Canterbury whanau and families are being urged to take extra care and keep an eye on their children for signs of anxiety sparked by the 7.5 earthquake on November 13-14.
Psychologist and family therapist Julie Burgess-Manning says the quake will not only bring back memories of past earthquakes and their aftermath, it will be many younger children’s first large quake. Anxiety can be tricky to spot in children, Julie says.
“Children who were worried by the latest quake will show some behavioral responses...this could be distress, an inability to settle into play or sleep, temporary separation anxiety (especially at school), irritability and arguing.”
“In other words, anxiety can manifest itself in many ways so it’s best to take stock and think about whether this is normal behavior for your child.”
Parents are experts on their own children and will usually know what works well to calm them, Julie says, but here are some tips to help:
Tips to help kids with anxiety
1 It’s important to retain routines; get up at the same time, go to bed at the same time, keep mealtimes, school routines, after school activities the same.
2 Turn media off, repetition of disaster scenes adds to anxiety.
3 Provide a calm and loving response; keep your adult worries away from children. If you are particularly upset: don’t talk about it with your children, get support from other adults you trust.
4 Keep normal disciplinary boundaries. If kids are breaking these, it is important
that they know their parents are still in charge - the world is unpredictable enough without these changing.
5 Give reassurance but don’t overdo it. Too much reassurance means there is something to be worried about!
6 Creating stories about what happened can be useful for younger children. “Oh that’s just Ruaumoko (the god of earthquakes, volcanoes and seasons) rolling over as he settles back to sleep” or “it’s just the earth settling back into it’s bed, still trying to get comfortable.”
7 Let them talk about it, but don’t let it take over, use distraction and play to get their minds off it.
8 Do the things that you and your children enjoy – distraction is a wonderful thing!
Anxiety symptoms in most children will be temporary and should ease with thoughtful management, says Julie.
“But if they don’t get some help sooner rather than later... worries grow if they’re left alone.”
Julie is one half of Kotuku Creative along with teacher Sarina Dickson. She and Dickson are Christchurch mothers who wrote two books “Maia and The Worry Bug” and “Wishes and Worries” to help Canterbury families and classrooms work together on strategies to decrease anxiety.