Helping Children Cope After Natural Disasters: Australian Bushfies

The Australian Psychological Society [APS] has published guidelines for parents, caregivers and teachers as they and the children and young people in their care deal with the aftermath of the bushfires in Australia.

‘Distressing events like tragic accidents in your local area, or that took place in familiar places like a popular holiday location, or even disasters that happen far away, but are covered by the media, can be powerful and upsetting incidents that intrude into daily life.’

So what can parents, caregivers and teachers do?

The following guidelines are provided by The Australian Psychological Society: 

  • Engage in age-appropriate discussions. Encourage  [but don’t force] children to talk about their thoughts and feelings. The most difficult question for adults to answer is ‘WHY?’  The responses should help them develop a realistic understanding of the event and be as honest and thoughtful as possible.
  • Provide children with opportunities to express their feelings. Help children and young people put words to feelings.
  • Monitor media exposure. Young children can be shielded from traumatic events by not letting them see or hear media reports. If older children are viewing media stories of distressing events, it is best to watch with them. 
  • Engage in age-appropriate honest discussions. Children need honest, thoughtful explanations that will help them to develop a realistic understanding of the event, but they might also need our support to help them reconcile the uncertainties.
  • Look out for possible stress reactions. Look out for changes in children’s usual behaviour such as sleep difficulties, an increase in irritability and mood swings or being more withdrawn than usual.
  • Recognise safety and security needs and reassure children. Let children know that there are many people across the country working hard to make sure that people stay as safe as possible before, during and after an emergency, disaster or traumatic event and that these people are very good at their job.
  • Foster hope. In the aftermath of tragic events, we can also be reminded of the goodness of people. Leave children with a sense of security but also hope, and help them to see that their world is basically a safe place.
  • Pay attention to your own reactions. Children will take their cues for how to respond from you so be mindful of your own reactions and model good coping skills for dealing with distressing and confusing events.
  • Seek professional assistance. Seek advice from school counsellors or psychologists.

Further Resources

The Australian Psychological Society [APS] Disaster Recovery Resources

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