Supporting Children’s Resilience after Natural Disasters

Children react to stress in different ways, and it can be challenging to predict how they will respond. Parents can help their children navigate traumatic events and identify when additional support may be necessary.

Children possess the capacity to cope with stress and work through challenges, particularly when they receive adequate support. Resilience is a skill that children can develop as they grow, enabling them to rebound from stress, adversity, failure, challenges, or even trauma. In the wake of a natural disaster, such as the recent Perth bushfires, it is essential to ensure that children feel safe and supported, which can enhance their resilience and help them cope.

The Importance of Prioritizing Children’s Mental Health after Disasters

Children may experience more significant emotional stress after a disaster due to various reasons, such as:

  • Having a limited understanding of the situation;
  • Feeling powerless to influence events;
  • Lacking experience in dealing with stressful situations; and
  • Being unable to express their emotions clearly, such as fear or anxiety.

What Can You Do to Help Your Child?

There are various ways to support your child’s mental well-being following a natural disaster:

  • Create a safe space where your child can talk honestly about their feelings and ask questions. It is crucial to use language that they can understand and absorb.
  • Establish a regular routine as soon as possible to help your child feel safe and secure. It can be as simple as adhering to your usual meal and bedtime schedules, and children tend to follow their parents’ lead.
  • Continuously encourage your child to express themselves and provide opportunities to discuss what happened, what is happening now, and what may happen in the future.
  • Surround your child with supportive individuals, including their friends and family members, to help them feel secure.
  • Limit your child’s exposure to media coverage of the disaster and its aftermath. Also, be cautious about discussing the events in front of your child with other adults.
  • Be open and honest with those around your child about their coping mechanisms and what they have been through. This way, teachers, coaches, and other family members can monitor your child’s behavior and provide additional support during their recovery.

Signs your child is struggling after a natural disaster

When a child experiences a natural disaster, it can be overwhelming and distressing. As a parent, it’s important to keep an eye out for changes in your child’s behaviour and emotional state. While reactions may differ from child to child, it’s crucial to seek help if you notice any of the following:

  • Your child is extremely upset and is showing signs of fear, anxiety or separation anxiety.
  • Your child is behaving out of character, such as breaking rules or having temper outbursts.
  • Your child is finding it hard to get back to their normal eating, sleeping or socialising patterns.
  • Your child’s behaviour is getting worse, rather than improving.
  • Your child’s schoolwork or relationships are being impacted by their response to the disaster.

Seeking professional help can be crucial in supporting your child through a traumatic event. If you are unsure where to start, speak with your child’s school or your GP for advice on the best approach to take.

Remember that you cannot support your child without taking care of your own well-being first. This means getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, exercising, and taking breaks when needed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends, family, or professionals if you need it. Recovery is a process, and it’s important to take things one day at a time. Be patient with your child and yourself as you work towards healing and finding a new normal after the disaster. With support and the right resources, both you and your child can build resilience and overcome the challenges that lie ahead.