Natural disasters can happen suddenly and can have a big impact on your child's health and wellbeing. You can support your child best by knowing what to do before, during and after a natural disaster.
Preparing for a natural disaster
If you live in an area where natural disasters might happen, it's important to have a family emergency plan prepared.
Take the following steps.
- Get prepared – Know what disasters are more likely to occur, how local services (e.g. schools, child care) will respond, and where you can get information and contact emergency services.
- Get connected – Know your support network (e.g. community groups, clubs, neighbours) and how they can help.
- Get organised – Know how to manage your child's health. Ask your child to identify some important things in their life and work out how you can protect these.
- Get packing – Pack enough things so you can manage for a few days without basic services. Pack your child's passport, medications, immunisation records and birth certificate. Make sure you have copies of these, stored digitally or in another location.
Include your child in the conversation when developing your emergency plans. This will help them manage any anxiety they may have about the situation.
Emotional reactions during a natural disaster
There are no ‘right’ or 'wrong' feelings when it comes to natural disasters and every child’s emotions will be different.
During a natural disaster, your child might feel:
- grief and loss for lost family members, friends, pets or their possessions
- confusion, guilt and shame, because they might have survived while other people did not - this might lead to your child hiding their feelings or feeling responsible for the disaster
- fear, anxiety and insecurity about what is happening
They might also be aggressive, irritable, withdrawn or clingy, always wanting to be near you. These feelings are all natural and will reduce over time.
Sometimes, your child's stress and emotions can make them feel unwell. Common symptoms you might see include stomach aches and headaches.
Managing during a natural disaster
Your child will need your help, but possibly not in the ways you might expect. They might have fears that you don’t expect, or they might express their fears in unexpected ways. But you can still support your child during a natural disaster.
- Explain what is happening (without going into unnecessary detail) - for example, how the recovery is going and what might happen next.
- Ask questions to find out how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Share your own feelings with them.
- Encourage play and fun if they want to since this takes their minds off the trauma.
- Keep to a routine where possible, to help your child feel secure.
- Limit change. When change is necessary, prepare your child for what is happening.
- Spend time doing recreational activities together when possible. Having fun is important for healing.
- Try using calming techniques, such as mindfulness or relaxed breathing.
- Encourage your child to eat, rest and sleep as well as possible.
By supporting your child during a natural disaster, you can help them manage emotional trauma. If you protect your child from confusion, they will be able to help you through the disaster too.
Remember, you may also need support to manage your own reactions to the disaster.
How to respond to media reports
Media reports and images of natural disasters can be distressing. The more media coverage a child sees, the more likely they are to become upset or afraid.
If they are exposed to media reports of the disaster, it’s important to take the time to reassure them and answer their questions.
Where to go to get help
There are also some excellent online resources, including:
- headspace (mental health support for young people aged 12 to 25)
- Youth Disaster Recovery Network (mental health support for young people and their parents, teachers and friends)
- Australian Red Cross (information on preparing for, managing and recovering from a natural disaster, including a free activity book to help kids prepare for an emergency)
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Last reviewed: June 2021