Since the earthquake, things may feel different, scary or strange. You may find yourself reacting strongly to things that did not bother you before, like loud noises or sudden movements. You may find that you feel anxious, have no energy, experience nightmares, or are scared to fall asleep. Or that your moods are not following the same patterns as before.
After a major traumatic event, such as the April 25th earthquake or the May 12th aftershock, it is normal for many people to have such reactions. It is also normal not to have such reactions.
When adults are challenged to understand the situation, you can imagine that many kids are struggling to make sense of it too. Lots of kids might be asking these questions after such disasters.
“What is happening?”
“Do other kids think and feel the same?”
“What will happen to me if something happens to my parents or siblings?”
“How long will these feelings last?”
“Will I be okay? Am I safe now?”
“Who can I talk to about my feelings?”
As a teacher or parent i.e. a trusted person in the children’s lives, you can help them in different ways. Here are six important steps we recommend:
- Make them feel safe: The first and most important thing you can do is make your kids feel safe. You know your children/students best so you can choose what this might be. For some kids, safety maybe knowing that you are fine and that they can be close to you. For others, it maybe knowing there is plan of what they do and how they are cared for if another quake occurs. For others, it maybe reminded them of things they are good at and enjoy, such as playing music, drawing or reading. You can also draw on religious, cultural, and traditional practices to help children draw solace and feel safe.
- Encourage the kids to explain what they think happened: Sometimes kids have a distorted or limited understanding of what happened. Children can pick up on the cues that adults give, so their reactions may not be proportional to the situation. You need to know what they think happened before you explain what actually did.
Note: Children become ready to discuss the quake at different times. Please do not force them to discuss it if they are not ready
- Next, help them understand what actually happened: A good understanding of why earthquakes occur, what the chances are that another big one will occur soon and how you plan to keep them safe through the next few months will reassure them.
- Give them space to express themselves: This could be in conversation, but also through writing stories, drawing, keeping a journal or poetry. Expressing what they feel is an important part of healing. Listen empathetically to what your children are saying, validate their feelings, do not criticize or ridicule what they are say.
- Give them a sense of normalcy and routine: Even if you are living in someone else’s house, a shelter or the kids are out of school, make sure they have a routine. Establishing a routine helps the kids gain a sense that things are normal and safe. Some ideas for a routine are:
- Eat some or all meals at the same time everyday
- Establish set times for learning activities such as reading, or doing brain-teasers every day. This is particularly important if kids are out of school.
- Set fixed bedtimes and times to start the day. Do this even if you are in a temporary shelter and even if the kids have specific commitments.
- Set aside some regular time to spend with your children to be together. Remember that the quality of the relationship with the caregiver seems to be the most important factor in helping kids recover from trauma.
- Keep your normal family rules intact. It may be tempting to let children slip from your norms – such as how much they help around the house, how they talk to their family members etc – because the times are difficult. But instead ensure you maintain normal rules with firmness but affection.
- Act and behave normally with your routine as well. Demonstrate with your actions and routine to help build their confidence.
- When you are speaking to other adults with children around, be aware of how you are expressing yourself and what cues the children may be picking up on. Give them a sense of calm, avoid scary expressions, avoid repeating negative experiences or feelings too many times.
- Look after yourself: It is very difficult to support your children if you do not look after yourself first.