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Helping Kids Cope After a Natural Disaster

September 25th, 2017     By Boys Town Contributor

Family, Healing Families, Parenting Skills, Saving Children, Understanding Behavior

You can’t control when natural disasters will strike. And when they do, they often become unpredictable stressors for children and families, disrupting the normalcy of everyday life and stirring up intense fears and anxieties. These events can displace families, cause significant devastation to homes and communities, and undermine children’s sense of safety and security.

While natural disasters present families with unique challenges, you can use tools and strategies to help your child cope with the events and continue to move forward.

Picking Up the Pieces After a Natural Disaster

Parents are a child’s greatest asset following a natural disaster. It’s normal for kids to feel angry, sad, confused or fearful after a disaster or tragedy. Your child will look to you for safety and guidance, especially during the adjustment period afterward. It’s important to emphasize to your children that it’s okay to have these feelings. Be sure to provide a safe and inviting environment for them to express their feelings, and try to remain calm yourself so you serve as a model for how to cope, recover and move on.

8 Ways to Help Kids After a Disaster

  1. Be available to listen when your child wants to talk; however, don’t force them to talk about their feelings.
  2. Let your child know that you love them. Showing physical affection can help them feel safe.
  3. Include friends, relatives and teachers in your child’s support network. All can provide caring and understanding for your child during a traumatic time.
  4. Look to your adult friends and family for your own comfort, so you can convey confidence to your child that things will be okay.
  5. Limit media exposure. Don’t obsess over the latest breaking news or inject the situation into every family conversation. Keep children away from news programs and websites that contain content that is inappropriate for their age.
  6. Get your child back to their normal activities and regular schedule as soon as possible. Routines ​​are comforting to kids and promote positive coping and healing.
  7. Give your child the time and space to sort through and process their feelings.
  8. Monitor your child and stay vigilant as the healing process continues, even months after the event. Take note of changes in sleeping or eating patterns, prolonged distress or depression, and other issues that last two weeks or longer after the event.

What if Your Child Isn’t Coping Well?

If you notice issues mentioned in No. 8 above or other red flags that continue for two weeks or longer after the natural disaster, you should seek help from a licensed mental health professional. In addition, we have compiled a list of resources to help you and your child through this and other difficult times:

  • The Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000 is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and is staffed by specially trained Boys Town counselors to help those who need support.
  • Boys Town’s parenting experts have put together an article about how to help children cope with the unexpected.
  • Boys Town’s child behavior experts have put together a Crisis Tip Sheet with pointers on how to help your kids deal with the next crisis event.
  • This list of 50 coping skills can help children deal with a variety of situations.
  • Your Life Your Voice is a teen-focused website from Boys Town that can help older kids who are having trouble dealing with current events or other issues.
  • Consider limiting kids’ media exposure in general. This short article from the parenting experts at Boys Town gives some helpful hints.

For more information about helping your child in the aftermath of a crisis, visit http://www.boystown.org/parenting/guides/crisis.

 

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