Tips for Helping Students Recovering from Traumatic Events
September 2005

Tips for Parents

Children will react in their own way and in their own time to their disaster experience. Most reactions are normal and typically go away with time. Parents should be observant, though, if this does not happen.

  • Often children will cling to parents and may not want to be away from them. When a child shows excessive clinging and unwillingness to let a parent out of sight, the child is expressing fear and anxiety of separation or loss. These fears should dissolve when the threat of danger dissipates and children feel secure again under a parent's protection. Parents should give them comfort and reassure them that they are safe. Once they feel safe, they'll begin to let go.

  • Some children need to talk about a traumatic experience all the time and others don't want to talk at all. This is normal. While it is important not to force children to talk about their experiences, it is also critical for parents to let them know they're willing to listen, and then, to listen.

  • Anxiety about disaster experiences and problems sometimes keeps children awake at night, or nightmares might wake them. Temporary changes in sleeping arrangements following a disaster may be helpful, such as parents letting children put sleeping bags on the floor in their room or sleeping closer to them at first. After a brief period of temporary changes, it is helpful to move back to pre-disaster bedtime routines.

  • Giving children choices helps them feel some control when their environment has felt out of control. Choosing food, clothes, what games to play—any appropriate choices—can be helpful.

  • Children still need discipline. It helps them feel safe to know their parents won't let them get away with too much and that normal rules still apply.

  • Going to a new school is hard, especially now. Parents may want to see if they can visit the school with their child ahead of time.

  • Enabling children to stay in contact with their old friends or even children they met in a shelter can help them feel that their whole world is not gone. The child's new school may want to help evacuated children get in touch with friends also relocated in the area.

  • Parents will want to establish daily routines as soon as they can. Meals, bedtimes and other regular parts of their day can help children feel comforted and know what to expect.

  • Sometimes students react to trauma and stress with anger. They may feel it gives them a sense of control. Adults should be understanding but hold children responsible for their behavior. It is not OK to hurt others and break other home and school rules, even if students are stressed.

  • It doesn't help younger children to watch coverage of the disaster over and over. However, some older adolescents may find viewing some factual media reports helpful in order to better understand the disaster and recovery efforts. As an alternative, parents may want to read newspaper accounts with their child.

  • Parents should remember to take good care of themselves, too. This will help them have the energy necessary to take care of their children. Their ability to cope with this disaster will help their children cope as well.

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Last Modified: 11/06/2012