to talk about what’s going on inside them, we often learn something is awry from watching their behavior. In the book, you will see Miles being angry, struggling to relate to his friends, having tummy aches, and not being able to sleep. These are a few examples of the ways children react to the hard things in their lives.

Q: What does Miles learn about the Good Shepherd when he feels physically and emotionally upset and alone?

What proves to be a great comfort for Miles is that the Good Shepherd is with him. He is not alone, even when he feels all alone. The Good Shepherd’s love is stronger than any scary thing. We surely have a God who walks with us up and out of dark valleys.

Q: What are some of the promises from Psalm 23 and John 10 that parents and caregivers can go over with their children?

Here are some key promises from Psalm 23 and John 10 that you can go over with your child:

  • We belong to Jesus; He is our shepherd. He will never let us go. He is always watching over us. (Psalm 23:1)
  • He will listen to his precious little lambs because he loves them. (John 10:14–15)
  • Jesus leads us through trouble (the dark valley) and brings us to a place of rest and living waters (green pastures and quiet waters).
  • Jesus is our helper. (Psalm 23:2, 4)
  • Jesus promises to restore us when we are weak and weary (he sets a table for us where we can sit and eat without fear even when trouble is close). (Psalm 23:5)
  • When we are tempted to respond wrongly, Jesus promises to guide us toward a good and righteous response (I will guide you into the right paths). (Psalm 23:3)
  • Because he laid down his life for us, all who trust Jesus are assured of the forgiveness of any wrong. (Psalm 23:3; John 10:14–15)
  • Jesus is a good and faithful shepherd. He protects his sheep when danger comes. (John 10:11–15)
  • He prepares a great and grand party of joy, belonging, and abundance for us. Feasting in the presence of enemies (defined as all the scary things) signals that Jesus will vindicate (defend and deliver) us. Justice will be done. Jesus will make everything right. (Psalm 23:5)
  • He invites us into his home (I will live in the house of the Lord forever). In God’s house, we are safe and loved. (Psalm 23:6).

Q: Why do parents and caregivers struggle in their efforts to care for traumatized children?

Parents and caregivers can struggle to engage with traumatized children if the same trauma or a similar childhood trauma has affected them; it can be too painful for them at that depth of suffering. In these cases, the parent or caregiver may need to invite someone else in to help, or engage in counseling, so that they can handle the conversations and take the time they need to heal.

Most often parents and caregivers are afraid to bring up the topic of trauma because they fear reminding the child of something sad and scary. We don’t like seeing our children in pain, but I want to encourage those parents that it’s really important to bring it up! Even though children aren’t talking about it, they’re probably thinking about it and need you to help them heal. Don’t fear talking about the hard things, rather, provide opportunities for your child to ask questions and to share how they’re doing.

Another factor that parents and caregivers have to overcome is that they don’t have all the answers. No one has sufficient explanations for why suffering, abuse, natural disasters, and devastations take place in this world, so it is all the more important that we point children to the One who can comfort them and promises to help and lead them in times of trouble.

Q: What other companion resources are available to go alongside Something Scary Happened?

I wrote a companion minibook, When Children Experience Trauma: Help for Parents and Caregivers, to help parents both identify signs of trauma in their children and offer ways to shepherd their children through it. This resource gives parents creative ways to create connections and start conversations and seeks to provide parents with support for some of the more challenging behaviors that arise in children who are suffering, like a lack of concentration in school, trouble sleeping, or withdrawing relationally. This minibook aims to give parents concrete ways to move in and tend to their children.

Parents can also purchase a Miles toy lamb to go along with Something Story Scary Happened. The plush Miles gives kids something soft and comforting to cuddle when they’re scared and serves as a tangible reminder that the Shepherd who comforted Miles is also with them.

Q: What other books will be released in the Comfort for Children in Hard Times series?

We have two more books coming. The next release is titled Something Sad Happened and it is about losing a loved one. Its goal is to help a child through a season of grief. It will be releasing in September 2024. The third book will help children navigate significant and disruptive changes they may face, such as a big move, a new school, or a divorce. A Big Change Happened is scheduled to release in early 2025.

Each book will have a companion minibook for parents who find it helpful to go deeper into Scripture to gain new skills and insights in helping their children. There will also be a plush animal that goes along with the main character of each of those stories.

Something Scary Happened

Something Scary Happened

Miles is a happy little lamb until something bad happens. All of a sudden, Miles feels like he is alone in a deep dark valley, but it is there in the valley that he meets his good Shepherd who promises to always be with him, no matter what. 

About the author

Darby Strickland

Darby A. Strickland, MDiv, is a faculty member and counselor at the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF). She is a contributor to Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused and author of Is It Abuse? A Biblical Guide to Identifying Domestic Abuse and Helping Victims, the children’s book Something Scary Happened, and the minibook When Children Experience Trauma. She writes regularly for the Journal of Biblical Counseling. Darby and her husband, John, have three children.

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