Top Bar
Bottom Bar

Helping Children After a Natural Disaster
Published by Michele Dillon on September 26, 2018

National Association of School Psychologists NASPWe would like to share this information with you in response to Hurricane Florence and the flooding that has impacted this area. Such events can be traumatic for children and youth of all ages. Parents, guardians, teachers, and significant adults in a child’s life are uniquely situated to help children to manage their reactions. According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), some common reactions in children are as follows:

  • Preschool – Regressive behaviors, decreased verbalization, increased anxiety.
  • Elementary – Poor attention/concentration, school avoidance, irritability, clinginess, aggressions, somatic complaints, nightmares, social withdrawal.
  • Middle and High School – Sleeping and eating disturbances, agitation, increase in conflicts, physical complaints, delinquent behavior, and poor concentration.

It is important that we recognize the effects of natural disasters and offer help to our students. Recovery occurs over time. Changes as a result of natural disasters create a “new normal” for survivors. Please review the infographic provided by NASP for strategies that you can implement at home. Also, when our schools are back in session, feel free to reach out to the school counselor, school social worker, and/or school psychologist assigned to your child’s school. As school mental health professionals, these staff is trained and available to talk with students and to link parents to community resources.

Helping Children After a Natural Disaster: Tips for Parents and Educators

Adults can help children manage their reactions after a natural disaster. Follow these key reminders and visit to learn more.

two hands one adult one childRemain Calm and Reassuring
Children, especially young ones, take cues from adults. Acknowledge loss or destruction, but empathize efforts to clean up and rebuild. Assure them family and friends will take care of them and over time things will get better.


Icon of person raising hand in the air to ask a questionAcknowledge and Normalize Most Feelings
Allow children to discuss feelings and concerns, but don’t force them to talk about the disaster. Listen, empathize, and let them know most initial reactions are normal. Be attentive to, and obtain assistance for, feelings and concerns that may suggest that the child (or anyone else) is in harm’s way.


arrow pointing upwardsEmphasize Resiliency
Help children identify coping skills used in the past when scared or upset.

Encourage prosocial behaviors and good physical health.

Highlight communities that have recovered from natural disasters.

Two people with arms around each others shoulderStrengthen Peer Support
Children with strong emotional supports are better able to cope with adversity. Especially among adolescents, peer relationships can decrease isolation and supplement support from caregivers who are experiencing their own distress.


person laying on a bedTake Care of Your Own Needs
You will be better able to help children if you are coping well. Take time to address your own reactions as fully as possible. Talk to other adults, take care of your physical and mental health, and avoid using drugs or alcohol to feel better.


Warning sign - triangle shape with exclamation mark insideSeek Help for Prolonged Signs of Distress
With the help of naturally occurring social support systems, most children will be fine. However, some may have reactions requiring professional help. Consider getting professional support for children whose reactions continue or worsen after a week or more. Your child’s school can be a great source of support.


For additional guidance, visit www.

We thank you for your support as we work together through the aftermath of this natural disaster.