Children depend on daily routines. They wake up, eat breakfast, go to school, play with friends. When an unexpected catastrophe interrupts this routine – i.e. earthquake, hurricane, tornado, fire, flood, or violent acts – how children respond to disaster?
First of all, the way children see and understand their parents’ responses are very important. If parents react with alarm, children may become more scared. They see the fear as proof that the danger is real. If parents seem overcome with a sense of loss, children may feel their losses more strongly.
Children’s fears may also arise from their imagination. Pretending there is no the danger will not end a child’s concerns. Parents must be sure to give a realistic picture that is honest. They must talk about their worries, and their abilities to cope with the disaster to their children.
A child’s reaction also depends on how much destruction and/or death he or she sees during and after the disaster. If a friend or family member has been killed or seriously injured, or if the child’s school or home has been severely damaged, there is a greater chance that the child will experience difficulties.
A child’s age affects how the child will respond to the disaster. For example, six-year-olds may show their worries by refusing to attend school, whereas teens may minimize their concerns, but argue more with parents and show a decline in school performance.