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Communicating about worrisome, sad, or difficult topics can be challenging. Avoiding tough subjects does not help children or teens learn to manage worries and to accept that sad and bad things do happen. Age-appropriate discussions about the PSP job and risks can help children and teens worry less. If your child has concerns, understanding their point of view allows you to problem solve together and provide support. Below are tips for communicating with children and teens, particularly when dealing with difficult subjects.

  • Ask your child what they know about the topic, which can help you find where to begin. You can ask an open-ended question, such as “What do you know about…?”  
  • Listen. Allow for pauses and silence. Give your child time to think, respond, and elaborate.   
  • Avoid asking leading questions (where the question suggests an answer) (e.g., You are scared when Mommy goes to work, aren’t you?). 
  • Find out how your child feels and validate their feelings (e.g., show that you are listening and understand, use validating statements such as “I can see why you’re feeling ___”). 
  • Tell your child how you feel. This is a good way to model the skills of identifying emotions and communicating feelings. 
  • Be honest (in an age-appropriate way). Avoid giving details that are too graphic or scary. 
  • Say “I don’t know” – it’s okay to not have all of the answers.  
  • It’s okay if they become tearful or cry when discussing difficult topics (learning to accept and talk about sad or anxious feelings are important skills).  
  • Comfort your child if they become upset. Let them know that they are cared for and loved. 
  • Have discussions at a pace that works for your child. Discussing a difficult topic may take place over several conversations.    
  • Let your child know that you will do everything you can to keep yourself safe, them safe, etc. 

A Note on Anxiety

It is normal for children and teens to worry or have some anxiety. Anxiety becomes a problem if it is intense, happens often, and makes it hard to do everyday activities. If you think that anxiety may be a problem for your child or teen, consult with your primary care provider or a qualified mental health professional.  

For more information about anxiety in children and teens, visit: 

 www.anxietycanada.com or https://kidshelpphone.ca/  

DOWNLOAD: Communicating with Children

practicing open-ended questions

Open-ended questions or prompts tend to lead to more elaborate responses (not just a yes or no). These questions or statements can begin with how, why, who, what, where, when, or tell me about. Participate in the activity below to see if you can identify open-ended questions.

Using a variety of open-ended questions (or prompts), and waiting for a response, can take practice. During your next one-on-one conversation with your child or teen, try the following:    

DOWNLOAD: Tips to Open-ended Questions


Afterward, consider the following: What was it like intentionally using open-ended questions with your child? What did you learn?  

Once you have practiced using open-ended questions about everyday situations, begin asking open-ended questions related to PSP work or the lifestyle. The more you practice, the easier the skills of asking open-ended questions and listening will become. This can make it easier to initiate conversations about concerns or difficult topics, when needed.   

reading together and starting conversations

Reading books or articles can be a great way to share information about PSP work and start conversations with your child or teen. For older children and teens, you may wish to share an age-appropriate article, blog post, or video on a PSP-related topic to provide information and start discussions. For example, you could share a newspaper article and say, “I read this article and was curious about your thoughts on this…” and follow up with an open-ended “What did you think?” 

For young children, try the following: 

  • Find a PSP-related book that is a good fit to your child’s age/development. 
  • Read the book together when everyone has the time to read slowly and chat. 
  • When reading, point out what’s happing in the story and ask basic questions (e.g., “Do you know what her job is?”, “Do you know what a ______ does?”) or open-ended questions (e.g., “Why is Sam feeling scared?”).  
  • Feel free to pause during the story for discussions.  
  • When you are done reading, encourage your child to ask questions and share their thoughts and feelings about the story.  

After your shared reading time, reflect on this experience as a family. What was it like to read about the PSP role together? Are there other things you would like to learn about or talk about together? 

Below are examples of children’s books about PSP:  

  • A Hero Lives in My Family: A Story for Kids of First Responders 
    by Dr. Susan Hunt   
  • The Wolf was Not Sleeping
    by Avril McDonald (Canadian Edition available)

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References for this page (click to expand)

Arruda-Colli, M., Weaver, M. S., & Wiener, L. (2017). Communication about dying, death, and bereavement: A systematic review of children’s literature. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 20(5), 548–559. https://doi.org/10.1089/jpm.2016.0494 ; 

Carrico, C. P. (2012). A look inside firefighter families: A qualitative study. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

Cox, M., Norris, D., Cramm, H., Richmond, R., & Anderson, G. S. (2022). Public safety personnel family resilience: a narrative review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(9), 5224. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19095224 ;

Gurwitch, R. (2021). How to talk to children about difficult news. American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 10, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/topics/journalism-facts/talking-children

Kolucki, B., & Lemish, D. (2011). Communication with children: Principles and practices to nurture, inspire, excite, educate and heal. UNICEF. Retrieved December 10, 2022, from https://www.comminit.com/global/content/communicating-children-principles-and-practices-nurture-inspire-excite-educate-and-heal

Traub, S. (2016). Communicating effectively with children. University of Missouri Extension. Retrieved December 10, 2022, from https://extension.missouri.edu/media/wysiwyg/Extensiondata/Pub/pdf/hesguide/humanrel/gh6123.pdf

Walker, J. R., & McGrath, P. (2013). Coaching for confidence workbook. Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba. 

Wasik, B. A., & Hindman, A. H. (2013). Realizing the promise of open-ended questions. The Reading Teacher, 67(4), 302-311. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1218