SAFAKNA TURKEY – Together we are trying to heal the wounds of the earthquake in Kahramanmaras. We all feel the pain of every earthquake survivor, and we know that if we’re going to get up, it’s only by holding hands. There are also babies and children who survived the earthquake and don’t know anything yet. How will their life continue? What needs to be done so that they can go through this process without any damage or with the least damage? We spoke with experienced clinical psychologist Ayhan Altash about what to do according to age ranges.
In the earthquake zone, children who survived the earthquake and managed to survive now began to live in tents. What can be done for these children to save their lives and survive this event with minimal damage? How should this process go step by step?
Our earthquake survivors are perhaps the group we pay the most attention to when helping them. Most children are not at that level of development to even understand what an earthquake, death, loss are. While we’re trying to get these kids through the event, we need as much attention as our efforts. One of the most important points to which we will pay attention is the age of the child. Since the level of development of age groups is not the same, we need to plan accordingly. Then, one of the other questions that needs to be considered is whether the child’s family and relatives are still alive. This factor also makes a big difference in how we can help.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ACCORDING TO THE AGE GROUPS?
ROUTINES MUST CONTINUE
Children aged 0-2 years: If there is a deceased person in the family and this person is the mother, the first 6-9 month old children can accept their new guardian. But babies after 9 months can feel the absence of the mother, but they cannot understand this. A group of children aged 9 months to 2 years actually experience this problem due to a change in their habits. There are changes in eating, sleeping and toileting habits, and if this is not re-adjusted, if the child’s basic needs are not properly met, this can be seen as a developmental regression or a pause in the child’s future. Therefore, when a mother is lost for this age group, it is very important that the order is not disturbed. Since they are not at the level of development to understand death or an earthquake other than the mother, it can be guaranteed that the child will be entrusted to a person who can fulfill the duties of a mother.
BE OPEN AND CLEAR
Children aged 2-6 years: Games are very important for children’s self-expression and development. Children can play with toys such as doctor’s kit, repair kit, wooden blocks, legos, play dough, paints, sand, ambulances. We must allow our children to express their feelings. Although he cannot do it verbally, he can also express his feelings and thoughts through toys and pictures. So we need to give them space to express their feelings. We can explain what an earthquake is because children in this age group will be able to understand what they are experiencing using appropriate explanations. We can say that an earthquake is a natural phenomenon, but it is an event that we do not experience often, such as rain, sun, or snowfall. We must be calm and patient in the face of these children’s repeated questions and answer all their questions honestly in a way that they can understand. We need to realize that what they are experiencing is normal, that it is not a disease, that they are not to blame for what they are experiencing. Because our children are more likely to blame themselves for being self-centered.
If our children in this age group have lost a parent; Since he cannot yet understand abstract concepts and does not know what death is, it is useful to be careful when explaining this. Because this age group does not understand that death is the end, they may develop a belief that their deceased parents can return. If his mother or father has passed away, this event should never be hidden from the child. In no case should you use expressions such as “Your mother is gone”, “Your mother has become an angel”, “Your mother is watching you in the sky right now”, “We have lost your mother”. Clear and crisp; We need to explain the situation in a very specific sentence, such as “Your mother is dead, she is no longer with us, we will not see her again” so that there are no big problems in the future.
Children aged 6-11: This group can also play with the toys of children aged 2-6. This age group can understand death. If there is a lost parent, providing information about how that parent’s role will be fulfilled will distract the child from future worries. They will definitely ask what will happen to me now. We need to give information about what will change in your life and what will not. For example; If the school changes, if the person who stays changes, this must be clearly explained. What is needed now is for these children to feel safe. That’s why we can show the reliability of a building when it comes to a question like “What if there’s an earthquake here too.” Or we can teach what to do in case of an earthquake and prepare an emergency kit together.
Sabah said: It is important for our children of all age groups to allow them to express their feelings, to be honest with them and to be able to answer their questions in an age appropriate manner. By giving them small responsibilities appropriate to their age, we can also ensure that they stay in the present moment. Looking at it step by step; we can list how to get the child to a safe place first, make him feel safe, explain the situation and event, explain the way forward, answer all his questions while doing so, then let him express his feelings, and finally keep him in the present . I would like to remind you that it is very important how adults fit, especially if there is a loss.
EARTHQUAKE SHOULD BE TALKED IN THE FIRST COURSE
We also have children outside the earthquake zone who did not experience the earthquake, but psychologically felt all its consequences. They will go to school on Monday. What should be their first lesson? What should be done in schools to prevent negative situations that may arise in them? – First of all, as we explained to our children in the earthquake area, we must explain what an earthquake is to our children, who did not experience an earthquake, but suffered. In the first lessons, this is a good way to explore the topic of the earthquake, answering all his questions and talking about your feelings about it. Learning how to prepare an earthquake kit, protection information such as caving and trapping, and the triangle of life, and preparing them for possible earthquakes can reduce feelings of helplessness and anxiety in our children.
In order to prevent our children in the earthquake zone from having a negative attitude towards this event, it would be best to prepare a help package with them, and perhaps send their favorite toys to the children in the earthquake zone. It will be good for our children to think that it is useful, to feel contact with children there, to do something about it. Instead of hiding the fact of the earthquake from them, it is very important to involve them in helping, inform them and make them feel safe right now. Let’s allow our children to express their feelings and emotions, rather than leave them in the dark and let them worry no more, let’s involve them, strengthen their sense of control.
Relaxation exercises and creating a safe place can be done for our children who survived and suffered from the earthquake. Let’s try to protect our children’s positive prospects for the future. In some cases, if children are not able to reduce their emotional state at the first intervention, if their emotional tension increases, if they become withdrawn and behavioral problems are observed, it is necessary to seek support from a mental health professional at this stage.
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