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On the early, peaceful morning of January 13, Hawaii fell into a WTH! moment. The message,

Flashed onto the screens of just about every cellular phone in the state.

Our Experience

As like any other weekend morning, we were preparing to go to a sporting event. Our family was in our minivan and had just exited our garage to go to a basketball game. My phone vibrated with an alert and that message stared me in the face. I read it out loud and my heart jumped into my throat. My husband, being the rational, calm guy he is with training as a firefighter, calmly told us, “okay, guess we not going to da game.” Weird, but his calm approach and common-sense assessment helped to re-center me and prevented one of my drama-filled, Mereh all nuts, tita freakouts that I tend to have, which in turn, prevented my boys from freaking out too.  Whew! If I was home alone, I would’ve definitely been a lot worse.

We hauled the boys into the pantry under the stairs; the only room in the house that had no windows. On the real, it probably would’ve made little to no difference but I had to fake it because my boys were watching. Acting skills were put the test!

My 6-year-old asked about the bomb while my 10-year-old seemed calm as he occupied himself on his ipad. I WAS FREAKED! In my mind I was screaming a string of swear words in pidgin and Ilocano. I kept myself busy by trying to connect to the news, contact loved ones on Maui, and think of other things we would need in the pantry. I called my dad on Maui who was home alone (my mom was at work) and told him to call my mom and to get in a safe place. I hung up and I told the boys to pray. I told my husband we should get the emergency lantern upstairs. He asked if there was anything else we needed from upstairs. I told him to get my 6-year-old son’s plushies (stuffed animals) that he often uses as comfort objects. My 6-year-old couldn’t decide which specific one he wanted so my husband said he would get a bunch. He returned from upstairs with the items and then we waited for what seemed like an unbelievable long time!

We sat and we waited and waited. The boys asked how long would we have to stay under the stairs. My husband, who was lying down, seeming calm and about to take a nap, told us that we would need to in the pantry until we received word from officials that it was safe. My 6-year-old commented that the ground would shake when the bomb hit. His words shook my heart as I could only imagine what his 6-year-old imaginative mind is thinking. Then I thought about whether we would have enough oxygen under the stairs. My 6-year-old asked about what we would do if we need to use the restroom. What would we do? How long were we going to stay there? Would we really be safe under the stairs? When will it be over?

Then, I received a call from my mom who was at work on Maui. She told me their workplace contacted police who told them the alert was a false alarm. WTH!!!!! REALLY?!  I prayed it was a false alarm. LORD LET IT BE A FALSE ALARM!  I told my mom I would try to get more information and to keep her cell phone near. Within the next few minutes, I received the following:

The first alert was received at 8:07 and this second alert was received at 8:45. The nearly 40 minutes was a HUGE DOSE OF REALITY about the precarious situation we are in with our political climate and how quickly the things we take for granted could be lost, changing our lives forever.


The Aftermath

Many Hawaii residents were pissed-off about the false alarm and demanded whoever made the error be fired. Others wrote about how panicked they were and realizing how ill-prepared. I chose to reflect on my blessings. I chose to be more determined to strive towards accomplishing the things I was envisioning. Another thought that entered my mind was the children. I briefly talked to my boys and gave them hugs, trying to assess whether they needed to process the morning’s events more. They seemed okay and went about their usual daily routines. My social media feed was teeming with anger infested posts and anxiety.

This made me think about the other children in Hawaii. If the adults are feeling the unease about this, there are definitely children who will have difficulty dealing with the aftermath. I posted the following on my social media site:

Addressing the Fallout

  1. Ask your child about this morning. Let them speak about it and if need, they can even draw about it if they can express themselves better that way. For younger children, this may be better. Then ask them about the drawing.
  2. Provide reassurance. Instill a sense of safety. Let them know that they are safe, there are soldiers to keep our country safe, and we now know what to do. Emphasize that they have their family and who will ensure they are safe. They may continue to bring up their fears and require repeated reassurance.
  3. Be human. Admit to your child that you were worried too and let them know about what you did to calm yourself. Did you say a prayer, focus on the present, or do calming breaths? Provide suggestions on how they could relieve some of their anxiety.
  4. Keep the routines. Children are quite resilient and feel reassurance when things are predictable so keeping the usual routine will help to provide them with some sense of safety.
  5. Be a model. Children feed off of the energies around them and watch the way adults in their lives handle situations. The calmer you remain, the more reassured they will be. However, if you are feeling anxious and merely present a mask of calm, they will know. This would be a good time to acknowledge your worries and fears but also provide them with ways on how you try to calm yourself keep yourself grounded.

Some of my friends expressed their appreciation for the information and some even admitted that many did not think to address how this may have impacted the children. Professionally, there were concerns that the scare (choosing to call it this because false alarm or not, it was crazy scary) worsened symptoms in patients and calls came in to my office about children having negative reactions to the scare.

It’s been a while since the scare. My heart still sinks when I think that this could happen again. My 6-year-old has brought up the scare a couple of times since then and he told me his stuffed dinosaur, who was scared that day, was grateful to have been brought into what my 6-year-old now refers to as “the bunker.” I provide him with as much reassurance as he needs and try to validate his fears while making him feel safe and loved.

If you or a loved one still experience anxiety about this scary day, please discuss it further with a professional.

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Dr. Cheryl Andaya

Clinical Psychologist

I’m a mother and a Clinical Psychologist who works with children and their families as well as individuals reaching for their goals. Born and raised in Hawaii, I embrace diversity and help individuals find their strengths.

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