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Supporting your teen when a natural disaster strikes

A young boy sits with his dad.
If your teen seems distressed after a natural disaster, there are things you can do to help.

When fires, floods, storms or cyclones happen in Queensland, everyone in our community can be affected. Teenagers might seem confident and act grown up, but they can still need support from parents, carers and other family members after a natural disaster.

Just like you, teenagers might need support in the days, weeks and months after a natural disaster. Below are some tips to help you be there for your teenager.

Make feelings normal

Natural disasters are big events and they can cause us to experience some big feelings. Sadness, anger, frustration, worry, feeling scared or anxious are all normal feelings after a natural disaster.

Let your child know it’s normal to have these kinds of feelings. You can share that you are also feeling this way, without overloading them with adult responsibilities. Encourage them to talk with you about how they’re feeling.

Be there for them

One of the best things you can do is be there for your teen when they want to talk. Listen to how they’re feeling. Let them know there’s no wrong way to feel or think, and that all feelings are valid. Don’t dismiss their feelings or try to make their worries smaller – how they feel is how they feel. They’ll be more likely to come to you if they know you’ll listen and respect their feelings.

In the weeks and months following a natural disaster, your teenager might continue to have these big feelings or difficult thoughts. Check in with them as time goes by. Even if life has ‘gone back to normal’, they might still be struggling with difficult feelings or worries.

A young girl lies under a blanket looking at her phone.

Understand different behaviour

When we’re stressed, sad, worried or angry, it can make us act in different ways. If you notice your child is behaving in a way that isn’t normal for them, understand that it might be because of their emotional distress.

As long as they’re not doing anything that will cause harm to themselves or others, you can wait to see if the behaviour calms or passes, or talk to them about how their feelings are making them act.

Provide correct information

Social media and news programs may be focused on natural disasters around the state or country. It can help your teen to talk with them about what’s going on, and make sure they have the facts. If they have questions, answer them honestly.

If they’re feeling upset or anxious about stories they’re seeing online or on TV, make sure they take some time off to think about something else. Putting phones away and switching the TV off for a few hours might help.

While natural disasters do happen in Queensland, it is not common to have bad weather affect you directly. If your teen is worried another disaster will strike soon, explain to them that natural disasters are a normal part of life but are also rare.

Stability

If your home or town has been affected by a natural disaster, your normal routines might have gone out the window. Providing a sense of stability for your young person can help them feel more comfortable during this time of change, until things get back to normal. Everyday routines can also help your teenager take care of their body and mind, which might make them feel better and give them a sense of control.

  • Sleep – getting enough sleep and rest can help us all feel better during the day. Set regular times for going to bed and getting up in the morning.
  • Food and drink – make sure your teen is eating regularly throughout the day and drinking plenty of water.
  • Move your body – being physically active can lift your mood, be relaxing and provide an opportunity for fun if family and friends are involved.
  • Take time for relaxation and fun – is there something your teen enjoys doing that they can do now? Everyone needs a little time out to just think about something nice, whether that’s watching TV, drawing, singing or seeing friends.

Two young girls cook vegetables with an older woman.

Focus on the good

When times are difficult, it can help to take notice of all the good things still in your life. Encourage your teenager to take some time to think about the positives – kind people, good friends, beautiful moments – however small.

If there are things your teenager enjoys doing, like writing in a journal, making art, playing sport, hanging out with friends or playing games with the family, encourage them to still take time to do these things. It’s not always possible immediately after a disaster to do everything we used to, but if there’s a way to bring a little fun or relaxation into their life, this can help your teenager relax and feel happier.

When to get outside support

For most young people, distress after natural disaster will get better with time. If you're worried your teenager is still upset or acting differently, particularly around 2-3 months after the disaster has passed, it might be time to seek some help.

Young people won’t always require outside support to recover from the shock and distress of a natural disaster, but if you're concerned there might be a problem, help is available through a number of resources:

Natural disasters on the news

Natural disasters can be upsetting to watch, even if they don’t happen to you, especially when you’re young and haven’t seen this kind of event before. When the news is full of stories of heartbreak and loss, it can make us feel bad for the people involved and worried about the future. The steps above are all useful if your teenager is feeling upset by a natural disaster they’ve seen on the news, even if it hasn’t personally affected them.

Last updated: 3 December 2019