Helping Children After Disaster
How might children react? be more dependent on you for a period of time
following the trauma. This may involve more holding
or hugs than usual, not sleeping alone, having the
Fear and anxiety Children are often afraid that the
light left on, returning to a favorite teddy bear or
trauma will happen again, and that they or their
blanket, or permission to be clingy rather than socially
families will be injured or killed. A child's most central
fear is that he or she will be left all alone. These fears
are very real to a child, even if they seem
Talk about what happened Children express their
exaggerated to adults.
feelings in different ways. Some children will be
numb, withdrawn, and unable to talk about the event.
"Childish" or regressive behavior Children’s fear
Others will experience intense spurts of sadness or
and anxiety may cause them to act younger than their
anger and recognition of what has happened, and
age. They may begin behavior such as bed-wetting, then periods of denial when they act as if the event
thumb sucking, and being clingy or afraid of has not occurred. Children are often confused about
strangers. An older child, who has been independent the facts and their feelings; talking can help clarify
in their activities away from the family, may wish to what they understand and what they need to hear.
spend more time at home. A child does not want to
act immaturely and may not even realize that they
Here are some ideas
are, but their anxiety may temporarily disrupt their
normal behavior. for talking with the child
in your home or neighborhood
Bedtime problems Frequently children show their
anxiety and fear through having nightmares or fear of Notice when your child has questions and wants
sleeping alone. They may develop fears of the dark or to talk.
have difficulty falling or staying asleep at night.
Listen to your child's feelings and accept them,
Physical reactions Some children have even if they are different from yours.
stomachaches, headaches, nausea, eating
problems, or other physical symptoms of distress. Give honest, simple, brief answers to your child's
These can be in response to fear, guilt, anger, or questions. Make sure that your child understands
feeling vulnerable to future tragedies. your answers and the meaning that you intend.
"Trigger" responses Sometimes a child will Use words or phrases that won't confuse your
associate a particular smell, sound, object, or activity child or make the world more frightening (i.e.,
with the trauma. Whenever he or she is exposed to using "sleep" for death can cause a child to be
that reminder, excessive anxiety, avoidance of the afraid of going to bed; associating the concept of
trigger, and sometimes-physical reactions will follow. punishment with a disastrous event may cause a
child to feel personally threatened).
Problem with thinking Children of all ages can
experience difficulties with concentration. Many find Create opportunities for your children to talk with
that they are easily distracted and feel somewhat each other about what happened and how they
confused and disoriented. are feeling. Be especially loving and supportive;
more than anyone else, your chi1d needs you at
What can I do to help a child? this time.
Keep family routines Children benefit from the For more information, contact:
family routine of meals, activities, and bedtimes being
kept as close to normal as possible, allowing a child Kentucky Community Crisis Response Board
to feel more security and control. As much as
possible, children should stay with people with whom 1-888-522-7228
they feel most familiar.
Indulge special needs Allow a traumatized child to