Any change in a child’s environment or routine can make the child feel insecure, scared, or confused.
Remove yourself and your loved ones from danger. During an emergency or disaster, finding shelter, water, and food is the first step. Staying safe and keeping calm is important in helping you and your child in an emergency.
Eat nutritious food and drink water. Limit foods that are high in sugar. These types of foods or drinks give you a quick boost, but end up making you feel worse.
Activity. Return to your normal routine as quickly and as much as possible. Try to do what your family normally did before the event (e.g., eat meals together, walk together, play games, watch TV, read bedtime stories). Routines can help children feel safe and calm. Make time for your child to be physically active. For a young child, it’s important to have time to play. Distractions like card games or coloring books are good for small children. Teens might want to do community work and might need tasks to do to stay involved in response efforts.
Connect and use supports when needed. Caregivers, families, peers, and community all help your child or teen to respond and cope with trauma. A parent’s reaction to the stress of an event can affect how a child reacts. Model calm and constructive reactions to help your child feel calm. Find ways to help others when you can, and accept help from others when you need it. This will help remind you and your child that you’re not alone. Accepting help from others who can give it helps to build community and a sense of hope.
Talk about it. Encourage, but don’t force your child or teen to talk about the event. Let your child know it’s okay to feel mad, sad, or scared. Listen to your child’s stories without interrupting. Let your child know you understand how they feel. Children look up to adults for examples of how to act. Your child will copy how you talk about and cope with your feelings and concerns. If you talk about how you feel openly and calmly, this will help model a healthy coping style. Make time to give your child extra comforting if they need it.
Children and teens react to trauma and loss differently than adults do. Not all children or teens react the same way. It’s important to know what to expect. Show care and understanding to help your child or teen recover.
under 5 years old may:
6 to 12 years old may:
13 to 18 years old may:
All children are different. Some children might have symptoms of stress right after a disaster or emergency, while some may take weeks to have symptoms. Some children don’t have any symptoms at all. With care, attention, and understanding from parents and caregivers, symptoms of stress often go away on their own. If these symptoms don’t go away, your child might need to see a healthcare provider. If you aren’t sure how to support your child or teen, get support from a trusted friend or mental health professional.
Although you need to stay informed, seeing or hearing information about a disaster or emergency over and over can cause more stress. A child or teen might have an emotional or behavioral reaction because they don’t fully understand the event. A child or teen’s level of understanding and ways of coping will be different at different ages.
Current as of: October 19, 2021
Author: Mental Health Promotion & Illness Prevention, Alberta Health Services
This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.