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Impact of Disasters on Children

Last December 19, 2020, Maria Caridad H. Tarroja, PhD, RPsy shared her knowledge about the effect of disasters on children. Dr. Tarroja is a psychologist, teacher, child advocate and mental health advocate in De La Salle University Manila.

Learn more about the effects of disasters to young children and how you can help them fight through it. 

What facts do you have to know about disasters?

Facts on Disasters:

According to Dr. Tarroja, Philippines is prone to disasters like flood, volcanic eruption, and earthquake. However, she emphasized that it is not only the adults, but also the children are affected by disasters. 

Disasters can harm everyone directly and indirectly. Because of this, the safety and welfare of children are being compromised when adults such as parents, guardians, doctors or nurses are being affected too. 

Children Most Vulnerable to Natural Disasters:

Dr. Tarroja also enumerated factors that could make children more vulnerable at this time:

  • Separation from family
  • Loss of lives and property
  • Living in evacuation centers
  • Exposed to other forms of violence or abuse

When it comes to vulnerability, other children are more resilient than others. Therefore, it affects the way they recuperate to the disasters happening around them. Moreover, the current situation or condition of the child also affects his or her recovering stage. 

She also shared the different levels when it comes to caring to every individual experiencing disaster.

  • Specialized Care
  • Focused Care
  • Family and Community Supports
  • Social Considerations in Basic Services and Security

This aids the child’s mental needs, as well as his or her families when it comes to support and strength at the time of distress.

Specific Impact on Children:

Here are some of the effects that a child might experience during or after a disaster:

1. Physical: acute illness after the disaster (diarrhea fever, respiratory illness, headache)

2. Cognitive: academic problems, learning problems and difficulty focusing

3. Social: difficulty relating with peers, isolation, anger issues

4.Emotional/psychological: emotional regulation, distress, trauma experience

According to research, 50% of children have post-traumatic symptoms like difficulty sleeping, or concentrating. Also, children experience depression symptoms. 

Children’s Reactions to Disaster:

She also presented the Mental Health Continuum where you can see the stages or phases: healthy, reacting, Injured and ill. 

  • Healthy: The person has normal mood fluctuations.
  • Reacting: The person feels irritable, anxious, or nervous. 
  • Injured: The person does no longer feeling the normal self.  
  • Ill: The person feels outbursts or aggression.

Dr. Tarroja said that no one expected the pandemic to happen and that no one can say that they are 100% healthy. Others are shifting from healthy to reacting or even injured or ill.

For children, no matter how healthy they are, they can experience the other stages. That is why it is important that you protect them emotionally.

Normal reactions to a traumatic experience like COVID-19:

Children can feel many things because of the disasters or trauma that has happened. Below are the stages: 

  • First stage: 

It occurs after the traumatic experience. The child can feel fear, denial, confusion, or sorrow if loved ones are harmed.

  • Second stage: 

It could last for days or weeks when there is regressive behavior in younger children, and signs like emotional stress such as anguish, fear or sadness.

Examples of Disorders:

  • PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) 

This is evident to preschoolers or toddlers where they isolate themselves and cannot verbally communicate to other people.

For older children, they show irritability, headache, or stomach ache. For adolescents, they become rebellious and experience sleep disturbance. 

  • Depressive disorders

Symptoms are lack of interest in playing, lack of interest in playing with peers or loss of friends. 

  • Anxiety disorders

Symptoms are restlessness, irritability or fear. 

Dr. Tarroja gave a very helpful advice for everyone and that is to make necessary preparations, support, self-care for children and also adults to overcome the effects of the disaster.

Children can feel a lot more vulnerable that is why it is important to give them such care that they need to make them physically and mentally strong.