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  • Writer's pictureStephanie S. McCulley, MA, APCC

Making "The Unknown" Less Scary For Kids

One of the most common fears is of “the unknown.”

What is going to happen? How…? When…? What if…?

Like a character in a movie, “the unknown” has a story. It’s getting our attention. How do we listen without being carried away by it? What is it trying to teach us and how is it trying to help us grow?

Instead of “the unknown” being like a scary villain – and sometimes, it is just that -there are some ways it may actually be our best friend at times, maybe even our hero. Some would even say “the unknown” is actually all these things and more.

So, how can we help make “the unknown” less scary for kids? (And yes, also for ourselves…)

Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

Perspective is key. So is validation. For kids afraid of “the unknown,” let them know you hear their concerns and that it’s okay and expected to feel as they do. You may also encourage them to identify “the known.” For example, “the known” may be, “I am loved; I am safe; I am supported; I’m doing my best; I’m with you right now.” “The known” can be focusing on what is within their control. For example, keep it simple: “I’m choosing where to sit, what to eat, what game to play, what to wear,” etc. Even though there are challenges, there are also enjoyable moments. The stress, worry, and fear that often comes with thinking about “the unknowns” of life are a part of the story, but it’s not the full story.

Be Curious

“The unknown” isn’t bad or good. We don’t need to label it or judge it. How we think about “the unknown” or experience it may change day to day. Sometimes it can inspire, give us hope, or help us be spontaneous. Be curious with kids about what “the unknown” means to them, and yourself. Be aware of how you talk about, and respond to, “the unknown.” It wears many hats as much as we can change the ways we live with it, because, “the unknown” is a part of life.

Without “The Unknown,” We’d Be Stuck

Interestingly enough, “the unknown” is where music, laws, art, change, inventions, ideas, and more, comes from. Without “the unknown,” how would anything be the way it is or change? This view helps kids to see that the future can be bright even when awful things have happened and even if there are uncertainties. For instance, “Will I get to be on campus next school next year?” Or, “Will someone bully or tease me because of the color of my skin?” These are just the beginning of many future-based questions that are common to be wondering about. These “unknowns” are important to express and talk about. It can also help for kids to know or be reminded that they can also think of positives with “the unknown.” Like, “What if I learn a lot this school year?” Or, “What if I make new friends?”

Art & “The Unknown”

Often when we draw, paint, collage, etc., we don’t know exactly what our art will look like when we’re done, let alone what it looks like along the way. Art can be a fun and comfortable way to be with – and…wait for it…ACCEPT – “the unknown.” This takes practice of course and isn’t always easy. Unexpected things happen when we make art. Unexpected things happen in life. Sometimes this makes us mad, disappointed, and/or nervous. Other times, it can be surprising, exciting, and/or interesting. It’s okay for it to be all of these things. Using art with kids at home – and in therapy or at school – can be a great way to get kids more comfortable with all these possibilities and responses to “the unknown.”

Try It At Home!

Art can be used to express feelings, as a coping tool, and as a way to connect. Check out this free download that provides step-by-step instructions for a positive self-talk art activity to work with “the unknown” for kids at home.

Download PDF • 484KB

Stephanie McCulley, M.A., Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselor (APCC #4425), is a psychotherapist at Empire Therapy & Family Services. She provides counseling to support kids and teens with change, growth, and self-expression.

Stephanie can be reached at (805) 633-0962 or

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