Mandy Casurella, a licensed professional counselor who works with children and parents, was in a classroom at Anchorage’s Chugach Optional Elementary when the earthquake struck on Friday. After the quake, she and the teacher organized the children into a circle for an exercise to help them feel safe and they asked the children to talk about how well they all responded to what happened. She’s been talking with lots of children and parents since then. Here’s some of what she’s been telling them, based on the book “Trauma-Proofing Your Kids,” by Peter Levine.
Parents, check your responses first. Kids are very present in the experience, she said. But, “parents tend to be all these places at once," checking their phones, looking for information, she said. That doesn’t necessarily help parents stay calm.
After the initial trauma, take stock, assure the kids they are safe. Help them notice how stress and anxiety make them feel, validate that what they are feeling is a normal response.
Guide the kids' attention to their bodies. Their bodies were able to do the best thing to keep themselves safe, Casurella said. “The cool thing about kids that were at school is that they have practiced for this moment,” Casurella said. “I think it felt different for kids that were not in a classroom.” The anxiety and adrenaline generates a lot of energy and kids have all kinds of ways to try to release it, she said. “Some need to be quiet, some need to move around,” she said. Pay attention to what their impulses are and try to encourage that energy release.
Slow down, set a calm example, follow your child’s pace, observe them. It will take kids some time to get back to normal, and every child processes at his or her own pace, Casurella said. Giving kids time to talk about things and process at their own pace is important. “Their ability to heal and work through that energy is innate and natural,” she said. The best thing parents can do is give them the space to do that, she said.
More resources from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network