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Children coping with disasters

Disasters can leave children and teens feeling frightened, confused and insecure. Kid’s responses can be quite varied. It’s important to not only recognize these reactions , but also help children cope with their emotions.

You are their biggest influence. They will take their cues from you as parents. When you manage your own feelings and reactions, you can make disasters less traumatic for your kids.

  • Encourage dialogue – listen to your kids. Ask them about their feelings. Validate their concerns.
  • Answer questions – Give the amount of information you feel your child needs. Explain misunderstandings about risk and danger.
  • Be calm and reassuring – discuss concrete plans for safety. Have children and teens contribute to the family’s recovery plan.
  • Shut off the TV – news coverage of disasters, frequently repeated, creates confusion and anxiety. Be available to answer questions.
  • Find support – reaching out to support organizations can help you cope, which will help your children cope.

For many children, reactions to disasters may be brief, but some children can be at risk for more lasting psychological distress. Three risk factors for longer-lasting responses are:

  1. Direct exposure to the disaster such as being evacuated, observing injuries of others, or experiencing injury.
  2. Loss/grief relating to the death or serious injury of family or friends.
  3. On-going stress from secondary effects, such as temporary housing, loss of social networks, loss of personal property, or parent’s unemployment.

Responding to an emergency is one thing but what’s the best way to respond to a child during or after a disaster? Listen, Protect and Connect: a Psychological First Aid Series for parents and children, teachers, families and neighbors is available to help you learn what to expect and how to handle children’s responses following a disaster. Available HERE

Billie Nicholson, Editor
June 2019

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