When Disaster Strikes: 3 Stages of Emotion Kids Experience


FactsYou may have seen on the news the
Colorado flooding that has (at the time of writing) taken three
lives. Our prayers go out to all those impacted by this

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Kids are seeing the devastation on televisions
and newspapers and are hearing adults talk about it. The children
you work with may have difficulty understanding and processing a
disaster like this. They may end up confused and full of

The subject can be difficult to tackle, but it
gives us a chance to grow closer to God.

After the Oklahoma tornadoes hit earlier this
year, we posted a blog,
Five Tips for Dealing with Disasters
. If your ministry has been
touched by this disaster, or if you’re not sure what you’d do if
something like this happened to you, make sure to check it out.

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Continuing where that blog left off, I wanted
to share with you some tips on caring for and counseling children
when traumatic events hit. The following information comes from
Group’sEmergency Response Handbook for Children’s Ministry.


Supporting children and their families after a
traumatic event can lessen the dramatic impact the event might
otherwise have on their lives. In order to help, it’s important to
know what emotions the child will go through. There are several
stages of emotions to consider.

First: Shock and
Shortly after a traumatic event, a child’s mind
will not be able to work as it usually does. The child may appear
stunned and respond to things you say without much thought. You’ll
see physical symptoms of stress such as shaking hands or sweating,
but the child will probably have little emotional response at this

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Second: Emotional
After the initial shock has passed, a child will
start to feel the emotional effects of the event. You may
• Increased anxiety-sensitivity, asking a lot of questions,
talking about things he or she is afraid of, worrying the tragedy
will happen again, fear of sleeping, nightmares.
• Clinginess-fear of separation from parents or caregivers, asking
where his or her parents are, difficulty going to school or
• Anger and resentment-lashing out at loved ones, expressing anger
at the tragic event.
• Regression-reverting back to younger behaviors such as whining,
crying, clinging, or bed-wetting.

Third: Return to Normal
After a few weeks, the child will be begin to adjust
back to his or her routine. The sooner the schedule can be
re-established, the faster the recovery. At this phase, the child
may start to go through a grieving period for what he or she has
lost, but will be better able to manage emotions at this point.

Children need a lot of support and reassurance
after a traumatic event. Knowing that there are people who are
willing to help will comfort kids and help them feel safe. It’s
important to go to the child instead of offering to take care of
the child somewhere else. Immediately following a tragedy, children
feel safest when they are close to their parents or trusted
caregivers and in familiar surroundings, if possible.


Again, our prayers go out to all those
impacted by the Colorado floods.

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About Author

David Jennings

David has served kids around the world for the majority of his life. From Texas to Romania, he has followed where God has led him. Most recently, he served for six years as a children's director in the great state of Alabama before moving to Colorado to work for Group as an associate editor.

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