Children may be stressed and fearful following the earthquake. The ways they react can be different to the ways adults respond. It will also vary according to their age. Common reactions include:
· Being fearful, clingy, lots of tears
· Acting out, misbehaving, tantrums
· A return to younger behaviour (thumbsucking, bedwetting etc)
· Developing physical aches and pains
· Changes in eating and sleeping behaviour
· Withdrawing or showing a lack of response
· Difficulty handling emotions
· Increased fears about other’s safety
· Lots of play and storytelling about earthquakes
These are all normal reactions to an abnormal situation and will ease over time.
There are a number of things parents and other adults can do to support children:
· Limit exposure to media/news of the earthquake damage
· Re-establish and maintain as many normal routines as possible
· Comfort them with lots of hugs, cuddles and reassurance
· Provide healthy meals at normal times
· Encourage physical activity during the day- it will help relieve stress.
· Help them settle at night with calming routines and reassure them if they wake in the night (a nice bedtime story, nightlights, breathing exercises, special toys).
· Answer questions honestly, and in terms appropriate to their age.
· If your child is acting out, continue to be clear and consistent about unacceptable behaviour (your consistency will be reassuring). Praise and encourage your child’s positive behaviour.
· Watch for children who have gone quiet, it may be a sign they need more help coping
To help calm and relax children, try this breathing exercise with them:
1 Lie down with a soft toy on your tummy.
2 Slowly take a big breath in through your nose so the toy on your tummy goes up.
3 Let it out slowly through your mouth so the toy goes down.
(Try counting slowly backwards from 5 with the child for each breath in and out.)
4 Repeat this five times.
Your confidence in being able to cope will help them feel safe
Remember to look after yourself so you can be strong enough to care for the children. If you are feeling overwhelmed or just want some additional support – reach out to friends, family and community agencies.
Relationships Aotearoa Whakawhanaungatanga has trained counsellors available to help you and your family cope with the emotional impact of the earthquake.
Call 03 366 8804 or 0800 RELATE (0800 735 283) for telephone support or to make an appointment.