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THE 6.6 QUAKE : On the Rebound: A Guide to Recovery and Resources : Getting Back on Track Helps Ease Children's Anxieties

January 23, 1994

A preschooler has taken up residence under the dining room table. Another child is inexplicably and suddenly disruptive.

Children react differently to earthquakes and to their aftershocks. According to the experts, children need to be constantly calmed, but they also need to keep busy--to keep a routine.

Soothing Children

After the 1989 Whittier earthquake, psychologist Ruth Torres counseled elementary schoolchildren. She offers the following tips:

* Encourage children to talk about their feelings and to draw pictures. "We did this on and off for a week. Many of the children were afraid of sleeping or taking a shower for fear another quake would strike. Many were worried about lost pets," she says.

* Maintain a child's routine as much as possible. "There's a sense of safety in routine," Torres says. After the Whittier quake, she says, "a lot of children said they felt safer at school than at home after the quake."

* Parents should control their emotions in front of children. If parents can handle an earthquake, kids are likely to handle it, too.

* Parents should monitor television watching, particularly among younger children. News reports of a major quake can be very frightening to them.

* Fears can be alleviated beforehand if schools and families have a quake emergency plan. Practicing this plan gives children a sense that they are in control.

* Children tend to cling to parents after a quake, so try to make them feel safe. They will gradually get back into old patterns.

* If anxieties don't lessen over time, get professional help for your child.

Keeping Children Busy

* Think of the aftermath of a major earthquake as a "36-hour car ride through the desert with your kids," says Dr. Neil Kaufman, head of ambulatory pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. "Parents should have a bag ready with books, age-appropriate toys, cookies and crayons to keep their children's minds off the fear."

* It is helpful for children to participate in post-quake repairs and shopping trips for emergency supplies.

* Four San Fernando Valley YMCAs either are creating or already have day-care programs for children not in school.

They are:

* East Valley YMCA, 5142 Tujunga Ave., North Hollywood; (818) 763-5126.

* Mid Valley YMCA, 6901 Lennox Ave., Van Nuys; (818) 989-3800.

* North Valley YMCA, 10925 Columbus Ave., Mission Hills; (818) 365-3231.

* West Valley Family YMCA, 18810 Vanowen St., Reseda; (818) 345-7391.

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