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Child Psychologist
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Children and Natural Disasters

by

Dr Kimberley O'Brien

Children and Natural Disasters

Natural disasters can be very traumatic for children and adults, alike. Often they happen suddenly, with little time to react, and can leave behind a great deal of destruction to land, homes, and people’s lives.

Following disasters such as the recent floods in Queensland and Victoria, parents are often left wondering how best to address these  traumatic natural disasters events with their children.

The type and amount of information you provide your child after a natural disasters is dependent on their age. However, simple explanations that reassure children that they are safe and let them know that you are there caring for them will help.

Tips for Parents

  • Try to keep routines. If they have been disrupted,  help re- establish routines as soon as possible, as these are essential for children to grow and develop typically.
  • Limit exposure to the media, and adult conversation about the natural disaster. Children are very much influenced by the responses and feelings of parents and other adults. Seek support for yourself of friends and colleagues
  • Answer any questions that your child may have about natural disasters. Be honest without giving a lot of detail.
  • Talk about the events related to the natural disasters if your child brings it up, don’t try to change the subject. It’s important to correct any ‘false’ ideas young children may have.
  • Give children a chance to discuss their experiences of the natural disaster, and to share their fears. This will assist them in their ability to move on.
  • Be available and reassuring.
  • Help children gain a sense of self control by allowing them to make choices, that are age appropriate.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzD2Jr8PfhU

It can take weeks, months, sometimes years, for children to fully recover from the stress they may have experienced during a natural disaster. Each child is different. The more consistent children’s daily routines are and remain after a disaster, the better they will be able to adjust and move forward.

Recognising stress in children after a Natural Disasters

Young children

  • sleep problems,
  • going backwards in their development, e.g. wetting the bed, clinging and behaviour problems.

School aged children

  • not wanting to go to school,
  • nightmares,
  • behaviour problems,
  • physical symptoms, e.g. headaches or tummy aches.

Young Adults

  • Withdrawn,
  • Appear depressed,
  • React aggressive under stress.

If you notice that your child’s reaction to stress or trauma due to a natural disaster is not lessening over time, or is becoming worse, it may be beneficial to seek some professional advice. For more information on how the Quirky Kid Clinic can help, or to schedule an appointment please contact us.

Further Reading

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View article references

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  • Information for this fact sheet was taken from an interview with Child Psychologist Kimberley O’Brien, the Raising Children Network website and the following article.
  • Foulks, D. (2005). Nurturing Children After Natural Disasters. A Booklet for Child Care Providers, National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. Arlington, Virginia, 1-16.

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