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The Canterbury earthquake generation “knows how to handle the challenge”, but still needs support

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Known as the Quake Generation, young Canterbury guys had nothing but an easy childhood, with a decade of earthquake-related traumas.

Canterbury children have faced a decade of earthquake-related shocks since February 2011. Photo: 123RF

Since February 2011, more than 30,000 earthquakes lasted daily through mid-2012.

Children have faced a “tsunami” of shocks, from earthquakes, which have only been exacerbated by natural disasters such as Port Hills fires, floods, terrorist attack and the global pandemic that has led to closure.

Nearly 10 years after the commemoration of the Christchurch earthquake on February 22, many children appear to be much stronger and ready for battle, said Kathleen Liberty, a child health researcher at the University of Canterbury.

“Research indicates that they will be resilient and able to deal with obstacles … it will create a growing youth movement who know how to handle the challenge.”

Shortly after the earthquakes, Liberty conducted numerous studies involving more than 12 schools and 12 preschools and thousands of children, including 12,000 children on the East Side.

Read more on the tenth anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake:

And it found that changing the environment in which the children were in improved health and reduced symptoms of PTSD. Educators were provided with advice on how to talk to stressed children and a new way to schedule the school day that followed the “play, eat, and learn” model. This gave the children what they needed to deal with constant stimuli, and to work through the shock of aftershocks.

We found that children who went through this model and received additional support, said Liberty, did significantly better than children who did not.

“We saw big differences in children’s behavior and learning compared to newcomers who did not witness earthquakes, or a very turbulent post-earthquake environment. These kids’ brains became neurologically different due to earthquakes and aftershocks,” she said.

Kathleen Liberty found that changing children’s environment improves their health and reduces PTSD symptoms. Photo: provided

She said the long-term effects for some people will harm some children in puberty and adulthood if they do not learn to use tools to deal with them.

In general, the problem came from the outside, “It happened to them, not who they are… people can change”, especially if they are in the right environment surrounded by a supportive community.

For many children and preschoolers, earthquakes lasted a third of their lives.

Deborah Bowen, a mother of three, moved from Canada with her family two years before the earthquake. Her children are in their early mid-teens and “are gradually becoming more flexible.”

At the time of their February 22 jolt, her babies were six months, three, and five years old.

“It took my middle child five to seven years to get over his sleep problems,” Bowen said.

“We had to repaint the walls over the cracks so they could get a good night’s sleep,” she said and talked about worst-case plans so they could cope.

One of her children required six months of counseling and has since been able to deal with the causes and better articulate her earthquake concerns.

The most difficult thing, she said, was trying to explain to them, when they were younger at the time of the earthquakes, that “we cannot control them.”

And she found that staying in Christchurch with her community “really helped because there was a lot of support from the community and everyone helped each other … the whole system by doing it together and recovering together was really beneficial to everyone”.

Liberty said parents and caregivers should hold onto hope for their children if they are still coping with the trauma of earthquakes.

On average, it will likely take five to ten years for children to recover from the trauma associated with the earthquake, “so we need positive and supportive environments for youth,” she says.

“Just because you have struggles when you start high school doesn’t mean that you’ll encounter difficulties [another] 10 years from now. “

A Photograph by John Bangma: Introduction

Mairehau Elementary School Principal John Bangma agrees with Kathleen Liberty regarding improvements in children’s behavior if they are in a supportive environment.

“We don’t have the extremes [behaviour] As we used to – it’s better … ”

Bangma said children and schools adapted better and showed more flexibility overall.

However, there was work to be done to improve the level of mental health support for children in Canterbury, and he was disappointed that it was sorely lacking.

“It’s sad,” he said, “There is still not enough support for every young person to get quick referrals and speak to someone regularly.

There must be counselors and more support in every school to bring help to children who still need it, especially with recent events like mosque attacks and changes in education with the shutdown of Covid-19.

Research findings from studies of PTSD of schoolchildren:

Drawing: screenshot

Researchers Kathleen Liberty and Maureen Allan symptoms of PTSD in seismic community children who experience high levels of PTSD upon enrollment.

The results showed that the proportion of 224 children with symptoms of PTSD at the primary clinical level decreased from 18.6 percent to 7.5 percent in four schools.

In stark contrast, the rate nearly doubled to an alarming level of 24 percent among the 140 children attending high school who decided not to implement the strategies.

A study of replication of more than 1,400 children reported the effect of a similar strategy.

In a random sample of 727 children from eight primary schools who implemented the strategies for one year, the decrease was from 31.8 percent to 18.8 percent.

In contrast, in the four schools that did not implement the strategies, the proportion of 248 children with symptoms of PTSD increased from 18 percent to 22 percent over the course of the year.

In a randomized sample of 90 children from six kindergartens, the percentage of children with clinical PTSD symptoms decreased from 15.6 percent to 6.8 percent.

In a random sample of 342 children from 20 kindergartens that implemented the strategies, the percentage of children with impaired resilience decreased from 37.3 percent to 17.5 percent.

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