It is normal to have an emotional response after a natural disaster whether you are directly or indirectly affected. Children who have survived a natural disaster often experience a wide variety of emotions which can occur immediately, later, or even long after the disaster has passed. Here’s some helpful information for parents during these times.
Immediately after a natural disaster, it’s critical you get the help you need as soon as possible. Use the resource below for quick links to disaster relief payments, assistance with financial and legal issues and parenting orders as well as health and mental wellbeing supports.
Factsheet - Access the Help You Need (DOC)
The way we talk to our children about natural disasters and other traumatic events can be a powerful tool to help them process and understand these incidents. This video introduces ways for parents and carers to manage media coverage of traumatic events, and suggests ideas for how to talk to children about their worries and fears.
Talking to children about natural disasters, traumatic events, or worries about the future from Emerging Minds on Vimeo.
The following areas are the most important to focus on with your family over the weeks and months after experiencing the impacts of a natural disaster.
Children regardless of their age, need to feel the protection and comfort of their parents or other familiar caregivers.
Encourage (but don’t force) children and young people to talk about their thoughts and feelings.
Despite the stress and many challenges you are facing, try to respond as calmly as possible to your child’s reactions.
Share with your children the acts of bravery, generosity and kindness that others have shown towards you and others impacted by the disaster. It gives us comfort and hope to know that others care and are offering support in many different ways.
Showing care for others can be empowering and healing. Invite your child to think of ways to help others in similar or worse situations:
Children need love, reassurance, patience, care and time to recover from natural disasters, as do adults. Be mindful of their on-going needs and reactions, and of the important things in life, even once you become busy with rebuilding your lives. Try to find time and space for important conversations about further changes, such as temporary accommodation, the rebuild, or moving communities.
Factsheet: Mackillop Institute: Supporting Your Child After Natural Disasters
Many of the strategies to support children are suitable for your teenager as well. However, adolescents have a maturing understanding of themselves and the world and your response to your teenage child will need to be adjusted.
Practical Ways to Support Your Teen
The following information from headspace provides practical and helpful information for you as you support your teen during this challenging time.
Factsheet - Supporting a Young Person After a Natural Disaster
When Your Teen Won’t Talk
Sometimes it can be difficult to talk with your teen - they may close down and go through phases where they talk less than you would like. If they aren’t responsive to having conversations with you about how they are coping, you might try giving them the information from headspace in the factsheet below and then together developing a self-care plan for a healthy headspace in the coming months.
Headspace Factsheet for Young People
Service To Others
Many teens have a keen sense of social justice and respond well to invitations to help out in their community. Even those teens who have been impacted themselves will gain a great deal by giving of themselves to help others in need. Talk about ways they might be able to share their gifts, time and energies to support their communities and then assist them to action those ideas.
Child psychotherapist, Ruth Wraith discusses how parent-child relationships are key to helping children feel safe and secure, and how disasters can affect parent-child relationships. This video contains suggestions and advice for professionals and parents to help support families in parenting their children after a disaster.
Video - The Impact on Parenting of Natural Disasters
As the months pass after the event most children will adapt to their ‘new normal’, however, a minority of children will need extra support. It is important to seek professional advice as they may benefit from additional support. A good start is to go to your GP. You could also try Family Connect and Support 1800 327 679 or Parentline 1300 1300 52. Parent Line is a free telephone counselling and support service for parents and carers with children aged 0 to 18 who live in NSW.
Children’s reactions to a traumatic event can vary according to:
There are some things that you may notice in your child that can indicate that you should seek advice.
If your child is withdrawing from friends and family and avoiding school or normal activities perhaps by indicating they have physical symptoms like stomach pains or headaches, it is time to seek extra help.
Children may show evidence of re-living aspects of the event, or of having recurring images and thoughts about the event. This includes children acting as if the event is occurring again or having nightmares about the event.
Children may show agitation and elevated responsiveness to reminders of the events. These reminders could come from seeing images of the event on news and social media or smells and sounds that trigger a memory.
(Source: Caring for Kids After Trauma, Disaster and Death).
It is important to be aware that children may need ongoing support in the months and even years after a disaster or traumatic event. Whilst most children do recover in time, ongoing difficulties can continue to challenge some children.
It is important that children are given the time they need to recover. Recovery doesn’t always follow a predictable path. While some children who are significantly impacted in the early months improve with time, it takes others much longer. Some children can appear to have minimal effects immediately following a disaster but can begin to feel distressed at a later time.
It is hard to predict what will happen for each individual child, but there are some steps you can take to help support each child’s recovery, minimise the likelihood of ongoing difficulties and connect them to the support they need.
Let your child know that it is normal for it to take a long time to feel better after a very frightening event.
Share with them what has helped and be honest about how it is hard for you, too. Normalise the feelings of distress but remain positive that, with support and time, things will get easier.
Remember each child has their own experience, including children within the same family.
If things have gone badly, you’ve lost your temper or broken down, that is okay. It is very difficult to manage your family’s recovery from trauma or to see your child continue to suffer, and the physical and psychological demands of caring for a distressed, sleep-disturbed child are great.
All families experience arguments and frustration; however, it is really helpful if you can work to ‘repair’ afterwards when things are calmer. Remember, as adults, it is our responsibility to nurture the relationship and to heal it when it has been hurt.
It is important to have good communication with your child’s school so you can get a full picture of how your child is recovering. Children can seem perfectly fine at home but display worrying behaviour at school or vice versa. Communication can also help make sure any issues your child is experiencing are responded to sensitively and consistently, so they know what to expect both at home and out of home.
Of particular benefit to children are joining in activities that involve community connection like Church groups, sports, dance or music. If they (or you) do not have many connections outside the home, try and build new ones. Research has shown that when children and families are involved in their faith communities, sporting or hobby groups or community events, their wellbeing is enhanced. Just remember to keep a balance between organised events, quiet time, free play and family time.
This is not an indulgence, but a priority. Our children are not okay if we are not okay. If you are feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and very anxious or are suffering any post-traumatic stress symptoms it is critical you seek extra support. Parents often put themselves last thinking this is best for their families, yet we know that children are very sensitive to adults’ wellbeing. They can sense stress and are affected if we are unable to ‘connect’ and be engaged with them. This often comes out in more challenging behaviours that just makes things more difficult. If there is one thing you do for your children, it should be to make your wellbeing a priority.
(Source: Emerging Minds)