Safe and Sound grew out of Sovereign’s concern for the Christchurch community and our desire to do something to help, in the wake of the devastating earthquake.

The initiative began with clinical psychologist and bestselling author Nigel Latta fronting a series of free public seminars to help parents guide their children through post-earthquake trauma. As well as being a public service to the people of Canterbury, these guidelines on dealing with loss, anxiety and uncertainty, will also be of value to New Zealanders throughout the country.

We will be developing this resource and continuing to find new ways to support Kiwis facing crises in their lives.

The following is a summary of the seminar presentations. To view the video, click here.

The impact of traumatic Incidents

While there seems to be a huge variation in the types of responses people have to traumatic incidents there are three main areas that the effects tend to cluster around:

  1. ‘Flashbacks’ or intrusive memories of the event
  2. Avoidance (this can be avoidance of anything that reminds the person of the event. It could be a place but it could also be noises, smells, or even colours)
  3. Increased arousal (anxiety, agitation, grumpiness, trouble sleeping etc)

There has been extensive research done over many decades in dozens of countries with hundreds of thousands of children and young people, looking at what’s ‘normal’ following a traumatic event. What we know now is that pretty much anything is normal in the first month or so following such events, be they natural disasters like earthquakes or tsunamis, or man-made events such as plane crashes or wars. The links below show the range of effects that have been documented for each age group. It’s important to understand that some children might experience some of these effects, while others may experience none. The key message is that there are many ways children and young people are affected.

What’s also important to remember is that if the event is a ‘one-off’, as in a car accident or a tsunami, then it is usual to see the effects gradually fade as the child/young person recovers. In events such as earthquakes, where children continue to be exposed to aftershocks, the impact can last much longer.

Click to expand each age group to see the common effects that have been reported.

+ Pre-schoolers (2-5)

Physical

Thoughts

Emotional

Behaviour

  • Sleep problems
  • Eating problems
  • Nausea
  • Aches and pains
  • Magical explanations
  • Repeated retelling
  • Bad memories
  • Upset/fragile
  • Clingy
  • Irritable
  • Separation anxiety
  • Fear of strangers
  • General fear/worries
  • Anxious behaviour
  • Bed-wetting
  • Thumb-sucking
  • Temper tantrums
  • Hyperactivity

 

 

+ School-Age (6-11)

Physical

Thoughts

Emotional

Behaviour

  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Stomach ache
  • Sleep problems
  • Nausea
  • Distractible
  • Distorted thinking about causes of event
  • Unwanted memories
  • Poor concentration
  • Reduced school performance
  • Anger
  • Denial
  • Guilt
  • Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Moodiness
  • Sadness
  • Self-blame
  • Fears and worries
  • Easily startled
  • Aggression
  • Hyperactive
  • Hyper-vigilant
  • Problems with friends
  • Retelling of event
  • Play that includes the event
  • withdrawal

 

 + Adolescents (12-18)

Physical

Thoughts

Emotional

Behaviour

  • Eating disturbances
  • Loss of energy
  • Physical complaints
  • Sleep problems
  • Attention and concentration problems
  • School performance problems
  • Memory problems
  • Intrusive memories
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bolshiness
  • Fear/worries
  • Grief
  • Guilt
  • Poor impulse control
  • Despair
  • Easily startled
  • Peer problems
  • Withdrawal
  • Bleak world view
  • Alcohol and drugs
  • Sense of foreshortened future


What’s very normal is that almost all children and young people are impacted in some way, but most will gradually find the effects diminish over time. For a smaller number of children and teenagers the effects do not diminish and continue to have a significant effect on them.

When should you be concerned?

If the effects are continuing to have an impact on your child and you feel that things are not improving, or not improving fast enough it could be time to seek expert help. There is no scientifically verified ‘yardstick’ here so trust your instincts.