Helping Children Cope With Disaster

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Release date: 
October 14, 2005
Release Number: 
1603-081

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Just as adults are struggling to cope after the disaster, children may also be struggling emotionally. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the State of Louisiana, and the American Red Cross (ARC) offer some information on helping your children recover from the disaster.

Children may need more help if:

  • They had direct exposure to the disaster, experienced the evacuation, saw injured or dying people, or were in situations in which their own lives were threatened.
  • They suffered personal loss due to the death of, or serious injury to, a family member, close friend, or pet.
  • They are experiencing ongoing stress from their current situation, are or were living in a shelter, lost contact with their friends, lost things that are important to them, their parents lost their jobs, or they are experiencing severe financial hardship.

How Children May React to Disaster

  • Children may have worries about things they cannot express clearly. Their reactions may vary widely, depending on age, but there are some common responses to stress.
  • Birth through six years: Infants and very young children may be more irritable, crying more than usual, and need more comfort than before the storm. Preschool and kindergarten children can feel helpless and frightened about separation from their parents. They may resume thumb sucking or bedwetting.
  • Seven through 10 years: Older children may become preoccupied with the disaster and want to talk about it continually. They may fear the disaster will happen again and may have strong angry or sad feelings. Children who act out may be expressing grief and trauma. Or, a child may behave as if he or she has no feelings. This numbness can be an emotional shield that protects the child from experiencing pain.
  • Eleven through 18 years: Teenagers may react with risk-taking behaviors, such as reckless driving or alcohol and drug abuse. Teenagers can be overwhelmed by their intense emotions and be unable to talk about them.

What Parents and Caregivers Can Do

  • Try to take time to compose yourself when you are with your child. If you are calm and confident, you will encourage your child to feel less afraid.
  • Encourage your child to talk, to draw pictures or tell stories so the child has a chance to talk through the experience.
  • Be a good listener. If your child asks questions, answer as best you can and use words that your child might use.
  • Give honest answers. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. Calmly provide answers, even if the question was painful.
  • Be prepared to explain things over and over again. Sometimes children need time to process and understand events. Vary the words you use and check that the child understands what you said.
  • Allow your child to be a child, even if you need him or her to help the rest of the family.
  • Spend extra time with your children. Your smaller children will need extra hugs and reassurance. Your older children may need more time to express themselves.
  • Get back to daily routines for work, school, play, meals and rest. A familiar schedule can be very comforting.
  • Involve your children in creating a family disaster plan and in practicing your plan. A disaster plan helps your child understand that there are positive things that can be done to help.

Crisis Counseling Can Help

There are crisis counseling services and other services specifically for children. Crisis counseling assistance can provide immediate, short-term help to victims of the hurricanes. Free crisis counseling is available, to anyone who was living or visiting in the area at the time of the hurricanes, by calling any of these numbers: 1-800-273-8255, ...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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