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“I know I can help you”. The educational challenge after the earthquake in Turkey-Syria

In the weeks following the earthquake catastrophe in Turkey, the Patrizio Paoletti Foundation released, “10 steps to cope with the effects of the earthquake”, a guide for parents and all those who have significant relationships with children. The guide, created by the psycho-pedagogical research team of the Patrizio Paoletti Foundation, provides tips on how to communicate and behave with children in order to cope with the earthquake. It was disseminated to support the earthquake-stricken population of Turkey, in collaboration with the research center SODIGEM, of Anadolu University (Eskişehir, Turchia). In-depth podcasts on each part of the vademecum were produced and made available to accompany parents and carers in using the tool. The primary objective of the intervention is to provide each parent, even at a time of great difficulty, with the knowledge that they can protect their children from the effects of trauma, and play a decisive role in their psycho-physical health.

The Patrizio Paoletti Foundation’s interventions in favor of people affected by natural disasters have been active since 2009 and supported the inhabitants of areas affected by earthquakes that struck several regions over the years both in Italy and abroad (Haiti in 2010; various regions in Italy in 2009, in 2012 and in 2016). The Foundation’s pedagogical team has also developed the “Prefigure the Future’ project” that has guided thousands of parents, teachers and adults to transform vulnerabilities that emerged after the earthquake into resources.

The psycho-pedagogical research team of the FPP comments on the first accounts of Turkish parents and caregivers who used the vademecum:

Initial testimonies show that the guide “10 steps to cope with the effects of the earthquake” is experienced by people as a compass to maintain hope and confidence at this extremely trying time. Above all, the guide is encouraging their conviction that they are capable of handling challenges effectively related to parenting and childcare, despite the earthquake and the devastating effects it has had on their lives, such as the loss of their homes, material and sentimental possessions and in some cases the loss of their social and support network.

Being able to feel and communicate to the children “I know I can help you” supports the parent, at this critical time, not to fall prey to the effects of anxiety and stress, and provides children with the support they need. Parents who believe they have the power to influence their children’s behaviour and experiences have a greater ability to identify effective parenting strategies, thus creating positive interactions.

When implementing strategies and interventions that aim to protect and support children, what is often overlooked is the critical impact that adverse events have on the psycho-physical health primarily of parents and caregivers. This negative impact does not guarantee the primary element in creating a protective and supportive environment for young children, a healthy relationship between adult and child.

Psycho-pedagogical studies reveal that parents who lack psychosocial and contextual resources to draw on in adverse situations may not handle difficulties effectively and may thus experience increased stress. Negative responses to parental stress can also increase the risk of maladaptive responses in the child. Indeed, research in this field shows that children of parents who report high levels of stress and anxious or altered perceptions of their parental behaviour in the face of adversity, such as natural disasters, have greater difficulty coping with adverse situations, even in the future. At the same time, the support a child receives from an adults who believe in themselves and their effectiveness creates an internalised sense of security and trust in the child, a key ingredient that supports emotional self-regulation and positive adaptability, in the present and also throughout life.

The experience of the earthquake, as reported by the first testimonies, seems to have had an impact on the parents’ sense of efficacy and consequently on their educational methods. Ensuring that adults feel capable and able to cope with the present moment includes not only suggesting educational methods for them to apply, but also equipping them with the ability to read and respond to children’s physical, behavioural signals and emotional needs.

Let us now share some of the testimonies collected, to hear from the voices of parents and caregivers, how – even at a tragic time like the one they are experiencing – it is possible to offer children safe guidance, to keep hope alive in them. To do this, they say, having informative and pedagogical tools, such as the 10-step guide devised by the Patrizio Paoletti Foundation and disseminated by the SODIGEM research center of Anadolu University, is an indispensable aid that boosts confidence in their abilities.

“We know how to communicate with children in the routine flow of daily life, but after a disaster like an earthquake, (…), there is great darkness, uncertainty and emptiness. This guide served as a compass to help us find our way in the dark and to evaluate us and our communication processes”

“When I read this guide it is clear that it understands us tries to support us. We are happy with this psychological and verbal support and feel that you are with us

“Even though we had some difficulties as parents, educators, we still applied some of the guide’s suggestions. However, there are many families who do not know how to handle this situation and this process, so I think it is very important to spread it very quickly in case of similar natural disasters. If the process is not managed properly, a new trauma may be added to the trauma of the disaster. For the sake of our children, it is very important to support parents, offer guidance in dealing with difficulties and to disseminate it widely.”

“I think that those who care for children needed extra support during the earthquake, because parents who had responsibility for their children found it difficult to recover and therefore could not find the strength to take care of their children emotionally. The physical effects of the hardship experienced caused various difficulties for people. (…) I have seen that overcoming difficulties when there is a community has more positive effects for both children and adults

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