It is almost four months since the Kaikoura earthquake and she still struggles with it. Yes, it is true, it was quite a big one - a magnitude of 7.8, but wasn’t particularly damaging in our region. Her home, as are most others is undamaged and her family is well. She works on her piece of art, she is finding a way to overcome her anxiety and it looks like she enjoys very much this self-reflective and calming activity. I don’t disturb her peace and talk in my mind with her parents. I hope they will hear and I hope they will help her.
Surprisingly, many children experience such an anxiety because of… their parents. A parent is the most important life teacher for a child and it is a well-known fact that children learn from what they see, not from what they were told. In my daily practice while talking with anxious children I discover more and more that parent’s reactions or mass-media overdramatized reports have the biggest influence, not the EQ itself.
New Zealand is a land of violent geology and the probability of another earthquake at some stage in our lifetime is high. It can happen and nobody knows when. Here are some suggestions for parents that might help to build a constructive attitude towards natural disasters and to pass these on to the younger generation. It might involve some reflection and work, but it is definitely worthwhile:
1. Children need a realistic worldview
Planet Earth is alive and every minute we witness change and movement – days & nights, light& dark, seasons change, wind & stillness, dry weather & rain, sea tides and rivers flow, etc. Continents shift and mountains grow up because of tectonic plate’s movement. And we, as human beings, have to accept it, there is no other option. We adapt our life to all these changes and despite of earthquakes, cyclones and bush fires, we treasure our life and our planet and… we choose to live! We can’t pretend that we have the power to tame the nature, but it is vital to be able to face her spontaneity. And children have to know about it and to build adequate reactions when unexpected happens.
2. Children need to see parents calm and competent
No matter what, the parent’s responsibility is to know what to do, how to help and to lead children. In such a situation parents are commanders and the most important message they have to give: there is a way and a solution! Yes, it is unusual, it is scary, but I am here with you and for you! Parents give short, clear and calm instructions and offer support.
3. Children need to know that earthquake is short and temporary
It happens for seconds or for minutes and then all things go to normal. It doesn’t last forever. And when it comes again it is the same – short and temporary.
4. Children need to know that there is always help
There is family to help. There are neighbours to help. There is always somebody who will give a hand – civil defence volunteers, army, international community, etc. People help people! Always!
5. Children need to know that their feelings are valued and respected
If children get too overwhelmed and can’t deal with the anxiety, parents have to pay attention to it. Children find it quite helpful when their reactions, thoughts and feelings are validated with no critique and pressure. They need time to calm down and to get back to normality…with parents support! We can’t expect that children will behave as adults unless we provide an example.
6. Children need to learn ways to manage the anxiety.
There are lots of possibilities to do that, but the best way is to learn from example, how one's parents manage their anxiety.
So, let summarize it:
give a realistic worldview
show competence in difficult situations
focus on normality
give positive message
respect children’s feelings
teach them how to manage anxiety
But first of all and the most important – be an example!
When parents bring the child to me, most of them hope that I have a magic tool “to fix” the child. Actually, I do not, there is no such a tool, except the possibility to discover why they experience anxiety and to find out what exactly children need. And I come with suggestions how the child can be helped within his own family, by his parents, in real situations. Usually, we talk together around the possibilities to create a healthy environment in the family system where children will learn to deal with emotions in a reasonable way. Sometimes the children’s anxiety is an alert for a parent to gain new knowledge and new skills on how to parent better and to deal with life’s unexpected.
Helplines for children and young people in New Zealand
Photo by: Tatiana Ceban
Author: Tatiana Ceban
Tatiana Ceban is a family counsellor and life coach following her lifelong fascination with human potential. Character development is why she became a catalyst for her client’s good changes and better quality of life. She specializes in reproductive and perinatal mental health. Tatiana is a passionate speaker- she runs support groups, trainings, conferences for women and workshops for professionals on diverse issues around reproductive psychology and counselling.
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I have in front of me a good-looking girl and we talk about her interesting life. She enjoys school, has lots of friends and a good family. She is busy studying and doing sport, dancing, and reading, biking, playing… her life is quite normal for a 12 y. o. teenager. Except one thing – time to time she finds herself overwhelmed by fear of… another shake. Sometimes it takes a while for her to fall asleep. In these moments anxiety takes control over her thinking and behaviour and she can do nothing about that. She talks and I see clearly the Fear in her eyes. It’s real…