Helping children cope with disasters

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: August 28th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The freight-train rumbling and roaring of a hurricane is scary enough for most children. But the aftermath can be far worse for kids, especially if their parents are not coping well.

New research shows that when parents feel hopeless, lost or scared after a natural disaster, their children usually do, too.

University of South Florida researchers studied families in a hurricane-stricken Florida community eight months after the storm plowed through the town. They found that children whose parents were having a hard time dealing with life after the disaster often had more difficulty coping than children whose parents were adjusting.

Most children exhibited at least one sign of posttraumatic stress disorder. But children whose parents reported high levels of stress were four times as likely as other children to have severe symptoms of stress themselves.

Many parents also did not think either they or their children would benefit from counseling. But experts say it’s crucial for parents to get mental health care if they are struggling with anger, depression, anxiety or any other sign of posttraumatic stress disorder. If parents learn to manage their stress, it could cut back on the problems their children face.

Those problems could be even worse for families who survived Hurricane Katrina because of the high death toll and conditions that forced many families to uproot and move.

Psychologists say the best thing parents can do is seek help for their own problems so they can help their children, too.