I don't know how they have done it since September, or how they are doing it now.
To make a few sweeping generalisations, parents tend to try and protect their children from unnecessary distress and so edit what they hear or are told. Thanks to 'Suzy's World' DD1 knows all about earthquakes (actually, more than most adults - do you know about tectonic downwarping), and given the massive coverage this time round there was no way to avoid her learning about it. Also, I was very worried about my family based in Christchurch and Timaru. I explained that there had been an earthquake in the South Island, that everyone got a nasty surprise, but that they were OK. Luckily that is true for my relatives - homes uninhabitable, but alive.
I thought that she absorbed the explanation well, but the next night she volunteered at the dinner table that she was feeling sad. She was worried about her Grandparents and cousin. We quickly called them so that she could hear that they were OK. That night - nightmares. One of them about an earthquake and fire coming out of the earth.
We are very safe and sound at our house, and life continues as normal in our family, but if that is the impact of the earthquake on a four year old who didn't experience it, then what must it be like for those parents who have to explain hourly aftershocks? Even worse, those with 'missing' friends and families who are not now likely to be found alive. I can't even comprehend what it is like for the siblings of the infants who died.
To make myself feel better I have restocked the emergency kit, made a written disaster plan for our family and friends with cellphone numbers and addresses of locations, including our nearest civil defence places. My list of emergency contacts for DD1 at her creche now has about seven names on it. I actually feel panicky just thinking about how to get to her in an emergency.
Kia Kaha to those parenting through this disaster - you are perhaps in a living nightmare, and facing perhaps some of the toughest parenting/ family challenges you will ever experience. My most fervent hope is that all this goodwill out there comes your way, and that the needs of you and your family are met.