Parenting after a Natural Disaster1

Donna Davis and Suzanna Smith 2

Figure 1. 
Figure 1. 
Credit: iStockphoto

Nobody ever said family life was a breeze . . . yet few are prepared for the gale force impact that hurricanes can pack on even the healthiest of families.

This is a stressful time, and it's common for all family members to show signs of stress. Right after a natural disaster, parents and children may be tense and nervous, restless, and have trouble calming down. They may also experience stomachaches, headaches, and dizziness. Many people who are under strain from natural disasters feel fatigued and low in energy.

An event like a hurricane is frightening to children and adults. Children may show their fear by refusing to go back to school, misbehaving, and/or clinging to a parent. They may have trouble sleeping and want to sleep with a parent.

Family recovery will go more smoothly when the adults in the household can control their own feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear and do everything possible to help their children feel safe. A few suggestions may help parents at this difficult time:

Spend more time with your children. Let them stick by your side. Also, doing something fun and physical relieves tension. Reassure children that you care about them and encourage older children to talk about their feelings and thoughts. Answer their questions.

Keep regular schedules for meals, playtime, and bed time as much as possible. This will help to restore order in the family's life.

References

Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. (1998). The Disaster Handbook. Gainesville, FL. University of Florida.

American Psychological Association. (2004). Tips for recovering from disasters and other traumatic events.

NSW Health. (2000). Disaster Mental Health Response Handbook. Centre for Mental Health. North Sydney Australia.

Footnotes

1. This document is FAR0001, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Broadcast as program 020. Published September 2009. Reviewed January 2015. Revised July 2018. In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
2. Donna Davis, senior producer, Family Album Radio, and Suzanna Smith, associate professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida, and executive producer, Family Album Radio, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.