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How to help children cope through Earthquakes

This week, an earthquake hit the West Coast, which was a source of mild panic and humor when a video of a Live TV news crew’s reaction went viral. The incidence also reminds us of the importance of managing children’s reactions to earthquakes.

Earthquakes can be terrifying, and it is natural for children and adults to be afraid. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, earthquakes are especially difficult to cope with because they come without warning and are followed by aftershocks. With continued shaking, survivors do not experience a clear end to the crisis. Some children and adults may have reactions very soon after the event, while others may experience problems weeks or months later.

The following tips from the National Institute of Mental Health and other organizations will help you help the children in your care

During an earthquake 

During (and after) an earthquake, children will usually become tearful and clinging. They will want their parent(s). Even toilet-trained children may have accidents or experience nausea and vomiting.

Deal with the situation as calmly as you can. In a disaster, the children will look to you and other adults for help. How you react to an emergency gives them clues on how to act

As soon as you are sure the danger has passed 

Let the children know that you understand why they are scared. Comfort them with a hug or reassuring words. Reassure them that their parents know where they are or where they may go. Their parents will come to get them as soon as they can. They are safe with you.You will look after them.

After an earthquake 

• Return to routine as soon as possible.

• Express your own concerns openly, and let students know that it’s normal to be afraid.

• Encourage the children to talk about their fears. Help them sort out what is real from what is unreal. Encourage them to draw or write about their feelings. Children are less afraid of things that they understand.

• Be aware that children begin to suck their thumbs, have difficulty eating or sleeping, wet their beds, or report mysterious aches or pains. It is common for children to “regress” or act younger when stressed. Do not criticize the children or call such behavior “babyish.”

• Parents frequently look to you for advice, so help them understand their children’s behavior and be aware that they also may be suffering. Parents may be afraid to leave their children after a disaster. Some parents may be angry or upset because their children are frightened. Reassure them that with support most children will recover without any lasting problems.

• Watch children for ongoing signs of emotional distress (avoiding things that remind them of the event, appearing numb or withdrawn, having nightmares). If a child continues to be disturbed for more than a few weeks, the family may need to seek professional counseling. While most children recover completely after a disaster, others may have more long-term problems that require treatment, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

• Understand that you also may have emotional difficulties after a traumatic event and take

care of yourself.

source: excerpt from fema.gov

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