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Fact Sheet: How to Help Children Cope after Hurricane Maria

Release date: 
October 12, 2017
Release Number: 
DR 4339-PR FS 006

A disaster or tragic event can leave children feeling frightened, sad, confused, and insecure whether they are exposed to the disaster directly or see it on television or hear others talk about it.

Adults can help children cope with the anxiety that disasters can cause.

Addressing the Emotional Impacts of a Disaster

The amount of damage caused from a disaster can be overwhelming.  The destruction of homes and separation from family and friends can create a great amount of stress and anxiety for children. It is important not to overlook how this storm affects the children who live in these areas and who have lost their pets, favorite toys, or other cherished treasures. They may not fully understand what is going on.

To help children recover or cope with the situation, here are some helpful tips to make them feel safe again:

  • Keep To A Routine: Help your children feel as if they still have a sense of structure, which can make them feel more at ease or provide a sense of familiarity. When schools and child care open again, help them to return to normal activities including going back to class, sports and play groups.  
  • Make Time for Them: Help kids to understand that they are safe and secure by talking, playing and doing other family activities with them. To help younger children feel safe and calm, read a favorite book or have a relaxing family game or activity.

Spend some time talking to children about the events. Let them know it is okay to ask questions and to share their worries and reactions to the situation. It is also good to let children know, without overwhelming them with information, what is happening in the family, with their school, and in the community.

Parents and guardians should ask their children for their opinions and ideas. Visit nctsn.org/trauma-types/natural-disasters for more ideas on how to reassure children they are safe.

Here is some information to help you ensure your children’s safety:

Flood Water Safety

  • Constantly watch your children to prevent them playing in or around floodwaters. It doesn't take long or much water for children to drown. In many cases, children who drowned had been out of sight less than five minutes and were in the care of one or both parents at the time.  
  • Know where the ground is exposed and keep children from playing around drainage ditches, ways or storm drains as they can fall in, get stuck, or cause a drowning hazard.  
  • Be aware of what’s in the water as children playing in contaminated standing water can become sick or be bitten by snakes, rodents and other wildlife.  
  • Watch for live wires or power sources as electricity from streetlights and downed power lines may be active. Children who come into contact with these power sources, whether through standing water or direct contact can be given a deadly shock.   Learn more online at www.ready.gov/floods.

Power Outage Safety

  • Lock the door. Many people filled their bathtubs and buckets with water to use for drinking or washing. Keep everything in one bathroom and lock it off from toddlers who might climb in. This can pose a drowning hazard.  
  • Be mindful if using candles. Batteries may start to run out and people may resort to using candles. Make sure to watch small children around them and don’t forget to blow them out.  
  • Turn off vehicles. In order to recharge cell phones and other electronics, people may run their cars in order to use car chargers. Be sure children don’t climb in the car and shift it into gear.  
  • Leave it out in the open. If you have a gas/propane powered generator never run it in the basement or closed garage.   Learn more online at www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/power-outage.

 

Fun for Children

  • Board games: Pick games that don’t end too quickly. Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and Monopoly are great games to play at any age. Even cards games such as Go Fish, War or Concentration can bring hours of fun.  
  • Musical Chairs: If you have power and three or more children you can play a game of musical chairs. Bean bags, folded blankets or pillows can be used as chairs if space is limited.  
  • Simon Says: A game of Simon Says helps children work on their listening skills and can help relieve some of the energy that's bottled up inside.  
  • Exercise: Include activities kids may do in gym class, including jump rope, push-ups, jumping jacks and stretching exercises. This is great for expelling energy for those kids who are stuck indoors.  
  • Build a fort: Pile up pillows and blankets, and let them build their fantasy fort freely. This could relieve their stress, and yours.  
  • Draw or paint: Every child, young or old, enjoys being creative.

Useful Links

  • www.ready.gov/coping-with-disaster  
  • Save the Children: go to www.savethechildren.org and search “Tips to Help Kids Cope with Disasters.”  
  • American Academy of Pediatrics: go to www.healthychildren.org and search  
  • “Helping your Child Cope”  
  • “Talking to Children about Disasters”  
  • “How Children of Different Ages Respond to Disasters”  
  • “How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning” and  
  • “Flash Flood Recovery”.  
  • National Child Traumatic Stress Network: www.nctsnet.org

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FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

 

Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-3362 (voice, 711/VRS - Video Relay Service). TTY call 800-462-7585. Multilingual operators are available. (Press 2 for Spanish).

The SBA is the federal government’s primary source of money for the long-term rebuilding of disaster-damaged property. SBA helps businesses of all sizes, private non-profit organizations, homeowners and renters, which can cover the cost of replacing lost or disaster-damaged real estate and personal property. These disaster loans cover losses not fully compensated by insurance or other recoveries and do not duplicate benefits of other agencies or organizations.

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Last Updated: 
January 3, 2018 - 11:59