Emotional impacts real for families

This article also ran in the January 16, 2018 edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Click here to view (subscription required)

By Karen Tan

The effects of Saturday’s mistaken alert of a ballistic missile launch will require immediate attention as the state of Hawaii works to ensure that this does not happen again. The emotional impacts of the false alert on the lives of Hawaii’s families, and especially our children, also need our community’s care, counseling and compassion.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser interviews with those affected ranging from young parents, University of Hawaii students, tourists and members of the military point out the wide-ranging emotions and fears of this jarring event in the immediate response of the situation. Parents, spouses and friends found ourselves dealing so suddenly with the unknown and in many cases reaching out to take care of others as well dealing with our own emotions, as I did as a mom with three children in college, high school and middle school.

The intense, confusing and frightening emotions that follow a traumatic event can be even more pronounced in children, and becomes an issue for parents as they seek support in how to talk to their children about the events that played out and to help them to process the confusion or uncertainty that they may be feeling.

Fortunately there are many resources available to families in our community, including school and clinical counselors, community agency programs, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to assist employees through workforce services, as well as parent resource hotlines.

Child & Family Service (CFS) administers The Parent Line, a free statewide confidential telephone line funded by the state Department of Health. Experienced phone-line staff help parents to problem-solve parenting challenges and child adolescent behavior and are available to help parents learn ways to manage the strong emotions that come with trauma.

We have extended our hours during this first week following the false alert event to better accommodate families and continue to be available for families here.

The Parent Line can be accessed at 808-526-1222 (Oahu) or 1-800-816-1222 (neighbor islands), Mondays-Fridays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (this week, until 8 p.m. today through Friday) and Saturdays, 9 a.m.–1 p.m.

In many cases through the support of family and friends and giving family members time to heal, the normal reactions to trauma are reduced and begin to subside over time. Occasionally, the traumatic event is so painful that professional assistance may be necessary. This does not imply weakness, but rather simply indicates that the particular incident was just too powerful for the person to manage alone.

In the case of children, parents’ protection, nurturing and guidance speeds recovery and support children coping in the face of trauma. Reassurance is key to helping children through a traumatic time, and parents should answer questions about the event honestly, but not dwell on frightening details or allow the subject to dominate family or classroom time indefinitely.

Conversation, writing and artwork also are ways to encourage children of all ages to express emotions as are finding a way to help others who were affected by the event. It’s also fine for parents to acknowledge that they, too, might have reactions associated with the traumatic event and to take steps to promote their own physical and emotional healing.

One definition of trauma is: a normal reaction to an abnormal event. Focusing on ways that we can pull together both as a state and as families to learn and to heal from this unfortunate event will build a stronger and more equipped community for all of us.

Click here for CFS Managing Trauma Resources.

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