Natural disasters take a great toll on families and communities. Depending on the event, families may be dealing with loss of property and loss of family members. Some families and children will be able to handle the situation better than others, with some needing extra support and help.
Each individual’s reaction will be different (including how children, youth and teens respond).
Here are some things you can do to help a youth or teen after a disaster:
- Be open: Let them ask questions and try to be as supportive as possible. It is better not to force them to talk until they are ready.
- Give honest information and answers: Do your best in giving answers. If you make things up, children and teens may not trust you or your reassurances in the future.
- Use words and descriptions that they understand: Try to be clear and give explanations that fit the age of the child. For example, if the storm damaged your roof, you might tell a 5-year-old: “The roof got a hole in it and we’re going to get it fixed.” You might tell a teenager: “The tree fell on our roof during the storm. We’ll have to let the insurance agents look at it first and then we can get someone to fix it.”
- Be prepared to repeat explanations and information: Some children may ask the same question over and over. They are trying to process the situation and they may not understand how something like this happened. Try to be patient, answer and reassure.
- Be patient: Children may regress in behaviors or act out. A child might be potty trained and start wetting the bed again, or a young child may start biting. School-age children might not want to go to school or leave the home. Teens may say they are OK, but then argue and yell. Try to be patient and tell them that it is a tough time, but things will calm down.
Even if a family’s home, friends or family were not involved in the disaster, people’s routines and schedules may be affected by damage to schools, places of work or businesses. Stress and problems may not show up immediately. Children and teens may show behaviors and problems several weeks or months after the event.
American Psychiatric Association. (2011). Talking to children about disasters. Visit: http://www.healthyminds.org/More-Info-For/Children/Talking-to-Children-about-Natural-Disasters.aspx
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