Disaster preparedness plans must ensure that health care facilities, medical providers, and all adults who might be in a position to help are prepared to meet the emotional needs of children of all ages and developmental stages.
A child's reaction to a new situation varies greatly, depending on his or her developmental level, temperament, experience, skills, and the support that is provided by parents or caregivers. When children are exposed to circumstances that are beyond the usual scope of human experience (eg, a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or acts of violence), they may have difficulty understanding and coping with the events and may develop a range of symptoms, including trauma symptoms, depression, anxiety, or, if deaths are involved, bereavement.
The first step in providing psychological support is to ensure that the basic needs of each disaster victim are met. For children, this means ensuring that each child has a safe physical environment (ie, direct supervision and shelter), food, and safe drinking water. The next step is to consider the child's direct experience with the disaster, understand common reactions to the situation, and consider how to help.
Psychological First Aid and Mental Health
During or immediately following a disaster, efforts should be focused on helping children by providing psychological first aid and identifying children who will benefit from counseling or mental health services.
Exposure to media (viewing the news on a computer or on television) or being interviewed by the media can traumatize children further. Efforts should be made to protect children from media violence and to promote resiliency whenever possible.
Helping Children Understand and Adjust to Loss
The following resources can help children and their families understand and cope with a personal loss.
The following are brief (1-3 minute) video clips of children and their parents explaining the impact of bereavement:
It is easier for adults and children when there is a plan in place in advance of an emergency or disaster situation. The AAP recommends that families develop a written disaster preparedness plan and that parents discuss these plans with their children. Talking to children in advance of an emergency or disaster helps them to get better prepared and to develop strategies for coping with emergency situations and every day life and communicates that you are available and interested in talking to them about their concerns when they are upset or worried. When a disaster does occur, it is important to engage them in conversation and help them develop strategies to cope and adjust.