After a Natural Disaster: Your Elementary Aged Child
Rose Allen, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency
Revised July 2015 by Ellie M. McCann, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency.
Life can be disrupted for everyone involved in a natural disaster, including children who are in kindergarten through grades 5 or 6.
How Children React
Some school-age children may be directly affected by the loss of their home or possessions. For the children who have not directly experienced the effects of the disaster, the impact is the loss of their sense of predictability and security. Watching the weather updates and having your community inundated with heavy equipment, volunteers, and major mess is enough to jolt any of us out of our sense of wellbeing.
Typical behavioral changes for a child age 6–11 years old include the following:
- Increased aggression
- Fears (which may be irrational)
- Sleep disturbances
- Disruptions in schooling
- Physical aches
- Extreme withdrawal
What You Can Do
If you have an elementary age child, or work with children this age, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Monitor children’s media consumption. As adults, we may want to have the radio or television on 24/7 to stay up to date. Children can feel overwhelmed by the constant coverage of a disaster. Limit their exposure to times you are watching with them and can talk about how the news directly affects them.
- Find ways they can help. Kids this age love to "do" and being a part of the solution is a great way to help children gain a sense of control over their life.
- Keep them in the loop. Children this age need to know in general what the plans for the family, school and community are. They especially need to know about details that affect them.
- Make sure they know you are thinking about their well-being. Of course you are, but tell them what plans you have made to insure their comfort and safety.
- Watch your own responses. Your kids will respond calmly if you are in control of your fears and panic. As hard at this is in a time of disaster, it will help your entire family move through this difficult time to recovery and the return of "normal" life.
As difficult as it may be right now for you, your family, and your community, think about the stories you will have later. Help your elementary age child be a part of that story. In the near future, your child will look back and take pride in their ability to get through tough times.
Lazarus, P. J., Jimerson, S. R., & Brock, S. E. (2003). Helping Children After a Natural Disaster: Information for Parents and Teachers. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
Mental Health America. (n.d.). Helping Children Cope with Tragedy Related Anxiety.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2001). Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters. Bethesda, MD: Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications.
Other Recommended Resources
Helping Children Cope — Family communication and coping skills have a great impact on how your family deals with tough times. Part of the Getting Through Tough Times series.
Helping Children Manage Stress — Iowa State University Extension — Tips to help children learn ways to handle new or frustrating situations and manage stress. Part of the Stress: Taking Charge series.