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Helping Children Cope with Disasters

Emergency Preparedness

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    1748 Cedar Street 

    Rockledge, FL 32955 

     

Children depend on daily routines. They wake up, eat breakfast, go to school and play with friends. When emergencies or disasters interrupt their routine, children may become anxious, confused or frightened.

Children’s fears can stem from their imaginations, and adults should take their feelings seriously. Words and actions can provide reassurance to a child who feels afraid. When talking to your child, be sure to present a realistic picture that is both honest and manageable. Be aware that after a disaster, children most fear that:
  • They will be separated from family, and they will be left alone.
  • The event will happen again.
  • Someone will be injured or killed.

DOH recommends assembling a kit for your child, including:

  • Any medications they be taking
  • A few favorite books, crayons and paper
  • Puzzles, a board game, deck of cards
  • Two favorite small toys, such as a doll or action figure, a stuffed animal
  • Favorite blanket, pillow
  • Pictures of family and pets
  • Other special items that will comfort children

Children’s immunizations should be up-to date to protect from vaccine-preventable diseases, including an unexpected outbreak during a disaster.

  • Keep a copy of your children’s complete immunization histories in your disaster kit attached to the family emergency information.
  • All family members should also record the date of their last tetanus-diphtheria shot in this record as well.

Advice on Communicating with Children about Disasters: 

In response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offered some advice on communicating with children/adolescents during times of crisis. It is important to communicate to children that the family circle is strong. Children need to be assured by their parents that the family is safe. Adolescents, in particular, can be hard hit by this type of disaster. Parents should watch for signs such as sleep disturbances, fatigue, lack of pleasure in activities previously enjoyed and illicit substance abuse.

Overexposure to the media can be traumatizing. It is best not to let children or adolescents repeatedly view footage of traumatic events. Children and adolescents should not view these events alone. Adults need to help children understand the emergency or disaster. Discussion is critical.

Immediately after the disaster, try to reduce your child's fear and anxiety. How you react to an emergency gives them clues on how to act.

They see our fears as proof that the danger is real. A child who feels afraid is afraid. Your words and actions can provide reassurance. When you're sure the danger has passed, concentrate on your child's emotional needs by asking the child what they are thinking at the moment. Including the children in recovery activities will help them to feel that their life will return to "normal". Your response during this time may have a lasting impact.

Keep the family together. While you look for housing and assistance, keep the family together as much as possible and make children a part of what you are doing to get the family back on its feet, instead of leaving them with relatives or friends. Children get anxious, and they'll worry that you won't return.

Calmly and firmly explain the situation. As best as you can, explain to your children what you know about the disaster. Let them know what will happen next. For example, say, "Tonight, we will all stay at Aunt Betty's house". Get down to your child's eye level and talk to them.

Encourage children to talk. Let children talk about the disaster and ask questions as much as they want. Encourage children to express their feelings. Listen to what they say. If possible, include the entire family in the discussion.

Include children in recovery activities. Give children chores that are their responsibility. This will help them to feel a part of the recovery. Having a task will help them to feel that everything will be all right.

You can help children cope by understanding what causes their anxieties and fears. Reassure them with firmness and love. Your children will realize that life will eventually return to normal. Seek help from a mental health specialist or a member of the clergy, if necessary.