Children thrive and recover from disasters better when their parents are O.K. enough to look after themselves and look after their children. It is a case of putting on your own oxygen mask first so you can properly attend to your child’s one. Your own life and well-being are precious.
As a parent or caregiver, take time to appreciate yourself. What are you most proud of?
After a shocking events like the Christchurch earthquakes most people have strong responses – emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. However these responses can be very different depending on the situation and their personality. Some people may feel exhausted and hopeless whereas others may be energised and motivated. It is also normal to fluctuate between contrasting responses. The more overwhelmed and out of control people experience, the harder it is to make decisions and act appropriately.
Children also react differently to stress and may well not behave as you might expect. Their responses will depend on their age, how they experienced the events, how those around them responded and what they were like beforehand. There are no ‘normal’ or ‘right’ responses. Children may be terrified and clingy, overhelpful and protective of others, excited and extra energetic, withdrawn or throw tantrums – the list is endless.
When you are attending to your children there are some things that may help.
- Take one step at a time; it may be for a minute, an hour or a day. Recovery is a living process.
- Make sure you attend to your own needs, this is good modeling for your child and will assist you to tune into others. Sit down with your cup of tea, make time to connect with friends and whanau. Don’t rush.
- Acknowledge and listen to your childrens’ fears and worries. Encourage them to talk to you. Don’t try to reassure them. You might say something like: ‘That was so scary, you are so brave to have ……’. ( i.e ‘remembered to keep breathing.’, ‘got under the table.’, ‘held my hand.’).
- Try to be patient and tolerant even when you don’t feel like it. Doing something you all enjoy may take the pressure off.
Although we all want to get back to regular routines and normality as soon as possible, don’t push it; go at your child’s pace. You could say: ‘I know you are scared and want to sleep in my bed, you will feel safer and will be fine to sleep in your own bed again even if you can’t do it yet’, you can return to usual practices slowly, it may help you to have a plan to do so.
Children feel insecure if they are allowed to act in ways that they know are unsafe and not O.K. Stop aggressive and destructive behaviour immediately, otherwise choose your battles. Sometimes humour works well.
Most children regress to some degree so you can use strategies that worked when they were younger. Children will flourish with extra cuddles and praise. Setting firm limits will make them feel safe.
Different age groups have different needs, adolescents are especially likely to need peer contact and support. Younger children may seek extra attention and little ones may find it hard to let you out of sight. You may notice that your child has a shorter attention span than usual, take this into account. You are probably finding it hard to focus too.
Remember you can only do your best so be easy on yourself. Let your children know as much about future plans as possible and have a clearly understood safety plan that everyone can manage. It is helpful for them to know that you are in charge and know what to do. Give easy choices and firm limits. If possible spread out treats so they feel like treats.
Encourage children to draw, create, play out past events, you don’t have to join in.
Most people benefit from time with nature and many feel safer outside and find solace with animals. Other nurturing activities, depending on resources, may include reading familiar stories or watching favourite DVDs. Some children will need to run and jump and be active. Try to find ways for this to happen without stressing yourself.
If possible say ‘yes’ to attractive offers of help and turn down those that don’t feel right.
Remember that as a result of these events your child has huge potential to develop resilience and a generous heart, to feel loved and special and to be able, at different developmental stages, to process the events.
With enough common sense and aroha we can all be part of a healthy caring community.