Recent events may have upset your children

Following the recent Christchurch earthquake and Japan tsunami, our children have been exposed to more natural disasters than they're used to. And some may be experiencing some nervousness about the state of the world.

It’s natural for children to become concerned about their safety when there are events like earthquakes in their own country. As a parent, you can’t protect them from feeling stressed, but you can help them cope with their worries. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t avoid talking about it. When you see disaster footage on the news or if your child is watching it online or has talked about it at school, engage them in a conversation about it and try to identify the feelings they’re having. Put yourself in their shoes and say to them, “You seem worried about the earthquake – let’s talk about what you’re thinking.”

  • Be a good listener. Pay attention when your child tells you what’s frightening them and be accepting of their fears. Don’t respond by saying, “Don’t be ridiculous, a tsunami won’t hit us here.” In a child’s mind, fear isn’t based on fact, so acknowledge how they’re feeling and let them know they’ve been heard.

  • Empathise with your child. Say to them, “I can see why you’re afraid,” rather than trying to stop them from feeling that way by ignoring their fears and telling them not to worry. often all a child needs to know is that you understand them.

  • Deal with the facts. Children can be very inventive and create fantasy scenarios when they don’t know what’s going on. Look at the earthquake graphs for Christchurch and talk about the areas in New Zealand that are on fault lines. If you’re in an area that may be at risk, reassure your child that you’ve taken every precaution to keep them safe.

  • Involve them in packing a survival kit. Knowing it’s there will give them comfort and help them gain confidence. Take your family through an emergency situation. What’s your escape plan from the house? What will you do if some of you aren’t at home? or if there are no phone lines? For more ideas, visit:

  • Don’t dwell on your child’s fears. once you’ve discussed what’s worrying them, don’t keep checking they’re okay. As long as they know you’re there to listen and that you take their concerns seriously, that’s all they need and their fears may subside. When you do talk about their fears, move the conversation on to more positive things when they’re ready, and think of something for your child to do that might make them feel better.

  • Keep stress to a minimum. It’s good to keep up to date, but night after night of news coverage may be too much for your child. Find other things for them to do while the news is on, and limit their computer time. It’s good to talk about the events, but limit their exposure to them.

  • Keep them company. Some kids won’t talk about their fears, which is fine. But this makes it even more important for you to stress that you’re there if they need you. Make sure you’re there for them, even if you’re not talking about their feelings. Keep them company, and if you notice your child is out of sorts, hang out with them for a while and do something together, like baking or going to the park. Your presence may be all they need to feel relaxed and comfortable.

  • Don’t try to fix it. When it comes to natural disasters, you can’t make them go away, or make the possibility of another one happening disappear. Instead, use this time to help your child learn to deal with fear, problem solve and manage their lives when things don’t go according to plan.

  • Be patient with your child. Some children just need a good cuddle and a chat and they’re able to get back to normal, but others will need more and might persist in asking questions and talking about their fears. It’s important that you work it through with your child if this is the case and don’t dismiss them as being “needy” or “annoying”. Their fears are very real and you need to be there to help them work through them, no matter how long that takes.

  • Give more cuddles than usual. Feeling loved and reassured that they’re safe is essential for all children, but more so when there are natural disasters being played out in their lives. They will need more reassurance and often all it takes is an extra cuddle and an attentive ear.

  • Watch for signs of extreme stress. If your child is showing symptoms of being highly stressed, and doing things such as wetting the bed when they didn’t before or not wanting to leave the house, visit your GP and discuss this with them. Your child may need professional help to get over their fears and move on.

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