© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2019

Quake kids unable to sit and listen

Laura Cunningham
ChCh Earthquake
It has been six years since the major quake, and principals said they are worried about the growing issue of dealing with stress affected children. Wikimedia Commons

"In utero anxiety" is showing up in new primary school pupils, who are unable to manage themselves and relate to others, say school principals.

Primary school principals are concerned about new pupils students who were in the womb and born around the time when the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes hit Canterbury. 

A group of Christchurch principals addressed the Papanui-Innes Community Board last Friday in a bid for funding to support those children.

Mairehau Primary School principal John Bangma said many new entrants were anxious or behaviourally challenged. They needed a lot more specialist support than was currently available. 

Community boards fund social workers and other support for primary schools.

Collectively, the principals believed the issues were caused by multiple house moves, ongoing insurance problems for families during the child's formative years, and being exposed to stress hormones before they were born, so-called "in utero anxiety".

Waltham Primary School principal Gordon Caddie, who was not one of the eight principals at the meeting, agreed and blamed the earthquakes.

"More students are coming through at five who are not able to sit and listen, manage themselves, relate to others or manage their emotions."

Papanui-Innes Community Board chairperson Ali Jones said the board should not pick up the bill for what was essentially an education and a health issue. The Government should provide the funding, she said. 

"It's quite clear this is a major issue here, and unless something is done it's going to have long lasting effects," Jones said. 

Canterbury University associate professor of health science, Kathleen Liberty, said the frequent strong aftershocks had compounded anxiety issues for children in Canterbury.

There were 100 aftershocks of magnitude 5 or higher until the middle of 2012. Children who were aged four and younger in September 2010 had developed a chronic stress response, Liberty said.

She said the idea that children were resilient and less affected by the quakes was a myth. The issue wasn't whether they remembered the event. Their neurological development was affected at a sensitive time.

Liberty stressed that parents were the first to wrongly blame themselves for their children's mental and behavioural problems. They shouldn't as this was a physiological health problem.