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As part of our ongoing efforts to support the health and well-being of our haumāna, the Kamehameha Schools Mālama Ola Division presents a special edition in the series to help parents and caregivers emotionally support young children during and after natural calamities

Mālama Ola Minute: Parent and caregiver’s guide to support ʻōpio during and after a natural calamity

Aug. 10, 2023

This special edition of Mālama Ola Minute was written by Danny Goya, a Trauma Informed Care trainer, and strategy consultant II in Kamehameha Schools’ Strategy & Transformation group.

Natural disasters and crises, like the current wildfires on Maui and Hawaiʻi Island, can deeply affect our keiki's physical, social, and emotional well-being. During these trying times, it's essential for parents and caregivers to provide effective emotional support. This guide is dedicated to helping our keiki navigate the challenges posed by such events. With their limited life experiences and heightened emotions, children require special care to help them feel safe, secure, and resilient. Here are practical strategies to offer emotional support to keiki during and after natural calamities.

Kilo: Observe and Ground Yourself: Start by understanding and managing your own emotions. Just as in an airplane emergency, put your "emotional mask" on first. Keiki absorb our emotions, so creating a sense of emotional calm is vital before interacting with them. Pause, reflect, and choose thoughtful responses to help them cope. By practicing grounding techniques, you can self-regulate and serve as a stabilizing force for your keiki.

Safety and Connection: Safety and Connection are the two key pillars of trauma-informed care. Establish a secure physical environment, even within temporary shelters. Soft, sensory items like squishmallows can provide comfort. Create boundaries and maintain routines, offering a sense of safety and familiarity. Engage in mindful games and activities to promote a calming atmosphere and a connection to each other. If in a shelter, try your best to find an area where you can establish your ʻohana boundaries and even try to bring mindfulness games into your conversations. “The three things I am grateful for are . . .” or to relate the experience to a camping trip or outing.

Open Lines of Communication: Inform extended ʻohana and friends of your safety through tools like Facebook check-ins. Limit communication once safety is confirmed, ensuring emergency lines are available for first responders. Encourage keiki to share their feelings, particularly about fear and anxiety. For younger children, create a dialogue around their stuffed animals' emotions, helping them express themselves.

Age-Appropriate Communication & Active Listening: Tailor your explanations to your child's age and comprehension level. Please keep it simple, avoiding overwhelming details. Listen actively, validating emotions and showing empathy to build trust.

Stability through routines: Amidst uncertainty, maintaining routines offers a sense of stability. If you are in temporary housing, establish consistent patterns, such as regular mealtimes and bedtimes, to restore normalcy.

Limit media exposure and emotional contagions: Shield keiki from distressing images and news coverage that can escalate anxiety. Noise-canceling headphones or brief outdoor breaks (if safe) can help manage sensory overload. Be cautious of fear-based predictions and false information spread via social media. Negative and fear-based predictions can spread just as quickly as wildfires.

Address curiosity and questions: Encourage keiki to ask questions, providing honest answers. Address their concerns about home security with reassurance that the ʻohana will navigate challenges together.

Ask for professional help when needed: Be prepared to seek professional help post-crisis. Consult with pediatricians, church communities, or behavioral support organizations. If keiki's distress persists, consider involving a mental health professional specializing in children and trauma.

Caregivers play an indispensable role in guiding our keiki through challenging times. By equipping ourselves with knowledge and strategies, we serve as shields and nurturers, ensuring our children's emotional well-being. Empower yourself with the tools necessary to support your ʻohana during these crises, providing a safe haven for keiki to thrive.

Learn more

Hawaiʻi Cares 988
American Red Cross of Hawaii
Mālama Ola – Student and ʻohana resources
County of Maui
County of Hawaiʻi

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