Disaster and the Primary Psychological Needs of Children

Davis and McKearney (2001) write that in the aftermath of trauma or some other life-altering event, people have a tendency to develop a greater appreciation for life, family, faith, and values. This is evident by the onslaught of social media posts calling for people to “pray”, “remember”, etc. Simply put, the search for meaning and increased spirituality aids in coping with disaster.

However, in our adult coping we must not forget the damage that we may be doing to our kids in the process. Children under the age of six sometimes have a difficult time separating reality from fantasy (Joshi and Lewin, 2004). Children in this age group need assurance that the disaster was not their fault and that they are safe (Joshi and Lewin, 2004). Children between the ages of seven and eleven may become fearful and anxious in the aftermath of a disaster (Joshi and Lewin, 2004). For these children, one of the most important things is for adults to provide them an example of calmness (Joshi and Lewin, 2004). This is important because children in this age group often look to adults for cues as to how they should respond to disaster (Joshi and Lewin, 2004). Teenagers (children older than twelve) are able to process information more effectively than younger children (Joshi and Lewin, 2004). For these children, they need time, often alone, to process their emotions in the aftermath of a tragic event like the tornado (Joshi and Lewin, 2004). However, they must also be monitored for persistent symptoms of isolation and hopelessness (Joshi and Lewin, 2004). The psychological effects of witnessing the horror of the OKC tornado can be debilitating (“PTSD, 2011). The 24-hour news cycle only makes things worse. The prominence of television news reporting not only amplifies the trauma of some events, it eventually alters the memory of exactly what took place (Greenberg, 2005). Research has shown that one of the most effective ways to cope is to pray, connect with a church, and physically support those who are hurting (“Collective Trauma”, 2011).

Pray. Give. Go. However, be careful that you do not hurt your children in the process.

Turn off the TV, get off of FB, and simply be there for them.




After collective trauma, religiosity and/or spirituality found to affect health outcomes. (2011, Mar 24). Targeted News Service, pp. n/a. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/858429215?accountid=8289

Davis, C. and McKearney, J. (2001). Post-traumatic growth from the perspective of terror management theory. Retrieved from https://edge.apus.edu/access/content/group/173205/Discussion%204%20Article/Post-TraumaticGrowthfromthePerspectiveofTerrorManagementTheory.pdf

Greenberg, D. (2005, Flashbulb memories. Skeptic, 11(3), 74-74-80. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/225221591?accountid=8289

Joshi, P & Lewin, S. (2004). Disaster, terrorism, and children. Psychiatric Annals; Sep 2004; 34, 9; Research Library pg. 710

Maier, M. (1997). Confronting the (f)laws of the pyramid: Challenger’s legacy for leadership and organizational development. Public Administration Quarterly, 21(3), 258-293. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/226977598?accountid=8289

Post-traumatic stress disorder (2011). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001923/

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