People wait in Te Aro Park, Wellington, after being evacuated from nearby buildings following the earthquake. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

5 tips to help your child after an earthquake

Earthquakes are unpredictable and uncontrollable events, which makes them scary – for everyone, but particularly children. These five tools can help your child cope with the aftermath of a major earthquake.

1. Focus on information and reassurance

Giving age-appropriate information about how earthquakes happen can help them to understand. Be matter-of-fact and encourage questions.

Talk about what has happened – know your child and what works best for them. For some children, conversation may be easier sitting side by side while drawing a picture. For others, face to face conversation may work best. Keep your tone reassuring, repeating messages such as “That was scary, but we’re safe now.”

Don’t underestimate the power of a good cuddle!

2. Talk about preparation

Show them where you store your emergency equipment, draw up lists of who they should contact in an emergency, and practice your drills.

For children who are worried about the likelihood of there being more earthquakes, knowing that Mum and Dad are prepared will give them a sense of security.

3. Keep to a routine

While it’s tempting to keep your child home and spoil them a bit, if your school or preschool are open – send them! Being around their friends and getting back into routine is tremendously helpful for children.

Try to keep meal times and bed times as normal as possible. Children find security in routine, and the sense that ‘life goes on’ will help them feel safe.

4. Know when to seek help

Anxiety is normal after an event such as an earthquake, and can take the form of many different behaviours. These include:

  • Regressions in sleep/toileting/behaviour
  • Crying
  • Clinginess
  • Irritability
  • Fear of the dark
  • Fear of being alone
  • Headaches
  • Reluctance to go to school/preschool
  • Nightmares

While these behaviours are normal after a traumatic event, if your child is exhibiting ongoing anxious behaviours, consider talking to your GP about finding someone to help your child with tools to manage their anxiety.

5. Manage your own anxiety

For children, earthquakes are doubly scary because as well as the ground shaking, their world is often shaken by seeing their parents in a state of anxiety. Ensuring that you have healthy methods of dealing with your stress and anxiety is the most important way that you can help your child after a traumatic event such as an earthquake.

Children learn through what they see, so if you are showing them that you can manage your stress, they learn that their stress is manageable too.

Leigh-ann Griffiths is mum to three school-aged children, wife to a military husband, and a trained counsellor. She can usually be found avoiding housework with the help of a good book and likes nothing more than a nice glass of red.

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