A disaster is frightening to children and adults, alike. It is important to explain the event in words children can understand. Adults should also acknowledge the frightening parts of the disaster when talking with a child about it. Minimizing the danger will not end a child's concerns. Several factors affect a child's response to a disasters.
The way children see and understand their parents' responses are very important. Children are aware of their parents' worries most of the time, but they are particularly sensitive during a crisis. Parents should admit their concerns to their children, and also stress their abilities to cope with the disaster.
To learn more, click on these AACAP Facts for Families fact sheets, below. Each fact sheet was written by a child and adolescent psychiatrist.
- Helping Children After a Disaster
- Children and the News
- Children and Grief
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Choose a topic:
- What is a Disaster?
- What is Disaster Exposure?
- How Can I Help My Child After a Disaster?
- What Should I Tell My Child About the Disaster?
- How Do I Know if My Child Needs Help From a Mental Health Professional?
- What Symptoms Should I Look Out For?
- What is PTSD?
- If We’ve Been Through a Disaster, Will My Child Get PTSD?
Considered resources for experts, mental health professional and physicians, AACAP’s Practice Parameters were developed to guide clinical decision making. They show the best treatments and the range of treatment options available to families living with childhood and adolescent mental illness.
Click here to read AACAP’s Practice Parameter on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
Lifelong Learning Modules
Disasters: Why and How Mental Health Professionals and the Media Should Work Together By Paramjit Joshi, M.D.
Review an AACAP member’s experience with Katrina in his PowerPoint slide presentation, “Katrina: Lesson’s Learned.” (July, 2008)
Prepared for March 31, 2006 Grand Rounds for the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Department of Psychiatry
Review an AACAP member's PowerPoint slide presentation, "Disaster and Trauma During Childhood: The Role of Clinicians"
Prepared by Stephen J. Cozza, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University
Review an AACAP member's PowerPoint slide presentation, "Compassion Fatigue"
Prepared by Syed Arshad Husain, M.D., Professor and Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Wayne Anderson, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Read AACAP members impressions on working with communities affected by disaster in their articles first printed in the AACAP News.
- Paramjit Joshi, M.D., “Reaching Out to Tsunami Victims in Sri Lanka” (May/June 2005)
- Michael Storck, M.D., “Crisis and Hope: Lessons from Red Lake” (May/June 2005)
- Eli Breger, M.D., “The Effects of Armed Conflict on Child Mental Health: A Global Perspective, Part I" (December, 2004)
- Eli Breger, M.D., “The Effects of Armed Conflict on Child Mental Health: A Global Perspective, Part II" (Jan/Feb 2005)
- Glenn Kashurba, M.D., "A Little Girls's Heart: Reflections on September 11" (Mar/Apr 2002)
AACAP’s book: Your Child offers easy-to-understand and comprehensive information on the emotional development and behavior of children from infancy through the teen years.
Childhood Trauma and Its Effects
Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Finder
Not all children who have experienced a disaster will need treatment. However, treatment can help prevent or minimize trauma. To obtain help, parents should try to find a mental health professional who has advanced training and experience with evaluating and treating children, adolescents, and families. It is important to find a comfortable match between your child, your family, and the mental health professional.
A child and adolescent psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and, treatment of disorders of thinking, feeling and behavior that affect children, adolescents, and their families. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have completed four years of medical school, at least three years of residency training in medicine, neurology, or general psychiatry with adults, and two years of additional training in psychiatric work with children, adolescents, and their families.
Click here to find a child and adolescent psychiatrist in your area.
Bear in mind that because of the extensive training required, there is a nationwide shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists. To learn more about other mental health professionals and places where families can find help, read Where to Find Help For Your Child.
The National Center for PTSD
SAMHSA Emergency Mental Health and Traumatic Stress
SAMHSA Disaster Technical Assistance Center
The following articles were printed in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Health Problems in Children and Adolescents Before and After a Man-made Disaster
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 45(1):94-103, January 2006.
Dirkzwager, Anja J. E Ph.D.; Kerssens, Jan J Ph.D.; Yzermans, C Joris Ph.D.
9/11: Mental Health in the Wake of Terrorist Attacks
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 46(9):1226-1227, September 2007.
Lewis, James III Psy.D.; Hahn, Hilary Ed.M., M.P.H.
Implementing an Evidence-Based Trauma Treatment in a State System After September 11: The CATS Project
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 46(6):773-779, June 2007.
Hoagwood, Kimberly Eaton Ph.D.; Vogel, Juliet M. Ph.D.; Levitt, Jessica Mass Ph.D.; D'Amico, Peter J. Ph.D.; Paisner, Wendy I. Psy.D.; Kaplan, Sandra J. M.D.
Childhood Reactions to Terrorism-Induced Trauma: A Review of the Past 10 Years
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 43(4):381-392, April 2004.
Fremont, Wanda P M.D.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among Adolescent Earthquake Victims in Taiwan
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 41(7):875-881, July 2002.
Hsu, Chia-Chuang M.D.; Chong, Mian-Yoon M.D., Ph.D.; Yang, Pinchen M.D.; Yen, Cheng-Fang M.D.
PTSD and TV Viewing of World Trade Center
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 41(5):494-495, May 2002.
Duggal, Harpreet S. M.D.; Berezkin, Gennady M.D.; John, Vineeth M.D.
Children & Disasters
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 39(3):390-391, March 2000.
Bechtold, Donald W. M.D.
School Violence: Assessment, Management, Prevention
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 41(5):626-627, May 2002.
Parada, Hector J. M.D.; Bostic, Jeff Q. M.D., Ed.D.
Facts for Families
Providing up-to-date information on issues that affect children, teenagers, and their families. These fact sheets are relevant to disaster and trauma.
- Talking To Children About Terrorism And War
- Understanding Violent Behavior In Children and Adolescents
- Children and Grief
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Children's Threats: When Are They Serious?
- Children And the News
- Children And Firearms
- Children and Watching TV
- Children And TV Violence
A newsletter devoted to informing medical students and general psychiatry residents about child psychiatry.
- The Impact of Media Violence on Children and Adolescents: Opportunities for Clinical Interventions
- Interrupting the Cycle of Violence: The Child Development Community Policing Program
Statements that reflect the AACAP's voice on issues affecting the health of children, adolescents, and their families.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) develops mental health resources and interventions for professionals, traumatized children, and their families. The NCTSN offers Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide, a tool developed to assist children, adolescents, adults, and families in the aftermath of a disaster.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the medical membership organization which represents pediatricians offers disaster information for families and clinicians.
The American Red Cross provides disaster services training for clinicians.
Talking to Children about Natural Disasters by David Fassler, M.D.
Helping Children Cope After a Natural Disaster by Christopher Petersen, M.D., and Susan Rzucidlo, M.S.N., R.N.
The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress conducts research, education, consultation and training on preparing for and responding to the psychological effects and health consequences of traumatic events.