Children’s Reaction to Disaster: The following are common reactions that children may exhibit following a disaster. While the descriptions are typical, some children may exhibit none of these behaviors and others may behave in ways not mentioned here.
Birth through 6 Years: Although infants may not have words to describe their experiences, they can retain memories. They may react by being more irritable, crying more than usual, or wanting to be held and cuddled more. Preschool and kindergarten children can feel helpless, powerless, and frightened about being separated from their caregivers.
7 through 10 Years: Older children can understand the permanence of loss. They may become preoccupied with the details of the traumatic event and want to talk about it continually. This preoccupation can interfere with their concentration at school and affect their academic performance. Children may hear inaccurate information from their peers which parents can clarify. They may fear that the disaster will happen again and have sad or angry feelings.
11 through 18 Years: As children mature, their responses become more similar to those of adults. Much of adolescence is focused on moving out into the world. Following a disaster, that world can seem more dangerous and unsafe. Teenagers may react by becoming involved in dangerous, risk-taking behaviors, such as reckless driving, and alcohol or drug use. Others may become fearful of leaving home and avoid social activity. Teenagers can feel overwhelmed by their intense emotions, yet unable to talk about them.
Next week, we’ll discuss what Parents and Caregivers can do.