For some Hawaiʻi families, Saturday's false alarm of a ballistic missile launch was a traumatic event. And dealing with the emotional impacts of that event isn't always easy, especially for our children. HPR's Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi sits down with the expert to find out how to best support our keiki through this experience.
When Joey Keahiolalo and her family got the alert that a ballistic missile was inbound for Hawaiʻi, they were in the middle of preparing for her granddaughter’s baby luʻau scheduled for that afternoon. “Well, I was really proud of my family,” says Keahiolalo, “Once we got through it, we were calm and we just enjoyed the family together after that.” For ʻohana across the island chain, Saturday’s false alarm sparked intense, confusing and frightening feelings. “We experienced something that elicited strong emotions in us and much of those emotions were scary,” says Keahiolalo, “And we did the best we could to manage through them as adults but our kids don’t necessarily have that skillset especially if they’re really young.” Keahiolalo is a social worker and Chief Program Officer at Child & Family Service. “So what you might see from younger children more anxiety, more clinginess and maybe even some withdrawing from interacting with other children,” says Keahiolalo, “And older teens you might see more of…they’re distracted, not wanting to do their chores or not even wanting to go to school. They also can isolate as well.” Don’t force your children to talk about it. Explain all feelings are okay and be there to listen when they are ready. “Every couple of days maybe asking hey, ʻHow’s it going?ʻ” says Keahiolalo, “Just making sure that we’re keeping in touch with where they’re living. Because some kids may not share their feelings until they feel safe. And that may be days and weeks later.” And the younger kids may not be able to verbalize those feelings just yet. “For younger children who may not have the words yet you may want to use things like art, drawing pictures,” says Keahiolalo, “Or if they do have few words, ask them to tell a story of what they remember or what they know.” She says the best thing you can do is acknowledge that it happened. You don’t need to add in all the scary details but answer their questions. “We don’t want to pretend that nothing happened cause they clearly seen that we were experiencing something,” says Keahiolalo, “And the younger the child they’re looking at us and their behaviors become attuned, and they model our behaviors. So if we’re scared, they are going to likely show that they’re scared as well.” And if adults are finding ways to cope with their emotions following Saturday’s event, our keiki will likely take their emotional cues from us.