Talking to Young Children About Isabel

Isabel ‘Isa’ Celis, 6, is missing after being taken from her home in central Tucson just over a week ago. She and her family are in our thoughts and her safe return is foremost in our minds.

Isabel Celis, 6 years old, 3'8", 44lbs, light brown hair, hazel eyes- Missing - Please call 911 if you have seen this child.

Even if we turned off the television or switched the channel every time talk of the investigation came on, or hid the newspaper, our children would still be aware that something is amiss. Her image is on buttons, on flyers at the store, on car windows, in the windows of friends and neighbors.

Who is that little girl? Why is her picture everywhere?

Isabel is missing, but her picture is ever present, a constant reminder of the child we are looking for. How do we talk to our young children about Isabel without scaring them?

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children urges us to talk “frankly, but reassuringly” to our children’s questions. A scared or frightened child is not a safer child. Respond to questions in a calm manner. Let your children lead you with their questions. Find out what they already know to help guide you in your responses. With young children, keep it simple. Do not hide that Isabel is missing and that we are looking for Isabel. Children’s eyes are sharp, they can be aware too. When they see the flyer stating a child is missing and begin to ask questions, explain that the child is lost and we’re looking for her.

Isabel is lost. Her picture is everywhere so we can know what she looks like in case we see her.

How did she get lost?

Remember, keep it simple. Young children can handle small bits of information.

We don’t know, but we hope she is found soon.

Including details like she was taken from her room are not necessary and will only scare your young child – fear paralyzes.

The NCMEC suggests that this can be a time to talk with your children about basic child-safety practices and to revisit these with your children. You can find resources on basic child safety here. We’ve included main points from the NCMEC site below.

This is a good time to make sure your children know their address and your phone numbers.

Could she be in danger?

Maybe, but we hope she is safe.

Again, if your child is ready for this discussion you can ask what they already know. You can ask what they would do if they felt they were in danger. Who would they turn to? Who would be trusted adults? The safety tips below from NCMEC provide guidance in talking to children about dangerous situations.

Isabel Celis is missing. If you have seen her – please call 911.  

If you would like to make a contribution to support the family in this difficult time visit

Under “Gift Options” in the dropdown menu, please select the “Isabel Mercedes Celis Fund.”

From the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:

What are the most important things parents should tell children about safety?

  • Always check first with a parent, guardian or trusted adult before going anywhere, accepting anything or getting into a car with anyone.
  • Do not go out alone. Always take a friend with you when going places or playing outside.
  • Say “no” if someone tries to touch you or treats you in a way that makes you feel sad, scared or confused. Get out of the situation as quickly as possible.
  • Tell a parent, guardian or trusted adult if you feel sad, scared or confused.
  • There will always be someone to help you, and you have the right to be safe.

What should a parent know when talking to a child about safety?

  • Don’t forget your older children. Children aged 11 to 17 are equally at risk for victimization. At the same time you are giving your older children more freedom, make sure they understand important safety rules as well.
  • Speak to your children in a manner that is calm and reassuring. Children do not need to be frightened to get the point across. In fact, fear can thwart the safety message, because fear can be paralyzing to a child.
  • Speak openly. Children will be less likely to come to you about issues enshrouded in secrecy. If they feel that you are comfortable discussing the subject at hand, they may be more forthcoming.
  • Do not teach “stranger danger.” Children do not have the same understanding of “strangers” as adults; the concept is difficult for them to grasp. And, based on what we know about those who harm children, people known to children and/or their families actually present a greater danger to children than do “strangers.”
  • Practice what you preach. You may think your children understand your message, but until they can incorporate it into their daily lives, it may not be clearly understood. Find opportunities to practice “what if” scenarios.
  • Teach your children that safety is more important than manners. In other words, it is more important for children to get themselves out of a dangerous situation than it is to be polite. They also need to know that it is OK to tell you what happened, and they won’t be tattletales.

FAQ Child Safety Retrieved April 29, 2012