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Reaction of Children to a Disaster

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What are some age-specific responses?

How do children typically react to disasters?

Many feelings and reactions are shared by people of all ages in response to a disaster. However, special attention is required to meet the needs of children. Typical reactions for children of all ages include:

What are some age-specific responses?

Preschool (ages 1-5): Children in this age group are particularly vulnerable to disruption of their previously secure world. Because they generally lack the verbal and conceptual skills necessary to cope effectively with sudden stress by themselves, they look to family members for comfort. Abandonment is a major fear in this age group, and children who have lost family members and even pets or toys will need special reassurance. Typical responses include:

Some things that may be helpful are:

Early childhood (ages 5-11) Regressive behavior is most typical of this group. Loss of pets or prize objects is particularly difficult for them to handle.

Typical responses include:

Some things that are helpful are:

Pre-adolescent (ages 11-14): Peer reactions are especially significant in this age group. The child needs to feel that his/her fears are both appropriate and shared by others. Responses should be aimed at lessening tensions and anxieties and possible guilt feelings.

Typical responses include:

Some things that may be helpful are:

Adolescent (ages 14-18): Most of the activities and interest of the adolescent are focused in his/her own age group peers. They tend to be especially distressed by the disruption of their peer group activities and the lack of access to full adult responsibilities in community efforts.

Typical responses include:

Some things that might be helpful are:

(Source: Merrin County Community Mental Health Services and Santa Cruz County Mental Health Services, California)

For more information on responding to mental health needs in times of crises, or to find out about local mental health services, contact 1-800-789-2647.