Families and Children Forced to Migrate due to the Earthquake: Psychological Challenges and Ways of Coping

Duygu Tükek Aydın
12 minutes

Earthquakes are among the most destructive disasters that radically affect lives. When an earthquake occurs, it is not only limited to loss of life and physical damage, but also has a profound psychological impact. Families and children who had to migrate to other cities due to the earthquake may face various difficulties due to the trauma they have experienced. Adapting to a new environment, accessing social support, coping with anxiety and fears, and trying to establish a normal living pattern are important problems for earthquake-affected families and especially for children.

Moving to another city is a big change in a child’s life and it can be difficult to adjust. Children who have to leave their homes, schools, friends and relatives and move to another city may show different behaviors and reactions depending on their age, character traits, family environment, pre-earthquake experiences, how they experienced the earthquake and what they experienced in the days after the earthquake. These reactions can take the following forms according to certain age ranges:

0-6 Age Reactions

  • Clinging to the parent or caregiver, not wanting to leave
  • Showing more infantile, developmentally backward behaviors (such as bedwetting, thumb sucking)
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns (such as overeating or loss of appetite)
  • Crying, irritability
  • Excessive mobility
  • Changes in play routines or repetitive play
  • Excessive demands and persistent behavior
  • Introversion
  • Increased worry and anxiety (like the earthquake will happen again)
  • Distracted attention

7-12 Age Reactions

  • Excessive mobility or stagnation
  • Introversion
  • Repetitive narratives about the event
  • Reluctance to go to school
  • Fears
  • Distraction, forgetfulness
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns (such as overeating or loss of appetite)
  • Anger, aggression, restlessness
  • Overreacting

13-18 Age Reactions

  • Feelings of guilt
  • Excessive worry
  • Changes in social relationships
  • Anger, rebellious behavior, defiance
  • Radical changes in worldview
  • Hopelessness about the future

In general, the traumatic events they experienced during the earthquake and adapting to their new environment can cause anxiety and worry in children. Children may experience feelings of loneliness and alienation as a result of having to leave old friends and family members. Some children may experience adjustment problems after moving to another city, due to changes in factors such as their relationships with teachers and friends and the lifestyle they are used to. These problems can negatively affect children’s school performance and their overall quality of life. For example, children may become socially withdrawn, have difficulty finding a suitable group of friends, engage in angry and aggressive behavior, and develop behaviors such as bedwetting and nail biting due to anxiety. Even though some children may appear indifferent or apathetic, this does not mean that they are not emotionally affected.

What can families do to offer psychological support to their children and help them adapt?

First of all, it is important to remember that being a mother, a father or a caregiver does not make one stronger in terms of being affected by what is happening. In difficult situations, parents also experience various difficulties and are emotionally affected as human beings. Children feel the mood in the family and form their own feelings by observing the people they care for and trust. It is therefore important that caregivers invest in their own well-being first and foremost. Even though part of us is still emotionally devastated, on the other hand, life goes on and we go back to our routines, we are alive, we have responsibilities and different roles. Returning to our routines makes us feel uncomfortable and guilty, but at the same time it is our routines that will heal us. In time we will find this balance within ourselves. Traumas are overcome through social and communal relationships and solidarity, and at this point it will do us good to return to routines.

Moving to other cities is a challenging experience for a family. Moving to a new place, changing their familiar life, is particularly stressful for children. What the child expects from his/her family is first and foremost a caring, reliable, warm base. It is important for children not to do too much but to remain calm, balanced and discreet.

Expressing Emotions

First of all, it is very important to enable children to express their feelings. This is why expressing emotions needs special attention. This is a necessary step for children’s mental and emotional health. The accumulation of unexpressed and withheld emotions causes children to become psychologically blocked and experience negative consequences. Expressed emotions, on the other hand, relax the person. By expressing emotions, the person begins to manage his/her emotions, not the intense emotions felt.

Moreover, expressing their emotions increases children’s awareness and develops their emotional intelligence. These skills are necessary to cope with future challenges. Children who are able to express their emotions are more socially and emotionally successful and have better relationships with other people.

In a challenging situation, such as moving to another city after an earthquake, it is particularly important for children to express their feelings. In this process, allowing children to express themselves helps to meet their emotional needs. Parents can support children by allowing them to openly express their feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger or fear. In this way, children’s self-confidence grows and they become more open to expressing themselves.

Parents can use the following methods to help their children express their feelings:

  • Listening: It is important for parents to listen to their children to understand their feelings. Listening to children allows them to express their worries and concerns and helps them to relax emotionally.
  • Description: Children will want to understand what is going on. To help children adapt to change, it is important for families to discuss major life changes, such as moving to another city, with their children and explain the situation in a way they can understand.
  • Support It is important for parents to support and reassure their children. Children will want to feel safe in the process of adapting to change, so it is important that families support and encourage them.
  • Setting an example: It is important for parents to set an example to help children express their feelings. Families should express their own feelings openly and show children that they are comfortable talking about their feelings.
  • Accepting emotions as normal: It is important for parents to accept the emotions that children experience as normal. Big changes, such as moving to another city, can cause anxiety and stress. Families should show children that other children experience similar feelings and that this is normal.

If families help children express their feelings, understand their worries and anxieties and support them, it will help them to adapt and adjust more quickly to their new life.

What else can families do?

  1. Talk openly and clearly about the new lifestyle: Families should talk openly and clearly about the new lifestyle. Talk to your child about what has changed, what has stayed the same and what is available in the new place, and try to answer their questions. This will help children to understand the new situation.
  2. Help them connect with familiar people in the new place: This is especially important for children, as being in contact with people they know and feel close to will help them adapt.
  3. Encourage them to participate in activities: It is important for children to pursue and explore their special interests and talents. Families should encourage their children to participate in activities such as sports and arts in the new place and help them build a social bond.
  4. When children start school, help them adapt to their school: Schools are one of the most important places for children to adapt to after moving to a new place. Families can make preparations to ensure that their children start school well prepared. (e.g. preparing school uniforms, books, stationery, etc. in advance), meeting with the school psychological counselor and communicating with teachers.
  5. Take time for family time: Moving to a new place can be stressful. It is important that families take time for themselves and communicate with each other. This will make it easier for them to adapt to the new lifestyle.
  6. Give them the opportunity to play: Children’s negative emotional states such as trauma, anxiety, stress and depression can be alleviated through play. Play helps children cope with stressful and frightening events, develop their mental skills, increase their self-confidence, reduce sleep problems and improve their overall emotional well-being. During play, children have many opportunities to express themselves and solve problems. In addition, play can help children reduce their stress and anxiety and help them to regulate their emotions.
  7. Let them discover the culture of the new place: Living in a new place is a great opportunity to explore different cultures. Allowing their children to learn about cultural differences and meet people in the new place will help them adapt.
  8. Try to understand the feelings of the family and their children: Moving to another city can be a stressful experience and there are a range of emotions that families and children may experience. It is important for families to allow them to understand how they feel about themselves and their children and to talk openly and openly about their feelings.
  9. Establish a routine Families living in a new place should work on establishing a routine. Routine will help children feel safe and adapt.
  10. Support children’s participation in social responsibility projects appropriate to their age, skills and interests. Children facing post-earthquake difficulties may often be reluctant to accept offers of help. However, participating in social responsibility projects allows children to help other people who need help. Contributing to society will help children to increase their self-confidence and make them feel more valuable.
  11. Get help if needed: Finally, it is important for families and children to seek support. It is important to remember that if there are any problems, parents or children should seek help from a professional.

When should you seek expert help?

Parents should monitor their children’s behavior and be sensitive to their changing needs. Moving to another city after an earthquake is a significant change in children’s lives and it is important to support them in this process. Parents should be sensitive to their children’s needs and allow them to express their feelings. Children’s reactions can be considered natural up to a certain point in the process. In some children, these reactions diminish over time, while others may find it difficult to adapt to the situation. In this process, children’s reactions may fluctuate. Experiencing many of these reactions together can be overwhelming and can lead to some emotional problems. If children’s reactions persist long after routines have been established and affect their daily lives (such as long-standing sleep problems, disrupted eating habits, overeating or loss of appetite), if children’s behavior is described by their families, friends and teachers as anxiety-provoking (excessive anxiety and fear, loneliness, hopelessness, social maladjustment, excessive anger and aggression), if children avoid talking about the earthquake and moving to another city or if they worry too much about these issues, if your child’s problems are big or if you as a parent are unable to help, it is good to seek the help of a specialist. Expert help will help children’s adaptation processes and stress coping skills and guide families in this regard.

As a result, families and children who have been forced to migrate to other cities due to the earthquake may experience difficulties in many aspects such as living and adapting to a new place, coping with loss and change. However, families and children can make this process easier by learning how to cope with these challenges and getting support when needed. Providing an open and healthy communication environment, allowing children to express their feelings, understanding their needs and providing the right and appropriate support will help children overcome these difficulties and adapt to new circumstances.


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