Helping Your Child Cope with Disaster

After experiencing the uncertainty of a natural disaster, it’s normal for children to be afraid. The fear may last for an extended period of time and is best dealt with by the kindness and understanding of the parents. Children should be encouraged to talk about their feelings and otherwise express their fears through play, drawing, painting, or clay. Research indicates that children’s fears vary according to age, maturation, and previous learning experiences. Four major fears common in children are death, darkness, animals, and abandonment. During a disaster, children could have encountered several of these fears. To help children cope with fears, one of the most important steps adults can take is to talk with children.

Following a disaster, some children may:

  • Be upset at the loss of a favorite toy, blanket, teddy bear, etc.
  • Be angry, showing signs of aggression such as hitting, throwing, or kicking.
  • Become more active, restless, and irritable.
  • Be afraid of the disaster recurring.
  • Be afraid to be left alone, or afraid to sleep alone. Children may want to sleep with a parent or another person. They may have nightmares.
  • Behave as they did when younger. They may start sucking their thumb, wetting the bed, asking for a bottle, or wanting to be held.
  • Have symptoms of illness such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, fever, or not wanting to eat.
  • Be quiet and withdrawn, not wanting to talk about the experience.
  • Have poor concentration.
  • Become upset easily — crying and whining frequently.
  • Feel guilty that they caused the disaster because of some previous behavior.
  • Feel neglected by parents who are busy trying to clean up and rebuild their lives.
  • Refuse to go to school or their childcare provider or withdraw from activities and friends. The child may not want to be out of the parent’s sight.
  • Become afraid of loud noises, rain or storms, or other reminders of the disaster.
  • Not show any outward sign of being upset. Some children may never show distress because they do not feel upset. Other children may not give evidence of being upset until several weeks or months later.

What can parents do to help their children cope?

[Read More At University of Minnesota Extension]

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