07/09/2014 10:08 am ET Updated Sep 08, 2014

We Had 90 Seconds to Get the Children to the Bomb Shelter: A Psychologist in Jerusalem

My wife and I decided to take the family to Israel for the summer. In addition to reconnecting with family and friends, I recently started a new cross-cultural research study on adolescent transitions necessitating interviewing Israeli teens, so we figured a summer together in Israel can serve both personal and professional objectives.

We have been in Jerusalem for the past few weeks. My children have been enjoying the unique food and exciting trips as I was taking advantage of a respite from teaching to begin collecting data for my study. Unfortunately, our pleasant summer was shattered last night with the sound of an eerie siren warning us of an incoming missile.

My wife heard it first and asked me to lower the music to see if I hear something. It was rather clear; like I have heard in the past on the news in the U.S., the siren consisted of an escalating sound which then tapered off only to escalate once again in multiple cycles. Although we knew that the people in the southern part of the country have been under attack for a few days, we did not expect this to impact us in Jerusalem.

We knew we had about 90 seconds to get the family to our bomb shelter. We told our older girls, 14 and 12, to head to the shelter directly as my wife and I dashed towards the children's room to pull them out of bed and out of harm's way. Our 8-year-old boy was still up so he was able to run to the shelter himself. However, our 6-year-old boy and infant daughter were fast asleep so we quickly picked them up, in their sleep, and rushed to the safe zone. We luckily made it to the shelter with about 20 seconds to spare.

Once we were all safe in the shelter, as a developmental psychologist, I was fascinated by the way my children responded to this difficult situation. My wife and I made sure to keep calm, conveying a sense of control, which seemed to have impacted the kids. They seemed fine, but were flooding us with technical questions about the situation. How big is the missile? What makes this shelter safe? How does the army know to warn us about the missile? When do we know that it is safe to come out of the shelter? My 8-year-old son was particularly interested in what would happen if the siren went off while he was in the bathroom; a legitimate, and developmentally appropriate, question.

My wife and I answered all their questions honestly, once again trying to convey a sense of control over the situation. The time passed uneventfully as my son noted that he can't wait to go back to school to tell his friends about this. After receiving the "all clear" from army radio we left the shelter and tried to get everyone back to the night-time routine.

Once things settled down and we clarified to the kids what to do if they hear the siren in the middle of the night again everyone went about business as usual. We did notice that it was taking the kids a bit longer to fall asleep.

Before going to bed I decided to check on the kids. As I entered the boy's room I saw my two boys, the 6-year-old and the 8-year-old, sleeping side by side in the 8-year-old's bed with their arms around each other. No amount of answers about the event was able to completely provide for them the sense of comfort they needed to deal with this frightening situation. Ultimately what was most important in calming them as they fell asleep was having each other for support.