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Counseling » Helping Students Cope

Helping Students Cope

Large scale disasters, such as major hurricanes and earthquakes, can have a strong emotional effect even for people not directly affected by the disaster. The scope of the devastation and the loss of life can be very disturbing and hard to comprehend. Common reactions include sadness, concern for loved ones in affected areas, anxiety over a large scale disaster occurring at home, and the strong desire to help.

Potential reactions:

  • Preschoolers—thumb sucking, bedwetting, clinging to parents, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, fear of the dark, regression in behavior, and withdrawal from friends and routines.

  • Elementary school children—irritability, aggressiveness, clinginess, nightmares, school avoidance, poor concentration, and withdrawal from activities and friends.

  • Adolescents—sleeping and eating disturbances, agitation, increase in conflicts, physical complaints, delinquent behavior, and poor concentration.


How to help...

  • Identify sensitive children

  • Limit media exposure

  • Talk to your child calmly

  • Be a good listener and observer

  • Acknowledge their feelings

  • Be honest


Help build resiliency...

  1. Maintain normal routines as much as possible.

  2. Focus on your child’s personal competency in terms of daily life or how they handled something difficult.

  3. Highlight people’s compassion and humanity.

  4. Doing something positive to help others in need can help them feel like they are regaining control

Some children may be at risk of more extreme reactions because of personal circumstances. Contact professionals if your child exhibits significant changes in behavior or exhibits the above symptoms over an extended period of time.


National Association of School Psychologists. (2017). Large-scale natural disasters: Helping children cope [handout]. Bethesda, MD: Author.


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