Big things do happen

It's important to keep children's lives as normal as possible following a traumatic event. Photo: Getty
It's important to keep children's lives as normal as possible following a traumatic event. Photo: Getty

There are times in a family’s life when big things happen, parenting columnist Ian Munro writes.

The recent Christchurch fires and the difficulties still ongoing for many families following the various earthquakes reminded me of a column I wrote some years ago.

The issues most families face might not be quite that dramatic, but things arise that do have a significant impact. These could range from a major work issue that means long days or travel, to caring for an older family member, redundancy and the need to seek a new job, or a new baby with major health problems.

Through this time, the children often have to take a back seat and sometimes it is a long way back back seat. The adult preoccupation could mean that the impact on the children is not even recognised or catered for.

For younger children, it’s important to keep as much normality about their lives as possible, for example the usual routines around mealtimes, bath-times and bedtimes.

There needs to be a sense that Mum or Dad, or whoever might be looking after them, is in control and that they can trust that, while things are unsettled at the moment, all will be well in the end. If one parent is absent, regular contact by phone helps, perhaps for that "goodnight" reassurance.

Older children need to be kept in the picture about what is happening as much as possible. Each is different, but if they can know the basic whys and wherefores and that there will be an outcome eventually, even if its form is at present unknown, this will help settle them.

There may be lots of questions, perhaps repeated on a daily basis till it starts to drive you crazy, but that’s the need for reassurance. This means that you should always be honest about what’s going on.

If children feel included, you might be surprised by how they rise to the occasion in the ways they might help you or younger siblings. However, we should never unload the problem on to them, as youngsters will only too readily take it on to their little shoulders.

And while children can be very resilient, they can also be more affected and even more long-term scarred by the situation than we might ever realise.

Just as you will be stressed, so will they. They will pick it up from you, so be prepared for a range of behaviours such as bed-wetting, nightmares, moodiness, tantrums, headaches and attention-seeking.

Maintaining family normality will also mean ensuring that you eat regularly, get as much sleep as possible, and perhaps introduce some daily exercise into your life.

And when it’s all over, acknowledge everyone’s efforts and take a family reward.


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