Christchurch five-year-olds will be part of a three-year study to see they settle into primary school in the post-earthquake era.

University of Canterbury researcher Annabel Carter from the School of Health Sciences has looked at children who had lived through earthquakes and has found that up to 78 per cent of youngsters may experience some psychological symptoms for many years following even a single traumatic event.

A wide range of issues has been identified in the research including loss of interest in playing, becoming clingy, increasing irritability, problems with concentration and sleep problems.

Ms Carter has researched studies of children post-earthquakes in Northridge, California (1994), Kobe, Japan (1995), Athens (1999), Wenchuan, China (2008) and in other natural disasters.


This study, for Ms Carter's Masters thesis in health sciences, would look at the children's' understanding of helping, caring and learning.

"While studies have concentrated on the problems of children, the most important thing is their development of the qualities associated with helping, caring and learning that will help them in the future.

"I plan to interview children in their first year of school, to learn about their ideas about helping, caring and learning."

The younger the age of the child at the time of the earthquake, the more likely they might be to experience concerning symptoms, Ms Carter said.

"Which is why our research is focusing on children who were pre-school age in September 2010 through to December 2012."

The study planned to follow children from the first day of school through to the end of Year Three.

A larger longitudinal study also hoped to record the individual and school-wide activities that teachers and principals had put in place since the earthquakes to promote resilience.

"Resilience is also important to families and communities. Our research team is also developing a process in which we will talk to parents and whanau to discover how they encourage and support them with coping and resilience.

"Many children in New Zealand have experienced natural disasters or other trauma but what differs for the children of Christchurch however, is the ongoing, prolonged and unanticipated nature of the earthquakes," Ms Carter said.