Helping Kids Cope with Natural Disasters
Unfortunately, natural disasters do happen, and people are often affected adversely. It’s a traumatic time for everyone, but can be especially distressing to children. As a parent, caregiver or educator, you can help children cope by monitoring their emotional state, answering their questions, and creating opportunities to connect with family, friends, and the larger community. Here are some ideas for getting through this difficult time:
Preparing for a Disaster
Does your family have a disaster plan? How about your child’s school or daycare center? If so, that’s great! If not, there are several websites that provide excellent resources and can help you get ready:
• Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) www.fema.gov/kids (know the facts, make a plan, build a kit)
• American Family Safety www.americanfamilysafety.com
• American Academy of Pediatrics www.aap.org/disasters
After a Disaster Occurs
• Provide children with concrete explanations of what happened and how it could or will affect them. For example, “A tree branch fell on electrical wires, and that is why the lights don’t work.”
• Find out what specific concerns children have. Ask them what’s frightening or upsetting them, and reassure them when you’re able to do so. If their fears are grounded in reality, acknowledge those concerns and help find ways to address them.
• Reassure kids that many people are working hard to help them and their community recover.
• Depending on the age of children, consider limiting media coverage or being with them while they watch so that you can answer questions and help them process the information.
• Children often feel helpless after a disaster. Work together to find meaningful things you and they can do to pitch in and help others in the community.
For More Information
Many agencies and organizations have developed helpful information to assist parents, caregivers, and educators to provide support to children during difficult times.
US Dept of Health and Human Services: Tips for Talking with Children and Youth After A Traumatic Event – English; Spanish
After the Storm: A Guide To Help Children Cope With The Psychological Effects Of A Hurricane http://www.schoolcounselor.org/files/AfterTheStorm.pdf
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Hurricane Tools and Links for Parents, Caregivers, Educators, Relief Workers, Medical and Mental Health Providers http://nctsn.org/trauma-types/natural-disasters/hurricane-tools-and-links
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Teacher Guidelines for Helping Students After a Hurricane http://www.schoolcounselor.org/files/hurricanes-teachers(1).pdf
FEMA has developed this booklet to guide adults on how to properly prepare for disasters and how to help children cope once a disaster occurs. http://www.fema.gov/pdf/library/children.pdf
The National Education Association Health Information Network has developed an extensive guide on dealing with crises in schools, and notably, provides information on the mental health needs of students, school staff, and the greater school community. http://www.neahin.org/assets/pdfs/schoolcrisisguide.pdf
US Department of Education had developed a brochure with information from more than three dozen experts who work with children in schools that offers advice on how to help students recover from traumatic events. http://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/recovering/recovering.pdf
Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA developed a resource for schools to help students deal with loss including information on resilience and social support. http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/loss.pdf
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers families information on how to help children deal with disasters.
Mental Health America (MHA) has developed a fact sheet on helping children deal with the anxiety that may be associated with natural disasters. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/information/get-info/coping-with-disaster/helpingchildren-handle-disaster-related-anxiety
MHA also has a fact sheet on how to cope with the stress of natural disasters. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/information/get-info/coping-with-disaster/coping-with-the-stress-of-natural-diasters
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) highlights possible reactions children might have to natural disasters and provides school crisis teams with tips on how to support children and families. http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/naturaldisaster_ho.aspx
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) provides a description of what families need to know about natural disasters and offers tips on readiness, response, and recovery for specific events:
For Parents and Caregivers: http://nctsn.org/trauma-types/natural-disasters/hurricane-tools-and-links
Sesame Street Hurricane Toolkit Hurricanes, storms, and other natural disasters can be difficult for young children who may not fully understand what's going on around them. These tips, activities, and videos can help them feel safe, cope with emotions, and understand that there is hope for the future.
American Red Cross www.redcross.org
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster www.nvoad.org