Helping Children Cope with a Disaster

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Helping Children Cope with a Disaster

Categories: Helpful Resources

Children deal with traumatic events in different ways. However, there are some warning signs to watch out for in children. For most children, the stress will fade over time. However, for children who were directly exposed to disaster, symptoms may return if they hear or see something that reminds them of the trauma.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if children continue to be very upset or if their reactions hurt their relationships or schoolwork, parents may want to talk to a professional or have their children to talk to someone who specializes in children’s emotional needs. 

Here are some of the common reactions, broken down by age group:

For Infants to 2-Year-Olds 
Infants may become more cranky. They may cry more than usual or want to be held and cuddled more. 

For 3 to 6-Year-Olds 
They may have toileting accidents, bed-wetting, tantrums and a hard time sleeping, or be frightened about being separated from their parents/caregivers. 

For 7 to 10-Year-Olds 
Older children may feel sad, mad, or afraid that the event will happen again. Correct misinformation the child may get from others. 

For Preteens and Teenagers 
Some preteens and teenagers respond to trauma by acting out or feeling afraid to leave the home. Their overwhelming emotions may lead to increased arguing and even fighting with siblings, parents/caregivers or other adults. 

For Special Needs Children 
Children with physical, emotional, or intellectual limitations may have stronger reactions to a threatened or actual disaster. Children with special needs may need extra words of reassurance, more explanations about the event, and more comfort and other positive physical contact such as hugs from loved ones. 

Ways to Reduce Stress in Children

There are ways to help children before, during and after a traumatic event. One way is by making sure you are rested and relaxed. When you are healthy, you are able to make the best decisions for your family. It’s especially important during times of stress to practice healthy habits such as, eating healthy, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, and avoiding drugs and alcohol. 

Here are some more tips from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to help children through traumatic times:


  • Assure your children that you are prepared to keep them safe.
  • Review safety plans before a disaster or emergency happens. Having a plan will increase your children’s confidence and help give them a sense of control. 


  • Stay calm and reassure your children. 
  • Talk to your children about what is happening in a way that they can understand. Keep it simple and appropriate for each child’s age. 


  • Give your children opportunities to talk about what they went through. Encourage them to share concerns and ask questions. 
  • Encourage your children to take action directly related to the disaster so they feel a sense of control. For example, children can help others after a disaster, such as volunteering to help community or family members in a safe environment. Children should NOT participate in disaster cleanup activities for health and safety reasons. 
  • Because parents, teachers, and other adults see children in different situations, it is important for them to work together to share information about how each child is coping after a traumatic event. 
  • Help your children to have a sense of structure, which can make them feel more at ease or provide a sense of familiarity. Once schools and child care opens again, help them return to their regular activities.