Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors, CBS TV, and co-star on Sex Box, WE TV, is here to discuss the importance of communicating with your child about the false missile alert in Hawaii, as well as any other threats that may traumatize your child:

The terrifying false missile alert in Hawaii was traumatic and can certainly cause PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), especially to those who were actually affected in Hawaii by the false alarm. This particular event made everyone in the U.S. and world fear the possibility that a real missile launching could occur. It has rendered all humanity as vulnerable. One of the key healing steps toward resolving trauma is talking to a warm, empathic listener.

“Don’t listen with the intent to reply; listen with the purpose of genuine understanding.” People who have personally gone through trauma need to talk about their experience over and over and over until the experience is integrated internally. This is true for folks who were in Hawaii or at the horrific Massacre in the Las Vegas attacks, as well as for those who lost someone close. Don’t try to force your ideas and input! Rather, be a compassionate, empathic listener. Don’t try to fix something that is senseless. Be soothing, tender, gentle, and comforting by remaining a sturdy presence who can tolerate the other person’s expression of deeply powerful and painful feelings.

Talking about Terrorism: Tips for Parents

Children are exposed to news in many ways, and what they see can worry them. Our advice can help you have a conversation with your child:

  1. Listen carefully to a child’s fears and worries. Instead of shoving too much anxiety-provoking information and reassurance into your kids, ask them what they heard about the false missile alert in Hawaii.
  2. Offer honest clarification and comfort.
  3. Avoid complicated and worrying explanations that could be frightening and confusing.
  4. Help them find advice and support to understanding distressful events and feelings.
  5. Be sure to monitor your own feelings, affect, emotional temperature, and cues you may unintentionally give to your kids. If you are anxious, they will be, too.

One of the most challenging issues triggered by a terrorist attack is the feeling of lack of control over our life. Empower your kids by suggesting three things: 1) Suggest that your teen write letters to families affected by the Hawaii false missile episode. This is therapeutic to your child by expelling and expressing powerful feelings. 2) If your child wants to donate and help the families, suggest a bake sale and contribute the proceeds to an aid organization. 3) Keep lines of communication open with your tween and teen. Talking is the glue that holds people bonded together.

Addressing Bullying and Abuse

It’s also important to address bullying and abuse following terrorist attacks or threats. Some children may feel targeted because of their faith or appearance. Look for signs of bullying, and make sure that they know they can talk with you about it. Often children might feel scared or embarrassed, so reassure them it’s not their fault that this is happening, and that they can always talk to you or another adult they trust. Alert your child’s school so that they can be aware of the issue.

Furthermore, it’s important you deal with offensive or unkind comments about a child’s faith or background. If you think this is happening, it’s important to intervene. Calmly explain that comments like these are unacceptable. Your child should also understand that someone’s beliefs do not make them a terrorist. Explain that most people are as scared and hurt by the attacks as your child is. You could ask them how they think the other child felt, or ask them how they felt when someone said something unkind to them. Explain what you will do next, such as telling your child’s school, and what you expect them to do.

Additional Tips

Here are a few additional tips for moving forward with your children from the false missile alert in Hawaii and other acts or threats of terrorism:

  • Always talk calmly and avoid horrific details.
  • We’ve spoken to our kids about terrorism before in a very basic way; try things like ‘naughty people who want to hurt other people’.
  • We also have a plan in place. We explained that although it’s very unlikely, one day we might have to suddenly run away from a naughty person.
  • Children ask questions, so answer with very basic responses rather than ‘there’s nothing to worry about.’ They don’t need to be informed of details—just that they need to be safe.
  • We always make informed choices before travelling. Research risks and look at govt. website for details.
  • It’s about seeing the world, but also being aware that things can happen—not just terrorism. Make a plan for eventuality: natural disasters, etc. And don’t be scared, but be aware, and be safe.
  • We teach the little ones to be kind and welcoming of all race and religion.
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