How Do We Talk to Children About the Maui Wildfires?
The recent tragedy is a lot for keiki to grasp. Here are some tips from educators and experts on how to start this hard conversation with kids.
This story is part of our HONOLULU series, “We Have Questions,” with our editorial team tackling questions being asked in the aftermath of the recent Maui fires.
With more than 100 lives lost and thousands of homes destroyed or damaged during the Maui fires, many families across the Islands are trying to navigate the tragedy with young children. We enlisted the help of educators and experts to provide guidance on how to talk to keiki about what’s unfolding.
“One of the things that people don’t think about in terms of grief is that the bereavement event, the death event, has a long-term ripple effect on one’s life…” says Carole Zoom, Executive Director of Nā Keiki O Emalia, a program that has been providing free support to grieving children, teens and families after the death of someone important since 2015.
In the video below, Zoom talks about the strength of the families affected by the fires and the willingness of the community to help, then offers some additional advice on how we can help them during this pivotal moment.
How to Talk to Kids About the Maui Wildfires
As an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at Honolulu Community College who’s trained in trauma-informed care, Liz Hartline created a story and resource guide for caregivers to share with children 3 to 8 years old who have been affected by the Maui wildfires.
Download the story here: There Was a Fire: A story for young children on Maui
Hartline also shares these tips to share for children ages 3 to 10 who live in Hawai‘i but not on Maui:
- Reduce media exposure. Avoid watching the news or scrolling through disaster videos in front of your child. Images are especially intense for young children.
- Watch your conversations. Children are always listening! There are a lot of intense stories coming out of Lahaina and Maui in general. Limit your adult conversations about the news when you’re in front of kids.
- Give them language. Frame what happened using child-friendly language. Use your knowledge of your child to decide whether to talk about people dying in the fire.
- Ex.: “There was a big fire on Maui, so big that the winds blew faster than the firefighters could put it out. Lots of buildings burned down. Everyone is safe from the fires now. Our family is helping by doing (XYZ…).”
- Answer questions. Invite your child’s questions and give them honest and simple answers. If your child is in school, ask them, “What have you learned about the fires from school?”
- Make a safety plan. This can help children feel more secure that if something does happen, your family is prepared. Check out this checklist from Sesame Street.
- Find ways for your family to get involved. Ask your child to help you brainstorm ways to help families on Maui. This could include donating old toys or clothes, writing letters or having a bake sale to raise money.
In addition, Hartline recommends this Sesame Street article that teaches how to start a conversation about what happens when the unexpected happens.
Mental Health Resources for Maui Keiki and ‘Ohana
24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Call, text or chat 988
Caring local crisis counselors are at the ready to help with crisis, mental health and substance abuse.
Akoakoa Pl. (below Lahaina Civic Center), Lahaina
The Kukui Center, 245 N. Kukui St., #102, Honolulu
Maui Family Guidance Center (MFGC)
70 Waiehu Beach Road, #213, Wailuku
Families are asked to call ahead to make an appointment to ensure someone will be available.
Cameron Center, 95 Mahalani St., Room 10, Wailuku
If you have questions in the aftermath of the Maui fires that you would like addressed, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.