The images of devastation and the anguish of survivors of the tragic and deadly wildfire that consumed Lahaina are difficult for everyone in Hawaiʻi to process. It can be even tougher for children, who are developing social and emotional skills.
Within a day of the tragic Lahaina fires, Honolulu Community College early childhood assistant professor Elizabeth “Liz” Hartline created There was a fire: A story for young children on Maui. It was written for children ages 3–8 who have been affected by the Maui fires, and was first distributed on Maui through Early Childhood Education faculty at UH Maui College on August 10.
“My hope is that this tool gives families a way to talk to their children about the fire,” Hartline said. “Everyone needs a story, and finding a story that describes your experience is a first step when we’ve gone through trauma to start healing.”
Hartline, who is also the director of the Alani Children’s Center at Kapiʻolani CC, has extensive experience creating “social stories” to support young children and their families with transitions, traumas and major life events.
There was a fire: A story for young children on Maui acknowledges that after an event such as the Maui fires, it is normal to feel sad, scared or worried. It suggests some things to do when children feel that way, such as:
- Ask for a hug
- Draw a picture
- Cuddle a stuffed animal or a pet
- Take some deep breaths
- Play firefighter
- Play with play dough
- Go to the beach
- Help your family make a safety plan
It also contains tips and resources for caregivers.
“Liz’s book is such a treasure,” Felicitas Livaudis, a Maui-based Kaiser Permanente pediatrician, said, “It helps children process the trauma of the devastating fires in our Lahaina and Kula communities. It normalizes big feelings and grief. It gives them tools on how to deal with their emotions. It reassures them that there are adults who are helping and working hard every day so they can be safe. It gives parents a guide on how to communicate with their children during this very difficult time. I am giving it to all of my patients”
Hartline said the story has been distributed through Maui Head Start preschool sites and various relief organizations. There have been discussions about publishing the story and distributing it more widely.
She said, “I’m just very grateful that this is getting to a lot of children, and makes me feel like I can do a little bit to support them.”