Coping after an earthquake

After an emergency, like the recent 7.8 earthquake, it is normal to have some kind of emotional reaction and for that to last for a while. There are things you can do to help your family and yourself get through this time, and agencies and support groups that you can talk to. Your child may want to talk to someone outside the family as well, and that’s okay.

As well as taking care of the physical and organisational after-effects of the earthquakes there are the emotional effects on your family and friends.  It’s important to realise these feelings are normal reactions to an abnormal event.

Understand that what you’re feeling is normal

Normal reactions to trauma can include shock, fear, sadness, anger, frequent memories of events, difficulties with thinking, concentrating and making decisions, sleep issues, stress, feeling unwell physically, and a change in interest in normal activities.

Children have their own ways of dealing with trauma.  It might not be what you expect.  It might be noticeable straight away or not show up for some time.  They may be clingy, fearful, have difficulty sleeping, revert to behaviours like bedwetting, and have changes in behaviour at home and school.  All these things are normal. 

Get some information about helping yourself and others

You can find a lot of information on the internet about coping after an earthquake.

We recommend:

  • Ministry of Health – their website has a section on managing stress in an earthquake that includes information on common reactions, coping personally and helping children and adolescents
  • Ministry of Education – has information developed after the Christchurch earthquakes for teachers and parents on helping toddlers, children, and young people
  • Skylight – this not-for-profit trust that helps families/whanau in times of trauma have written some fact sheets for parents

Ask for help

Supporting and comforting one another and keeping the lines of communication is important and sometimes is all that’s needed.

Sometimes though you might want to talk to someone else – maybe because you want some expert advice, or because the effects are ongoing. 

Your child might want to talk to someone not related to the events as well.

Expert advice:

  • Earthquake Support Line 0800 777 846 - this is a free post-earthquake service that’s available to anyone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It is staffed by mental health experts
  • What's up 0800 What's Up (0800 942 8787) - a free counselling service for kids aged 5-18 years old.  Their counsellors are available Monday to Friday 1pm to 10pm, and Saturday and Sunday 3pm to 10pm.  Your child can also connect one-on-one free using their real time online chat 5pm-10pm 7 days a week.
  • Youthline 0800 376 633 - a free service for children and young people.  Your child can also free txt 234, email or chat online at 
  • Healthline on 0800 611 116 or your GP for other health concerns

Some advice about schooling

If you have a child sitting NCEA or Scholarship exams your school will be keeping in touch with you about sitting exams.  There is a process in place for your school to apply for a derived mark if your child can’t sit an NCEA exam or feels that they have not done as well as they expected because of the effects of the earthquakes.  Talk to your school about this.

If your child’s school is open and your child is having difficulty attending, because they can’t easily physically get there, or because they are not feeling emotionally up to going, talk to your school.  They will be understanding about this, and may have some tips that can help.  These absences won’t affect your child’s attendance record.


Dealing with the aftermath of an earthquake is a process, and it will take time.  Allow yourself, your family and whānau, and friends that time, and take care of each other.

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