HELPING CHILDREN AFTER A DISASTER
Articles for Parents
All Family Resources
Alphabetical List
  1. Children and Divorce
  2. Teenagers with Eating Disorders
  3. Teens: Alcohol and Other Drugs
  4. The Depressed Child
  5. Child Abuse - The Hidden Bruises
  6. Children Who Can't Pay Attention
  7. Children Who Won't Go to School
  8. Children and Grief
  9. Child Sexual Abuse
  10. Teen Suicide
  11. The Child with Autism
  12. Children Who Steal
  13. Children and TV Violence
  14. Children and Family Moves
  15. The Adopted Child
  16. Children with Learning Disabilities
  17. Children of Alcoholics
  18. Bedwetting
  19. The Child with a Long-Term Illness
  20. Making Day Care a Good Experience
  21. Psychiatric Medication for Children and Adolescents Part I: How Medications Are Used
  22. Normality
  23. Mental Retardation
  24. Know When to Seek Help for Your Child
  25. Who can be contacted to seek Help for Your Child
  26. Know Your Health Insurance Benefits
  27. Stepfamily Problems
  28. Responding to Child Sexual Abuse
  29. Psychiatric Medication for Children and Adolescents Part II: Types of Medications
  30. Children and AIDS
  31. When Children Have Children
  32. 11 Questions to Ask Before Psychiatric Hospital Treatment of Children and Adolescents
  33. Conduct Disorders
  34. Children's Sleep Problems
  35. Tic Disorders
  36. Helping Children After a Disaster
  37. Children and Firearms
  38. Bipolar Disorder (Manic-Depressive Illness) in Teens
  39. Children of Parents with Mental Illness
  40. The Influence of Music and Music Videos
  41. Substance Abuse Treatment for Children and Adolescents: Questions to Ask
  42. The Continuum of Care
  43. Discipline
  44. Children and Lying
  45. Lead Exposure
  46. Home Alone Children
  47. The Anxious Child
  48. Problems with Soiling and Bowel Control
  49. Schizophrenia in Children
  50. Panic Disorder in Children and Adolescents
  51. Psychiatric Medications for Children and Adolescents Part III: Questions to Ask
  52. Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation
  53. What is Psychotherapy For Children and Adolescents?
  54. Children and Watching TV
  55. Understanding Violent Behavior in Children & Adolescents
  56. Parenting: Preparing for Adolescence
  57. Normal Adolescent Development - Middle School and Early High School Years
  58. Normal Adolescent Development - Late High School Years and Beyond
  59. Children Online
  60. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Children and Adolescents
  61. Children and Sports
  62. Talking to Your Kids About Sex
  63. Gay And Lesbian Adolescents
  64. Foster Care
  65. Children's Threats: When are they serious? 
  66. Helping Teenagers with Stress
  67. Children and The News
  68. Tobacco and Kids
  69. Asperger's Disorder
  70. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  71. Multiracial Children
  72. Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  73. Self-Injury in Adolescents
  74. Advocating for Your Child
  75. Pets and Children
  76. Helping Your Teen Become a Safe Driver
  77. Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
  78. When a Pet Dies
  79. Obesity in Children and Teens
  80. Bullying #80
HELPING CHILDREN AFTER A DISASTER

A catastrophe such as an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, fire, flood, or violent acts is frightening to children and adults alike. It is important to acknowledge the frightening parts of the disaster when talking with a child about it. Falsely minimizing the danger will not end a child's concerns. Several factors affect a child's response to a disaster.

The way children see and understand their parents' responses are very important. Children are aware of their parents' worries most of the time, but they are particularly sensitive during a crisis. Parents should admit their concerns to their children, and also stress their abilities to cope with the situation.

A child's reaction also depends on how much destruction and/or death he or she sees during and after the disaster. If a friend or family member has been killed or seriously injured, or if the child's school or home has been severely damaged, there is a greater chance that the child will experience difficulties.

A child's age affects how the child will respond to the disaster. For example, six-year-olds may show their worries about a catastrophe by refusing to attend school, whereas adolescents may minimize their concerns, but argue more with parents and show a decline in school performance. It is important to explain the event in words the child can understand.

Following a disaster, people may develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is psychological damage that can result from experiencing, witnessing, or participating in an overwhelmingly traumatic (frightening) event. Children with this disorder have repeated episodes in which they re-experience the traumatic event. Children often relive the trauma through repetitive play. In young children, upsetting dreams of the traumatic event may change into nightmares of monsters, of rescuing others, or of threats to self or others. PTSD rarely appears during the trauma itself. Though its symptoms can occur soon after the event, the disorder often surfaces several months or even years later.

Parents should be alert to these changes in a child's behavior:

  • Refusal to return to school and "clinging" behavior, including shadowing the mother or father around the house
  • Persistent fears related to the catastrophe (such as fears about being permanently separated from parents)
  • Sleep disturbances such as nightmares, screaming during sleep and bedwetting, persisting more than several days after the event
  • Loss of concentration and irritability
  • Startled easily, jumpy
  • Behavior problems, for example, misbehaving in school or at home in ways that are not typical for the child
  • Physical complaints (stomachaches, headaches, dizziness) for which a physical cause cannot be found
  • Withdrawal from family and friends, sadness, listlessness, decreased activity, and preoccupation with the events of the disaster

Professional advice or treatment for children affected by a disaster--especially those who have witnessed destruction, injury or death--can help prevent or minimize PTSD. Parents who are concerned about their children can ask their pediatrician or family doctor to refer them to a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

For more information see Facts for Families:
#4 The Depressed Child
#8 Children and Grief
#34 Children's Sleep Problems
#66 Helping Teenagers with Stress, and
#70 Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
See also: Your Child (1998 Harper Collins)/Your Adolescent (1999 Harper Collins).

Article #36 Updated 01/00

All Family Resources wishes to thank the (AACAP) for giving us permission to use this article.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) represents over 6,900 child and adolescent psychiatrists who are physicians with at least five years of additional training beyond medical school in general (adult) and child and adolescent psychiatry.

Facts for Families is developed and distributed by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). Facts sheets may be reproduced for personal or educational use without written permission, but cannot be included in material presented for sale. To order full sets of FFF, contact Public Information, 1.800.333.7636.  Free distribution of individual Facts sheets is a public service of the AACAP Special Friends of Children Fund. Please make a tax deductible contribution to the AACAP Special Friends of Children Fund and support this important public outreach. (AACAP, Special Friends of Children Fund, P.O. Box 96106, Washington, D.C. 20090).
   
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