Dealing with Natural Disasters
Children and Disaster Related Anxiety
Young children, toddlers, preschoolers and even babies know when bad things happen. Usually their level of anxiety is directly related to how severely the event disrupted their lives, reactions of adults and siblings in the child’s environment, and the child’s personal understanding of the disaster. Knowing the signs that are common at different developmental stages can help parents and caregivers recognize problems and respond appropriately.
Infants and Toddlers:
- Increased crying and/or whining
- Clinginess, fear of being left alone
- Startles easily (especially to weather noise)
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
What to do:
- Don’t be afraid to go to your children immediately when they cry. The quicker you are able to respond to their needs and offer comfort, the more trust you build and the sooner your children will begin to feel safe again.
- Sing familiar songs, talk in soft soothing tones, and use simple words like, “Mommy’s right here.”
- To the best of your ability, develop a predictable routine. This helps your little one feel secure.
- Regression to earlier behaviors such as thumb sucking, bedwetting, asking to be held or rocked.
- Nightmares, excessive fear of the dark and sleeping alone.
- Difficulty speaking.
- Unexplainable aches and pains.
- Hyperactivity, disobedience, and aggressive or withdrawn behaviors. Children act out as a way of asking for help.
- Asking questions about why a disaster happened and if it is going to happen again.
What to Do:
- Listen attentively to your children and give simple, accurate, and age appropriate answers to questions.
- Reassure your children frequently with comforting words and an abundance of affection.
- Monitor television and media coverage. Children of this age cannot understand that a single event is rebroadcast. They think the same thing is happening over and over.
- Provide play experiences to relieve stress.
- Provide children the opportunity to express their fears and concerns through conversation, imaginative play, and art.
- Insomnia, fatigue, changes in appetite.
- Trouble concentrating which could result in poor school performance.
- Withdrawal from peers and a general lack of interest in normal activities.
- Irritability, anger, worries about the safety of friends and family, and anxiety about the future.
- Disobedient and rebellious behavior.
What to Do:
- Make yourself available for continuing conversation, reassurance and affection. Let your children know they have a safe place to express troubling emotions while helping them learn how to correctly handle them.
- Help your children regain a sense of control. Give them manageable tasks that allow them to be useful by helping out at home and with others in need.
- Communicate regularly with your children’s school.
- Help your children to identify positive things they see, such as heroic actions, reunited families, and the assistance offered by people throughout the country and world.
- Watch carefully for troubling behaviors that are extreme and/or last longer than a few weeks. Consider professional counseling.