Helping Children Cope with Hurricanes, Natural DisastersAs another hurricane bears down on New Orleans and the Louisiana coastline, many wonder how natural disasters influence the mental health of our fragile children.

Dr. Annette M. La Greca, a professor of psychology and pediatrics at the University of Miami and her colleagues have been studying children’s disaster reactions following Hurricanes Andrew (1992), Charley (2004) and Ike (2008).

The research team has been exploring questions such as: Who is most at risk for persistent stress reactions? And, how can such youth be identified and assisted in the aftermath of a destructive storm?

Researchers say recent findings from Ike, the Grade III storm that devastated Galveston, has helped mental health professionals identify children who may be the most adversely affected by post-traumatic stress and depression.

Investigators have also learned that helping children cope with stressors that occur during or after the disaster may improve children’s psychological functioning.

“Children may have to move or change schools. Their neighborhood may not be safe for outdoor play and they may not be able to spend time with their friends. Children need help coping with these and other post-disaster stressors,” La Greca says.

In collaboration with Scott and Elaine Sevin, Dr. La Greca developed a workbook for parents to help their children cope with the many stressors that occur after disasters.

The book gives parents tips for helping children stay healthy and fit, maintain normal routines, and cope with stressors and with emotions, such as fears and worries. The After the Storm workbook is available at no cost at

Researchers determined that the eight-month mark appears to be the cut-off for determining if children will be at high-risk for longer-term adverse reactions. Thus, children continuing to present depression and symptoms associated with of PTSD after this time are less likely to recover by 15 months post-disaster than other youth.

This group is also more likely to report more severe levels of psychological symptoms and experience more post-disaster stressors than other youth.

A paper discussing these findings is scheduled to be published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Source: University of Miami

Upset child with hands over face photo by shutterstock.