Families and children


Emergencies and disasters are extremely stressful, and it is normal to feel overwhelmed. The mental health and wellbeing of the whole community, including young people, children, and even infants, can be affected.

The following information provides a starting point for you to help children and young people in your life navigate the mental health and wellbeing impacts of an emergency or traumatic event. 

After traumatic events, children’s responses may vary widely and they may express many emotions, including upset, anger & may appear withdrawn and they may behave in challenging ways. They may become clingy and not want to be out of your sight. They might also have physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches and young children may revert to past concerning behaviours such as bed wetting or issues with food, when they have not done so for some time.   

Any changes in young peoples lives can bring about a change in behaviour; as parents and carers if we understand this, we can help support our children work through their feelings and worries. 

Red Cross also has some useful booklets and guides on talking with your children about the emergency.

Some key reminders

  • Children’s reactions following a traumatic event are significantly influenced by their age and developmental stage. Young children and teenagers may display different behaviours or react in different ways
  • Most children will recover from a traumatic event over time, with some experiencing positive change for the better However, some children will continue to experience difficulties and may require ongoing professional support
  • Some children will seem fine at first, then be distressed at a later point
  • Children may experience distress even if they did not experience the event personally
  • Parents and carers will also be dealing with their own grief and loss and may need increased support to pro-vide stability and routine for their children


Helpful tips

  • For children of all ages, it helps to talk, bring issues out in the open, listen to your child and reassure them (repeatedly) that they are safe.  It can be helpful to point out all the helpers – SES, Fire Brigade, CFA, Police, Red Cross in times of need
  • Be careful about reminders of the event
  • Toddlers and pre-schoolers might need help expressing emotions
  • Try to stick with routines as the predictability provides reassurance
  • Try to give your children a sense of control about some aspect/s of their life -choice in food, clothes, etc. This helps children feel they are in control about some aspects of their lives, helping to relieve some stress
  • School-age children often need reassurance that they’re not responsible for the event
  • Teenagers might need help to avoid reacting to traumatic events with risky behaviour


Some practical strategies

  • Allow plenty of play time/recreation/friends time
  • Allow time for fun
  • Encouraging rest & sleep.  Some physical exercise can help sleep
  • Help your child to physically relax – cuddles, story times, baths, massage
  • Aim for healthier food and drink
  • Be mindful of TV/Radio news; be prepared to switch off
  • And alongside this, be mindful when talking with other adults about events as children absorb more than we think
  • Be prepared to seek some support for yourself; this will help you to be able to be a strong support for your children
  • If you are concerned or feel that behaviours are increasing, contact your GP, local community health service (who provide a range of counselling) or one of the telephone help lines
  • Talk about feelings with a friend or trusted adult
  • Hang out with friends
  • Listen to your favourite music
  • Do some exercise with a friend or family member (running, dancing to music, riding a bike, going for a walk)
  • Make something by drawing, painting, sewing, knitting or cooking
  • Have a warm bath/shower
  • Do a quick relaxation exercise
  • Write in your diary
  • Use positive self-talk such as:

          I am safe now

          I was strong to survive that

          I have people who can help me

          I have done a lot of things well before - I’m sure I can again