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How to talk to keiki about the Isabella Kalua case

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Sophia McCullough

The nonprofit group Child & Family Service is offering resources to parents who may be having difficulty discussing the tragic case of Isabella “Ariel” Kalua with their children.

The group is encouraging parents to call The Parent Line — a free, confidential counseling service for advice.

The Parent Line is funded by the state Department of Health and operates seven days a week by Child & Family Service. The number to call is 808-526-1222, or toll-free at 1-800-816-1222. Parents can also chat with a specialist online at

“I think the whole community is just really saddened by this case and as the details are coming out, it just really reiterates the need for all of us to come together and support each other during this time," said Karen Tan, president and CEO of Child & Family Service.

Tan said we may not think our kids are aware of the news, but they can overhear it in the background or from parents talking about it.

"So it's really our responsibility as adults to help them really process what they're hearing and talk to them about how they're feeling and how they're doing,” Tan said.

HPR spoke with Tan about having these discussions.

If a child asks you about the Isabella Kalua case, what do you tell them?

TAN: I would say the first thing you do is just really thank them for asking, and tell them that it's good that they're asking, and ask them to share what they've heard. And really bring clarity to what they heard. If they're talking about death related to Isabella, then allow them to talk about death. What does that mean? Use real words. Don't call it sleeping. Don't undermine what it is, but really understand that there are real definitions, real terms that we can use. And it helps kids to understand what it is. I would also add: Don't be afraid if there's questions that are asked by the child that you may not know the answer to. And at that point, it's OK just to say, "I don't know. And let's figure that one out together." Some kids may ask, "Well, why did that happen to her?" Or, "Why did they do that to her?" And we can only speculate, right? And so I think it's OK to be honest and say, "It's really hard to know what the answer to your question is." It's really being that listening ear and validating where they're coming from and reassuring them that everything's gonna be OK.

Some older kids may talk about the case with their friends, but not with you. What's an appropriate age to discuss this case?

TAN: The question about age I think is really relative to the maturity of each child and what the parent is aware of and their skill set. So for the youngest children, it could just be you know, coloring with them and seeing if they say anything, and just being present. For the older kids, though, think about what kind of questions you might ask. It could just be simply, "Have you heard about that case? And what have you heard? And what are your thoughts?" See what kind of answers that the child says and kind of explore that. So for some kids, it may not even resonate, they may not even be aware of it, and then you can stop there. But for those kids that are aware, you could ask, "What have you heard and how do you feel about that?" And see what they say and then, as an adult, reiterate how we feel about that, and that really helps to normalize what they may be going through as well. So if they say that makes me really mad, then as an adult, we can say, "Wow, that makes me really mad, too."

Being angry and crying are clear signals, but what are other behavioral changes that may not seem obvious for people or could be a sign that your child may be experiencing trauma?

TAN: So a child who's doesn't usually wet their bed might be a symptom. If they start to wet the bed, bad dreams, waking up and saying that they had bad dreams, that could be another symptom, especially if the child typically doesn't have bad dreams. Like any sort of acting out that's not normal. So you know, kids will act out and that's totally normal. But if it seems just not quite right, maybe to ask them, what's going on? And is there something going on that's causing you to be so upset?

Jason Ubay is the managing editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Send your story ideas to him at
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