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Helping Kids Cope with Natural Disaster

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.ready.gov/kids (know the facts, make a plan, build a kit) and www.ready.gov/tornadoes
• 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.

U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services: Tips for Talking with Children and Youth After a Traumatic Event – English; Spanish

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Discusses recovery after a tornado, and what parents and teachers can do to help children.

FEMA: Has created a booklet to guide adults on how to properly prepare for disasters and how to help children cope once a disaster occurs.

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.

National Association for the Education of Young Children: Provides on-line resources and information to help when a disaster strikes.

U.S. Department of Education: Has 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.

Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA: Has developed a resource for schools to help students deal with loss including information on resilience and social support.

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.

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