The American Humane Association offers tips to help children deal with concerns that may arise following an earthquake. Experts remind parents and caregivers that even mild quakes can have a lasting impact.
Even a relatively mild earthquake like the one that just rattled windows, knocked books off shelves, and evacuated buildings up and down the East Coast can have a profound effect on the emotional well-being of a child.
"Everything tends to be bigger in the mind of a child, so when you've got your whole house shaking and the furniture trembling on the floor, even for a few seconds, it can have a major emotional impact," says Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the American Humane Association, the nation's voice for the protection of children and animals, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and experienced the quake. "This feeling is compounded in a region where earthquakes are extremely rare, and especially following a storm season like the one we had this year. The best thing for parents and caregivers is to talk to children calmly but quickly, before feelings of fear, anxiety, or helplessness have a chance to take root."
Based on its nearly 100 years of experience as a first responder organization in every manner of natural disaster and crisis situation, American Humane Association has developed a series of simple tips for talking to children about events that may be distressing or disturbing.
How to Talk to Kids About an Earthquake
1. Keep an eye on children's emotional reactions. Talk to children, and -- just as important -- listen to them. Encourage kids to express how they feel and ask if anything is worrying them.
2. Regardless of age, reassure them frequently that you, local officials, and their communities are prepared to handle all sorts of situations, and that your family has a plan in place for dealing with the unexpected. Older children may seem more capable, but can also be affected.
3. Watch for symptoms of stress, including clinginess, stomachaches, headaches, nightmares, trouble eating or sleeping, or changes in behavior.
4. If you are concerned about the way your children are responding, consult your doctor, school counselor or local mental health professional.
Tips for Pet Owners
Ganzert says pet owners should also watch for changes in behavior among the animals in their lives. Dogs and cats especially can be particularly sensitive to any changes in their surroundings and can pick up on anxiety in the home. Pets that do show changes in mood -- especially any aggressive behavior -- may need to be afforded more space than usual around other animals, children, and strangers. And just like children, animals experiencing times of stress need comforting, too. Ganzert says the best way to comfort your pet is with kind words and lots of pats or hugs.
Also see: How to Talk to Your Kids About 9/11