Children's Series #1: Helping Children Cope With a Disaster


This week I have some new goodies (that I am giddy about!) planned for The Silver Pen. The first is a new series on topics related to children. Using my master’s degree in Child Development, I thought that I’d put a little bit of my knowledge  (& library) to work!  Hope that it is a Silver Lining for you, dear readers!

Did you know that September is National Disaster Preparedness month?  Yes, I know it’s already the last week of the month; however, just because September is nearing its end doesn’t mean that it’s time to stop thinking about how to prepare for a disaster. We never know when a catastrophe is going to happen. Between the fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. etc. that have befallen this country in the last few months alone (!), the truth of the matter is that we all live with the real possibility of disaster happening at any given moment.

You all know by now that in addition to finding Silver Linings in life, my other philosophy is to Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

There are so many things to discuss when it comes to preparing for a natural disaster. One that tops my particular list is knowing how to help children cope with a catastrophic disaster. Natural disasters can be especially traumatic for children. It’s frightening enough for adults, right?!? Natural disasters undermine a child’s sense of security and normalcy in a big, bad way.

Reactions to natural disasters are comparable to those exhibited upon the death of a family member or close friend (speaking of which, isn’t death a bit of a natural disaster in and of itself?!?). Younger children may have regressive behavior, e.g., thumb sucking, clinging to parents and bedwetting. They may also experience sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, and fear of the dark. Older children may may be irritable and aggressive, and may have nightmares, poor concentration, and withdraw from activities and friends.

Here are some suggestions for helping children cope with natural disasters:

  1. Give accurate and age appropriate information.  Children need clear explanations of facts, not opinions or fears. Limit exposure to the media if possible, especially by turing OFF the television. No one needs to see a disaster replayed multiple times!
  2. Be available to talk with your children.  Do not overload them with too much information at any one time. Make sure that you listen to the questions being asked and and concerns being expressed. Don’t assume and please don’t project your fears onto your children. Answer the questions that children ask. Keep it to that. Do not volunteer more information than asked because children may not be ready to handle that information.
  3. Identify safe ways to express feelings. There are no wrong emotions after a disaster. The reactions that I listed above are normal-normal-normal. Helping children find acceptable ways of expressing their emotions. For example, one little boy with whom I worked was very angry about the impending death of his baby sister (a very rational emotion). He took his anger out on the family cat. Not good (especially for the poor cat!). So I brought him a punching bag for him to pound whenever he felt angry. Much safer for all!
  4. Maintain consistent routines. Though I’ve said this many times here, I feel like I can never say it enough: children find security in routines. Now a disaster certainly challenges this; however, as much as possible, please-please-please keep consistency in terms of sleep, healthy eating and playtime. It will go a very long way in their ability to cope.
  5. Be aware of behavioral, physical or emotional changes. These changes are absolutely normal; however, if they go on for a prolonged period of time or become destructive, it is important to seek professional guidance and support to help you and your child cope with what has happened.
  6. Take care of yourself. Crisis creates tremendous stress on the body. You can actually help your children by helping yourself. It is just like how the flight attendants instruct us to put the mask on ourselves before a child. A well-rested and nourished body can cope more effectively with the emotional stressors of a crisis. Plus, it is good role modeling for your children.
While I certainly hope that none of you will ever have to put these suggestions into place, if (when?) disaster strikes, I’m hoping that these tools will help!





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  1. E.B. says

    Excellent, excellent post. Can really appreciate number 1, about limiting exposure to the media. Replaying the same scenes can really wreak havoc on the little ones, because they just do not understand it is the same storm being shown over and over. Number 4 is an absolute, as well as number 6. If we don't take care of ourselves, we're in no shape to take care of our loved ones. Great post, Hollye, much appreciated!