During a natural disaster, the first thing people often think about is how to rebuild their lives from the devastation nature brought to their door. One thing that is often overlooked is the effect that natural disasters can have on families and children. In the aftermath of natural disasters, normal family routines change. Families lose income, homes, and other valuable assets. Parents need to find new jobs, and non-working parents are often forced to return to work. Families move to new cities and children are sometimes sent to live with relatives.
These changes to a family’s daily structure, coupled with the trauma and loss that individuals go through in the wake of a natural disaster, create an environment that can have extreme long-term effects on families. These effects include parental disorganization, increased drug and alcohol consumption, increased conflict or violent behavior between family members, relocation, and decreased physical and emotional availability of parents. This can often lead to divorce and other changes in family structures that would not have been contemplated before the disaster.
In order to help best avoid these long-term effects, it is important for parents to work on coping with their stress and improve their communication skills. Some techniques include having family meetings, accepting the opinions and feelings of all family members, making sure everyone feels understood, and learning stress signals.
While there are likely more pressing needs to focus on in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, it is important to keep in mind the health of your family and do your best to create a sense of “normal” moving forward.
For more information about how you can help your family or another family reduce these effects, check out the full PowerPoint presentation by New Mexico State University’s Diana DelCampo, Ph.D.:
Maria E. Crabtree, CFLS