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Supporting kids through a natural disaster

9-minute read

Key facts

  • Natural disasters can happen suddenly and can have a affect your child's health and wellbeing.
  • You can support your child by knowing what to do before, during and after a natural disaster.
  • If you talk about natural disasters with your child, you can help them understand what is happening and feel safe and secure.

How can I prepare my child for a natural disaster?

Natural disasters can be caused by

A natural disaster can cause a lot of damage, destroying homes and valuables, as well as leading to injury and loss of lives.

If you live in an area where natural disasters might happen, it's important to prepare and have a family emergency plan in place. Planning for a natural disaster will reduce stress, and help your family recover faster.

You can take the following steps.

Get in the know

  • Know what disasters might happen in your area.
  • Think about, what will cause you and your child stress — such as being separated
  • Make a list of where you can get information. You can get emergency information from ABC Local Radio or by following emergency services on social media.
  • Know how to contact emergency services and teach your child.

Get connected

  • Get to know your neighbours and people in local businesses, at school and daycare.
  • Grow your support network and think about how you can help each other. This could be practical help, or someone to talk to.
  • Plan a safe place to meet or stay during a disaster.

Get organised

  • Check you have the right insurance cover if something goes wrong.
  • Keep documents like your child's birth certificate and health records in a safe place. It can be useful to have an online copy too.
  • Store some essential long-life foods in the pantry if you have space.
  • Know how to manage your child's health. What food or medicines will you need if you are isolated or evacuated for a while?
  • Think about which favourite toys you might bring to keep a small child happy.

Get packing

  • Pack a survival kit in advance. Include food and water, clothes, sunscreen, a torch, phone charger, cash, first aid kit and medicines.
  • Pack enough wipes, nappies, bottles and formula to last a few days.
  • Include copies of important identity documents such as your passports.

Include your child in the conversation when developing your emergency plans. This will help them to feel more in control and manage any anxiety they may have.

You may want to download and complete the Australian Red Cross RediPlan.

If you develop an emergency plan for your house and family, include your child in the discussion. This can help them manage any anxiety they might have about emergencies from past experiences, or from what they have seen in the media.

How can I help my child during a natural disaster?

Your child will need your help to understand what is happening during a natural disaster. Your child may react to your distress even if you think they are not really aware of what is happening.

They might have fears that you don’t expect, or they might express their fears in new ways. It might be hard for your child to explain what is making them worry.

Your child might seem fine during the natural disaster but months later find that they are having trouble coping. Try to understand how your child is feeling. Give your child information that matches their age and stage of development. It is better for them to know the facts than let their imagination think the worst.

Here are some ways to support your child.

  • Encourage your child to eat, rest and sleep as well as possible.
  • Keep to a routine where possible, to help your child feel secure.
  • Ask how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Share your own feelings with them.
  • Encourage your child to play and fun. This can help take their mind off the disaster and helps with healing.
  • Spend time doing nice activities together when you can.
  • Help your child stay connected with their friends and family.
  • Try using calming techniques together, such as mindfulness or relaxed breathing.

Explain what is happening to your child — without going into more detail than they need. Remember to also describe how the recovery is going and what might happen next. Try to prepare your child for any changes that need to happen.

Your child may surprise you with their ability to recover, and even help support you through a natural disaster.

Make sure that you ask for help or advice if you don’t understand your child’s behaviour.

What emotional reactions might my child have during a natural disaster?

There are no ‘right’ or 'wrong' emotions when it comes to emergencies and natural disasters. Every child’s feelings 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 come through the disaster better than others — this might lead to your child hiding their feelings or feeling responsible for the disaster
  • fear, anxiety and insecurity about what is happening
  • numb and alone

Your child may also be aggressive, irritable, withdrawn or clingy. They might have trouble sleeping. These reactions are all natural and will reduce over time.

Sometimes, your child's stress and emotions can make them feel unwell. They might tell you they have a stomach ache or headache.

How can I help my child after a natural disaster?

Talking with and listening to your child about the event can help them understand and manage any feelings they have.

Remind your child that they are safe and that you love them.

When your child is ready to talk, let them take the lead. You can:

  • Let them to talk about their feelings and thoughts to help them make sense of what has happened.
  • Let them know that their feelings are normal.
  • Answer their questions. Give short, honest and age-appropriate replies.
  • Check back in with your child later.
  • Provide positive coping role models for your child. Says 'we can handle this' or 'we are going to be OK'.
  • Acknowledge that no-one can control a natural disaster, but there are things that we can do to plan for the future or to help others.

If your child doesn't want to talk to you, let them know there are other people they can talk to and that you will always be there for them.

Talk to you child about others in the community who are there to help during an emergency, like:

  • teachers
  • friends
  • neighbours
  • your local doctor
  • police officers, firefighters, and ambulance officers
  • other support agency workers

How do I deal with media reports on disasters?

Media reports and images of natural disasters can be distressing for your child. The more media coverage your child sees, the more likely they are to become upset or afraid. Try to limit how much media coverage your child sees during a natural disaster.

Talk to your child about what they see in the media. They might want to discuss information they get from childcare, school or from other places. Listen to how they feel, reassure them and answer their questions.

Resources and support

You can ask for support from your family and friends, community groups, school, your doctor, or psychologist.

There are also some excellent online resources, including:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023

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