Helping families/whānau and children to cope with trauma and grief after the earthquake

After the appalling earthquake in Christchurch on 22nd February, parents and teachers will have the role of reassuring and working with children who have suffered trauma. Sadly, these teachers and parents may already be coping with their own fears and feelings resulting from the ongoing stress of aftershocks and, the trauma of this most recent earthquake. Whānau and teachers will be looking for ways that they can support young people. For some children, recovery is likely to be a complex process that will take varying periods of time.
Where to go for advice
The Ministry of Education provides tips and advice about the importance of regular and ‘normal’ routines and ways of helping children to gain a sense of control over their fears. There are down-loadable resources available that will be helpful to teachers and parents who are supporting children who maybe unsettled and upset. Making these available to both teachers and parents may be one powerful way that you can support children and their families. In addition The Mental Health Foundation, Ministry of Health and the Royal New Zealand Air Force have useful information on their websites. Links for all of these are at the bottom of the page. The psychologist Nigel Latta was interviewed on TV1 in the days after the ‘quake. He had some very practical suggestions to help adults who are dealing with their own and their children’s reactions to this event.
Helping children with their fears and memories
This article in the NZ Herald, written after the September earthquake, ‘Parents call for help to comfort kids terrified by Christchurch earthquake’ provides useful advice for helping children who are struggling with memories and feelings after the earthquake: Clinical psychologist Sarb Johal explained that children needed to make sense of things that happened. When children didn’t have all the facts, they used their imagination to fill the gaps. “Often this results in misunderstandings, which they may keep to themselves, especially if they are frightening. What they imagine is usually more frightening than what really happened.”
In the same article, Dr Lyndy Matthews, chairwoman of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ New Zealand committee, wrote that earthquake victims might be affected by shock, grief and loss and it was important that help was available to them in the aftermath. She said a lot could be done to help, but caution was required in revisiting the traumatic events through “debriefing”, as it could compound the trauma.

road damage Christchurch earthquake

Herald Article link

Ministry of Education link
The Mental Health Foundation
Coping after an Earthquake

Ministry of Health fact sheets

Royal New Zealand Airforce

TV1 Nigel Latta offering advice

Written by Elaine Newton, Early Years Facilitator Hauraki/Thames/Coromandel