Helping kids cope with disaster


IEMA offers tips

information provided by the Illinois Emergency Management Association

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (June 15, 2019) – Children may experience distress when directly witnessing a disaster, coping with the loss of a family or friend, dealing with the ongoing stress of temporary living conditions, or facing the challenges to returning to pre-flood disaster life conditions. The Illinois Emergency Management Association offers these tips to help children cope when floodwaters threaten.

  1. Have a plan. Having a plan and communicating it with your children can help ease some of the anxiety kids may have about the abrupt changes in their routine during a disaster. Keep it simple and age-appropriate for all of your children to understand. Including your child in the planning process will make them more comfortable with the plan itself.

    Explain to your children:
    • What each child is responsible for
    • What your expectations are of them
    • What you anticipate will take place during the disaster or evacuation
    • What you will do to ensure they are safe during the disaster
    • How you will communicate with each other during a disaster

    It is never too late to come up with a plan or change your plan based on your situation. Communicate these changes to your children to ease their concerns.

  2. Keep calm. For babies, how you react will dictate their emotional response, so try to remain calm. For toddlers and young children, soothe and reassure them often to make the abrupt change to your family’s routine more manageable for them to handle. Older children can still feel overwhelmed, so make sure you include them in your emergency action plan and communicate with them often. Most of all, remain calm. Children of all ages will sense how you feel and base their reactions off of your energy.
  3. Acknowledge their fears. Anxiety runs high during a disaster. Be sure to talk to kids about how they are feeling about what is going on around them. Some children respond well to having a lot of information, and others do not, so be mindful of the conversations you have with each child. Reassure them that their feelings are valid. Make sure you add personal touches—like hugs—while you reassure them. Remember to praise them often for responsible behavior. If you evacuate, or leave your home, be sure to bring comfort items such as blankets, stuffed animals, and pictures. These bring some normalcy to your child’s life. Remember, positivity is key.
  4. Monitor changes in behavior. Children will have a range of emotions throughout stressful situations. Make sure you pay attention to any changes in their physical and emotional behavior. Keep an eye out for changes in facial expressions, ticks, rapid or uncontrolled breathing. These changes may be involuntary, and are usually a sign that some additional help may be needed.
  5. Heal together. Keeping your kids involved in your family’s recovery plan can help them cope with life after a disaster. Talk about how you can work together to re-establish routines and spend more time together during bedtime. Utilize support networks such as family, friends, and faith-based institutions. While the challenges may be great, your family can and will overcome the obstacles.

Emergency preparedness begins at home. Best practices go beyond an emergency supply kit. Key tools include a family communication plan and a family evacuation plan. To learn more about building these plans for your family, visit



  1. Please make this article an annual part of your publication, it is especially timely with all the rain we’re getting this season.
    As someone who works in a college mental health setting, I find this information extremely helpful. Thank you Lansing Journal for being a mental health advocate.

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