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Natural disasters: helping kids cope

Helping kids recover in the aftermath of a cyclone, flood or other natural disaster is a challenge for the whole family. We have put together some tips for helping your children after a natural disaster.

Kids can be particularly vulnerable following a natural disaster, though their responses can vary greatly. These reactions can include sleep disturbances, clinging to parents, change in appetite, aggressive behaviour, and withdrawal. It's important for you, as parent or caregiver, to let them know that it's okay to struggle after a natural disaster and to reassure them that, as a family, you will make it through this difficult time.

Listen to your kids carefully

Kids need to be able to talk about what happened. It’s natural for them to have questions, and while you might not have all the answers, it is still important to let your children ask. There is more value in answering a question with “I don’t know”, than having a child feel like they can’t ask.

Reassure your kids that they are safe

Kids need to feel safe, which is something they might struggle with after a natural disaster. When they hear a story about a similar situation or see something on the news, they may become frightened. Listen to them carefully to understand why their upset, and then deal with it directly. For young children, or children who can't really understand what has happened, reassure them that you and other adults have control over their immediate environment and that you will protect them. 

Take control of what your kids see

Though this is hard in today’s society, try to minimise your children’s exposure to negative news about the disaster. Often the media show the most tragic and horrific elements which can upset or frighten children. Try, as best you can, to stop your kids seeing any media coverage, particularly imagery that might be difficult for them to understand. If you’re not sure what is appropriate, be conservative.

If you need help choosing something for your kids to watch, visit the Australian Council for Children and the Media website, which provides recommendations and reviews on children’s movies based on age groups.

Keep doing regular things

Many kids find security in routine. Getting back to "normal" after a natural disaster can help them find stability. To cancel an outing or to pull children out of school when a crisis occurs may be helpful to you, but it can hurt your child’s sense of security – especially for younger children. Try to keep your routine as "normal" as possible. 

Look for symptoms of anxiety

Often kids appear to be okay during a natural disaster, but can have difficulty coping later on. It’s normal for children to feel frightened, anxious, panicked or angry. If you notice that your kids are:

  • experiencing a change in appetite
  • reliving images of traumatic events or dwelling on the event
  • easily upset or are quieter than usual
  • experiencing headaches or stomach aches
  • having difficulty sleeping or having nightmares,

it may be because they are struggling. Speak with them about it and be patient if they have trouble finding the words. Recovery takes time, but if these symptoms continue for a prolonged period of time, seek professional help.

Create some happy memories

It might seem strange, but doing something fun with your children can help the whole family recover. Being able to look back at a difficult time and remember a positive experience can help the healing process. Try taking your kids to a theme park, a movie, a restaurant or have a picnic.

Pray with your kids 

Prayer will provide an answer both for the victims of natural disasters and for your kids. Children feel empowered, knowing that they can pray for those affected by the disaster and for themselves.

Make a difference

It’s not uncommon for kids to want to help when hearing about a bushfire, cyclone or flood affecting other people. Whether it’s donating goods to people who have lost their homes and belongings or getting a parent to make a monetary donation on their behalf, it's a positive act that helps with their own recovery. 

More information

For more information and additional resources on disaster recovery, visit our Still Standing publication page. 

Visit the Still Standing page

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