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Scary Movie Feelings

By Staci Thomas, TBRI® Practitioner

Children with hard histories are in new environments that can be startling, scary, and unsettling. Because of this, it is essential for parents to understand the difference between safety and felt safety. Grab your coffee and join in today as Staci shares how we can help our children feel safe


Scary Movie Feelings

Good morning and welcome back to Coffee with Chosen my name is Staci. Do you watch horror movies “some people” and I’m not one of them love to watch scary movies that creep them out? If you are one of those people, you probably sit down with your popcorn knowing that you are going to scream, jump, and be scared out of your wits. Even though you know that something on that tv stream is going to startle you, the exact appearance, location, and timing is unknown to you. So, when you get scared you might scream, find your heart racing, and spill your popcorn. You’re purposefully sitting down to be scared and yet your body still responds in fear.

Children with hard histories living in new foster homes, feel scared, and unsettled. The new people in the new house can feel creepy, simply because they’re unfamiliar to the child. As a result, foster children tend to walk around on high alert, ready to defend themselves against the next scary thing they encounter. Meanwhile, the adults caring for foster children don’t perceive their home as scary at all. They know that the children are in a safe place, the challenging behaviors that result are baffling to the adults in their lives.

To bridge this gap in understanding, it is essential for foster parents to understand the difference between physical safety and felt safety. The physical well-being of a child is of utmost importance, that seems to go without saying, but from a child’s perspective felt safety is just as important, until a child feels safe, she will not behave like someone who’s in a safe and secure place.

Instead, she’s going to be on high alert ready to defend herself at any moment for the frightening things that she may or may not encounter. Being in this state of high alert is not a conscious choice that a foster child makes rather it begins in the region of the brain that creates only three possible responses to fear, fight, flight or freeze stress. Hormones are released that cause humans to respond to fear, by fighting, fleeing, or freezing in addition to living in a state of fight, flight, or freeze children with hard histories have trouble accessing the area of their brains where they can think calmly and logically.

The abuse, grief, and neglect they have experienced has affected how their brains work. So, what are caregivers of hyper-vigilant chronic fear brain children to do is there any hope for change? Absolutely the brain at any age, but especially in childhood and adolescence is plastic. This means that the brains of children can heal from past wounds. Helping foster children feel safe, as opposed to scared, is one of the first steps on that road of healing.

At Chosen, we help parents every day figure out how to establish felt safety for the specific children in their homes. If you would like assistance moving your child from feeling like he’s living on the scene of a scary movie to living in a safe place reach out to us today we’d love to help.


If you want more parenting tips geared towards families impacted by foster care, adoption, and kinship care, please visit our resource library. If you need personalized trauma-responsive care for your family, we would love to help! Contact us to learn more about the ways Chosen Care can support your family.
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