Moving Forward After a Disaster (English)


Two-year-old Erroll Thomas sleeps peacefully as his mother Selika Thomas sits in the background Saturday, Sept. 4, 2005 at Houston's Astrodome.  Evacuees from New Orleans, Thomas and her family hope to start over in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)Most children can and do successfully recover from disaster, especially when they are in healthy, supportive environments. Here are some tips that can help children cope with disasters:

  • Keep familiar routines to the extent possible.
  • Take care of yourself: children do better when their caretakers are not stressed.
  • Talk about the event with your child and as a family in an age appropriate manner.
  • Engage children in play activities such as drawings and story telling
  • Provide older children with constant updates of what is going on in regards to their ability to return to school and other activities that have been temporarily suspended.
  • Notice changes in sleep, appetite, mood, and overall disposition.
  • Do not expose children to news and/or images of the disaster.
  • Provide opportunities for children to see friends and supportive adults.
  • Encourage children to express their thoughts and feelings through words, play, writing, drawing, and other mediums as appropriate.
  • Listen carefully and observe your child’s behavior.
  • If you notice a significant change in your child’s behavior after 4 weeks, consider seeing a professional counsellor.

Children who are at most risk for negative reactions and delayed recovery in the disaster aftermath are those who have experienced: highly stressful evacuations that involved direct life threat; significant material or interpersonal loss; separation from parents; and intense parental stress reactions. These children should be most carefully monitored and families are encouraged to seek professional help as necessary.


New York:
NYC Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene, Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services
1-800-LIFENET (1-800-543-3638)
Children’s Single Point of Access (CSPOA): 1-888-CSPOA-58 (1-888-277-6258)

The Children’s Aid Society, Mental Health

New Jersey:
NJ State Dept. of Children & Families


In times of extreme traumatic events, it is very difficult to find a sense of normalcy in the chaos that surrounds you and your family. It is normal to have a strong emotional response.

Normal emotional responses to traumatic events:

  • Shock and disbelief – you may have a hard time accepting the reality of what has happened
  • Fear – that the same thing will happen again, or that you’ll lose control or break down
  • Sadness – particularly if people you know died
  • Helplessness – the sudden, unpredictable nature of natural disasters and accidents may leave you feeling vulnerable and helpless.
  • Guilt – that you survived when others died, or that you could have done more to help or prevent the situation.
  • Anger – you may be angry at those you feel are responsible or at the lack of a consolidated disaster response
  • Shame – especially over feelings or fears you can’t control
  • Relief – you may feel relieved that the worst is over, and even hopeful that your life will return to normal

Help Guide:

The following links are some helpful survival tips that can help guide you through the process of recovery:


  • If you are experiencing signs of distress as a result of the disaster, the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7 help, year-round crisis counseling and support. Please call 1-800-985-5990 , TTY for deaf/hearing impaired: 1-800-846-8517. Text/talk with us to 66746.
  • American Red Cross – Get Assistance
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Is fully staffed to receive all calls. Please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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