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Children and Natural Disasters

Natural disasters can be especially traumatic for children. Parents, teachers and other caregivers can help children cope in the aftermath of a natural disaster. The severity of a child’s reactions depends on their specific risk factors; these include exposure to the actual event, personal injury or loss of a loved one, level of parental support and dislocation from their home or community.

What to look for:

  • Preschoolers: Thumb sucking, bedwetting, clinging to parents, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, fear of the dark, regression in behavior and withdrawal from friends.
  • Elementary School Children: Irritability, aggressiveness, clinginess, nightmares, school avoidance, poor concentration and withdrawal from activities and friends.
  • Adolescents: Sleeping and eating disturbances, agitation, increase in conflicts, physical complaints, delinquent behavior and poor concentration.

Tips on how to help children cope:

  • Remain calm and reassuring.
  • Acknowledge and normalize their feelings.
  • Encourage children to talk about disaster-related events.
  • Promote positive coping and problem-solving skills.
  • Emphasize children’s resiliency.
  • Strengthen the child’s friendships and peer support.
  • Take care of your needs; being able to cope with your own reactions to a disaster can better your ability to help your children.

Helping children adjust to relocation after a natural disaster:

  • Provide opportunities for children to see their friends.
  • Bring personal items that your children value when staying in temporary housing.
  • Provide opportunities for children to share their ideas and listen carefully to their concerns or fears.
  • Be sensitive to the disruption that relocation may cause and be responsive to the your children’s needs.
  • Consider the developmental level and unique experiences of each child. Children differ from one another and so do their responses to relocation.

Dealing with Stress when you are a First Responder:
First responders are exposed to highly stressful events in the course of their routine duties. There are specific situations that increase their chances of traumatic stress, such as having no control over the volume of calls, length of service, feeling helpless in high-stress situations, working without the support of the administration or having the administration question one’s actions in an investigation.

Physical Symptoms:
Chills, fatigue, nausea, fainting, twitches, headaches, elevated blood pressure, rapid heart rate, teeth grinding, visual difficulties, profuse sweating and difficulty breathing.

Cognitive Symptoms:
Confusion, nightmares, uncertainty, paranoia, poor problem solving, impaired abstract thinking, difficulty with numbers, poor concentration, memory problems, disorientation, difficulty identifying objects or people, heightened or diminished alertness and higher or lower awareness of surroundings.

Ways to Cope:

  • Limit on-duty work hours to no more than 12 hours per day.
  • Rotate work from high-stress to lower stress functions.
  • As practicable, rotate work from the scene to routine assignments.
  • Use counseling assistance programs available through your agency.
  • Drink plenty of water and eat healthy snacks like fresh fruit, whole grain breads and other energy foods.
  • As practicable, take frequent short breaks from the scene.
  • Talk about your emotions to process what you’ve seen and done.
  • Stay in touch with your family and friends.
  •  Participate in memorials, rituals and use of symbols as a way to express feelings.
  • Pair up with another responder to monitor one another’s stress.
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