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Supporting kids through a natural disaster

4-minute read

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

Natural disasters - such as bushfires, earthquakes and floods - cause a lot of damage, destroying homes and valuables, while also causing injury and possibly death.

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 ready – Know what disasters are more likely to occur, how local services (e.g. schools, child care) will respond, and where you can get the information you'll need.
  • 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.

Some good examples of emergency plans are the Australian Red Cross RediPlan and the Queensland Government's Get Ready.

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They might also be aggressive, irritable, withdrawn or clingy, always wanting to be near you.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 your child is exposed to media reports of a natural disaster, be there to answer their questions. Your reassurance and guidance will help them understand what is happening.

Where to go to get help

You may be able to get support from your family and friends, community groups, school, your doctor (GP), 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 2019


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This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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