Trauma of earthquakes shows in little kids

By Shelley Robinson

File photo / Geoff Sloan
File photo / Geoff Sloan

Christchurch's earthquakes are having a dramatic effect on the city's children, with schools noticing behaviour problems in new-entrant 5-year-olds.

Primary schools are looking at ways to deal with problems such as lashing out at teachers, lack of focus, running away from school, not following instructions and hitting other children.

The behavioural changes have been noticed since the quakes, Canterbury Primary School Association president John Bangma said yesterday.

Psychologists have also noticed the behavioural changes, with the Cholmondeley Children's Charity reporting a 30 per cent increase in the number of 5-year-olds being cared for to give their parents a break.

Mr Bangma said children starting school were arriving with a lack of preparedness compared to those in previous years. "Due to the earthquakes a number of parents pulled their children from early learning centres because they didn't want to be separated from them," he said.

"However, this means some new entrants appear to be ill-prepared for the school environment."

Children had been sleeping with parents since the earthquakes began, and were absorbing adult anxieties and hearing adult conversations, which meant they were different in personality from pre-quake "typical" new entrants.

Children and adolescent psycho-therapist Sarah Robins said she was seeing many children traumatised by the earthquakes.

Ms Robins is a director of the Hara-keke Centre, which has a specialist team treating quake trauma in youngsters. The housing situation was a contributor to increased anxiety in homes, she said.

"[Children] are displaced from homes they can't live in any more or need to be repaired. What's more distressing for them is when they've moved in with family members and some children don't even have beds.

"Sleep is the major issue. I can understand how schools are having problems with inattention, because some children are not sleeping. This means they are tired during the day, finding it difficult to focus, which means that normal behaviours are more challenging."

Ms Robins said some children were going from uncertain housing environments into classrooms where their teachers might also be stressed because of their own housing issues.

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress included restlessness, avoiding certain places and being hyper-vigilant to noises. APN

- APNZ

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