Health Team

How can parents help children cope with disasters?

Posted April 19, 2011

— Tornadoes leave more than destruction in their path; they also leave fear and anxiety, especially in young children.

Dr. Melissa Johnson, a clinical psychologist at WakeMed, says children need honesty and reassurance from their parents to cope with the shaken sense of safety that might follow a natural disaster.

"A very simple explanation for a child of 4 or 5 is that there was a big, bad storm and the wind blew really fast, and it made the trees fall over," Johnson said. "(That) may be how you would explain it."

She added that it's essential for parents who suffered physical or emotional trauma to seek professional help first.

"Helping the family figure out how they can cope so that they can be stronger (and) be able to support the child is actually really critical," Johnson said.

children disasters How can parents help children cope with disasters?

Johnson suggested these tips for parents to help children cope:

- Ask children to tell the story of the storm in their own words, making sure they include the ending – when help arrived, houses were fixed, cars were replaced and injuries were healed.

- Make a storm plan. Pick the safest place in the house, away from windows, and practice a storm drill. The feelings of crisis will be lessened in children if they've practiced what to do.

- It's normal for children to experience irritability and changes in appetite or sleep patterns for a couple of weeks, but if they don't return to their usual behavior, contact a doctor.  


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  • OGE Apr 21, 2011

    We were not affected directly by the tornados but my wife took our 6 year old down Yonkers Rd because he would not stop talking about the storms.

  • wildcat Apr 20, 2011

    By telling them the absolute truth. Children copes many times better than the parent themselves. Also the children sees the disasters when its around where they live and also TV if the parents have not cut it off.