Helping Children After a Natural Disaster

Students affected by disasters face tremendous distress and uncertainty. Children watching the news can also feel anxious and afraid. As an educator, there are a number of ways to support both the students and families immediately impacted, as well as those watching from afar.

The following resources offer guidance to families and schools for offering support following a natural disaster.  They include a number of resources available in Spanish and other languages.

Updates related to recent hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires are listed under the Featured Resources. We will add more resources as they become available.

Updated Resources for Recent Events

Earthquakes in Mexico

Hurricane Irma

Resources for Affected Families & Educators

Related Headlines: Irma

Hurricane Harvey

Resources for Affected Families & Educators

How You Can Help

Classroom Resources & Booklists

Related Headlines: Harvey

West Coast Wildfires

Managing the Impact of Disasters on Kids

Disaster Preparedness

Long-Term Impacts of Natural Disasters

Managing Distress About Events from Afar

These resources offer tips for managing distress about events from afar, as well as information about different kinds of natural disasters.

Tips for School Personnel

These tips for educators have been adapted from the following sources:
  • National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)
  • American Psychological Association (APA)

Helping students cope

  • Identify children and youth who are affected by the disaster and plan appropriate interventions on their behalf.
    Interventions may include classroom discussions, individual counseling, small group counseling, or family therapy. From classroom discussions, and by maintaining close contact with teachers and parents, the school crisis response team can help determine which students need counseling services. (NASP)
  • Ensure that a schoolwide referral service is in place.
    Make sure that both students and parents who wish to make counseling referrals for themselves or for others are able to do so easily. (NASP)
  • Provide time for students to discuss the disaster.
    Depending on the situation, teachers may be able to guide this discussion in class, or students can meet with the school psychologist or other mental health professional for a group crisis intervention. Classroom discussions help children to make some sense of the disaster. They also encourage students to develop effective means of coping, discover that their classmates share similar questions, and develop peer support networks. Teachers may find helpful discussion topics and resources in It Happened Over There: Understanding and Empathy Through Children's Books from Reading Rockets. (NASP)
  • Approach class discussions for students who are severely impacted with caution and sensitivity.
    Discussions with students most affected by the earthquake should be overseen by mental health professionals rather than teachers. (NASP)
  • Encourage students to take a news break.
    Watching endless replays of footage from the disaster can make stress even greater. Although students will want to keep informed — especially if they have loved ones in the impacted areas — taking a break from watching the news can lessen their distress and anxiety. (APA)
  • Encourage students to continue routines when possible.
    It is helpful for students to maintain daily routines and schedules to give themselves a break from constantly thinking about the earthquake. (APA)

Providing staff support

  • Offer counseling support to school personnel affected by the disaster.
    Teachers and staff should not be expected to conduct group discussions if they themselves are distressed and severely impacted by the earthquake. (NASP)
  • Allow time for school personnel to discuss their feelings and share their experiences.
    Members of your crisis team should have the opportunity to receive support from a trained mental health professional. Providing crisis intervention is emotionally draining and caregivers will need an opportunity to process their crisis response. (NASP)

Working with parents

  • Provide time for families to meet together.
    Parents are almost always the best source of support for children in difficult times, but they need to feel supported in order to help their children. Consider having translators or representatives from the local Haitian community present at parent discussions. (FEMA)
  • Encourage parents to build and using social support systems.
    These may include family, friends, community organizations and agencies, faith-based institutions, or other resources that work for that family. (FEMA)
  • Ask parents for their help and ideas.
    Parents familiar with the situation and students may have some of the best ideas on how the school can further help students and families affected by the earthquake.

Building community

  • Build a community network.
    As your school begins to build a support network for families affected by the earthquake, connect with other local organizations and businesses (particulary those affiliated with the Haitian community), such as social services, university faculty and students, and local businesses.
  • Ask local community members for help.
    Community members may be able to in a number of ways, from providing translation and counseling services to pitching in for schoolwide relief projects.

Planning long-term support

  • Secure additional mental health support.
    Although many caregivers are often willing to provide support during the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, long-term services may be lacking. School mental health professionals can help provide and coordinate mental health services, but it is important to connect with community resources as well in order to provide such long-term assistance. (NASP)
  • Look for signs of student grief and post-traumatic stress.
    These may include confusion, problems concentrating, anxiety, and depression. When a loved one has died in a way that has been traumatic, a child or teen is at risk for developing childhood traumatic grief. Learn to recognize the signs of this kind of grief, as well the ways it may affect learning and behavior. (NCTSN)
  • Be sensitive to the unique challenges posed by this disaster.
    Keep in mind that when there is no physical confirmation of the death, as may happen in an earthquake, the above reactions can be much more intense and long-lasting, and students may need counseling for extended periods of time. (NCTSN)

Crisis resources for school personnel

The following resources can provide other ideas to educators and school staff who have contact with children affected by the earthquake. While some of these publications are geared towards earthquake survivors, they provide a number of helpful tips and related information.

Multilingual Resources for Parents

After a natural disaster

Resources from the Red Cross

Tips about news and media coverage

Talking about tough topics

References

American Psychological Association. "Managing distress about the earthquake from afar." Retrieved 1/14/10 from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/distress-earthquake.aspx.

Federal Emergency Management Agency. "Helping Children Cope with Disaster." Retrieved 1/14/10 from http://www.fema.gov/rebuild/recover/cope_child.shtm.

National Association of School Psychologists. "Helping Children After a Natural Disaster." Retrieved 1/14/10 from http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/naturaldisaster_ho.aspx.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. "Guidance for School Personnel: Students Who Lose a Loved One in an Earthquake." Retrieved 1/14/10 from http://www.nctsn.org/nctsn_assets/pdfs/Earthquake_School_Personnel_071008_Formatted.pdf.

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