Helping your teen deal with the stress of a natural disaster

Teenage boy with head in hand

It can be hard to know how to help support your teen if you and they have been personally affected by a bushfire, earthquake, flood or cyclone. Natural disasters create a lot of uncertainty and fear, and are sometimes associated with loss and a period of rapid change from normal life. You can help your teen by being open to any stress this may cause and taking steps to help them manage it. The types of support your teen will need are different in the initial days to weeks following a natural disaster (known as response phase) to the following months (known as recovery phase).

Supporting your teen during the initial response to a natural disaster

The following tips are helpful in the initial days and weeks following exposure to a natural disaster:

  • Support your teen’s need to focus on physical and emotional safety, and to be with those who are helpful to their wellbeing.

  • Support your teen to engage in activities that promote a sense of calm and feeling grounded. Supporting your teen to return to some routine and to re-engage in activities as much as possible is helpful (e.g., playing games or sports, hobbies etc).

  • Facilitate connection with others, especially those that help your teen feel okay.

  • Include your teen in the repair and recovery of themselves, peers, families and your community. Fostering a sense of hope is important in a young person’s recovery.

  • Limit exposure to traumatic information through news and social media. It can be helpful to take a break from the 24-hour news cycle.

Supporting your teen during the recovery phase

Practise open communication

It can be tricky to know what to say to your teen during a time of crisis. It’s made even harder because conversations about natural disasters won’t always have easy answers, especially if there are questions around why it’s happening. Some tips to help foster open communication with your teen include:

  • Let them know you understand that natural disasters can be very stressful, and that it’s normal to feel upset. Let them know they're not alone in this.

  • Make space for conversations where you might ask them, ‘How are you feeling at the moment?’ and share some of the things you are feeling and thinking, along with what plans you are making to take care of them and yourself.

  • Be accepting and curious about their answer, and ask follow-up questions such as: ‘What do you think is making you feel that way?’ or ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’

It might help to open the door to a conversation if you go for a walk together, share a meal with just the two of you, or sit down together for afternoon tea.

If you want more guidance on how to go about this conversation, check out our infographic on figuring out what’s up with your teenager.

Prioritise looking after yourself

‘Self-care’ is just a fancy name for anything you enjoy doing that helps make you happy, or calm, and maintains your physical, mental or emotional health.

When you’re focusing on dealing with a natural disaster, it’s easy for self-care to take a back seat as it can feel like there’s no time for it or that it would be selfish. While that’s very understandable, taking time out to recuperate is important for both you and your teen because it will improve your mindset and help you to better manage the tough times. Practising self-care can also help you to be a more engaged and effective parent. Plus, when your teen sees you taking steps to actively take care of yourself, they’ll be encouraged to do the same.

Some self-care ideas include:

  • doing some exercise, such as walking, running, cycling or swimming

  • listening to music, watching a TV show or reading a book

  • spending time with a friend, or speaking with them on the phone

  • doing something creative, such as writing or drawing.

If you’re looking for more ideas on what self-care could look like, do our quiz on what kind of self-care is right for you.

Keep a regular routine

Dealing with a natural disaster can be pretty chaotic, and routine may go out the window as you struggle to cope with the changing conditions. Keeping as much as possible to your normal routines, or creating new ones, can provide a sense of stability during tough and uncertain times. Some tips to help your teen keep a routine in place include:

  • setting a schedule for going to bed and waking up having regular mealtimes

  • if possible, having your teen continue to attend school

  • scheduling time for self-care and downtime.

Focus on what you can control

We often get caught up in worrying about things that are outside our control – and natural disasters fall into that category. This lack of control can bring up feelings of helplessness, sadness, anger and stress.

While natural disasters are out of your control, being involved in activities that support yourself and others can be helpful. They include practising self-care, reaching out for support, and being involved in your community. By focusing on what you can control, you and your teen will hopefully feel a bit less unsettled.

Encourage community involvement

Being involved in the community can help foster a sense of resilience that will help both you and your teen. If you search on Facebook, you’ll likely find groups in your area where members post about what’s happening or ask questions. To encourage your teen to remain hopeful, you could share with them examples of people within your community who are helping each other out.

Alternatively, you could ask a neighbour if there’s anything they need help with, or you and your teen could drop off a home-made meal. These sorts of activities will help your teen to feel a part of their community.

Get extra support

If you or your teen are feeling overwhelmed by stress as a result of a natural disaster, there are services available to support you.

While it can feel daunting, a visit to a GP is always a great place to start. Tell them that you or your teen need more support, and they’ll be able to connect you with a professional who can help.

If you’re looking for someone to chat to now, Lifeline (13 11 14) is available to chat 24/7.

Lifeline’s 13 HELP (13 43 57) is a dedicated bushfire recovery line available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for any person needing support as a result of bushfire. To talk to a Crisis Supporter, call: 13 43 57.

For services that specialise in natural disasters, check out Emergency disaster assistance which lists assistance by location.

By practising these suggested tips and strategies, you can help your teen to cope with stress caused by a natural disaster. Remember that it’s important to look after yourself during tough times, too.

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